Salome MC, Iran’s First Female Rapper, on Breaking New Ground and Keeping Home in Her Heart
Salome MC (@salomemcee) was living in Iran and leading a double life. During the day she went to school and had a part-time job. But after hours, she would retreat into her artistic cocoon where she wrote rhymes and rapped. Doing anything outwardly creative in the country is considered risky – the government bristles at the provocative and dangerous. Salome was therefore confined to the shadows, forced to share her work with a small group of collaborators and fans.
“For a long time I really didn’t tell a lot of people,” says the 31-year-old emcee about her music. “I had this whole life with my rapper friends.”
At the time, Iran’s hip-hop scene was non-existent, restricted to Salome and her crew. Today, they’re considered pioneers – the first ever Iranian rappers. But they never set out to make history or change the musical landscape of their country. They were, simply put, just fans of a genre, looking to express their art in new and exciting ways.
“We wanted to see how Persian language worked on [hip-hop],” says Salome. “But we weren’t really thinking it was going to be that [popular] though. We were just people who liked doing it and put it online. Then it really took off. I think people, young people especially, were really thirsty for it. Obviously there was a lot of music in Iran – pop music, traditional music, folk music – but the language we had in hip-hop was a little bit more raw and urban and I think the youth really wanted that.”
Salome first heard rap in 1995. The song was by a Turkish immigrant group from Germany. Soon after, she expanded into the American rap scene, listening to Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, among others. By then, she was already attempting to write rhymes on her own.
A common misconception about Middle Eastern rappers is that they have to rap about geopolitical conflict in their region. Salome opts for something more, though, choosing instead to focus on issues that are less defined by borders than by species and customs. A lot of that comes from her upbringing. The daughter of two journalists, Salome moved around a lot as a kid, making her feel less attached to lands than particular individuals and cultures.
“I try to show that in each country everywhere, people have the same concerns, the same life. I address that a lot,” she says. “Because I traveled a lot, it’s so easy once you get out of that box to see that. People think they are so different – they have this completely different culture, religion and language. It’s easy to demonize them.”
That’s why Salome brings a bit of history with her wherever she goes. Though she currently lives in Japan – she moved there in 2010 on a scholarship – she always makes time for her favorite tea (lemon balm herb) and some kefir cheese (“It’s so good for health”), all the while plotting her next creative project. In addition to her work as a rapper, she is also a video artist, making her own music videos and additional experimental projects.
But the music is what drives her – and as a pioneer and early adopter of hip-hop in her home country, she wants to get her songs out to the people who need them. For Salome carries the additional charge of being known as Iran’s first female emcee, a title she initially avoided: it was nothing more than a label, and didn’t speak to the quality of her work nor the types of things she was interested in. However, she eventually changed her tune.
“For a long time I resisted it, but then I embraced it,” she says. “Right now, no one is really writing down what’s happening. I didn’t want that story to go away because people forget so easily, so I kind of started to use [the label] too.”
But being the first doesn’t always mean being the best. Things move fast. New generations come in and take up the ground broken by previous ones. And while Salome may have much more to accomplish as an artist, she knows how far she’s come and how much she’s already achieved.
“It’s funny because Iranian hip-hop is so young, it’s like 10, 12, 15 years old tops. But already we are the old-school ones.”
– Instagram @music