Yak Ballz

Yak Ballz, Photo by Todd Westphal

The rap world needs more emissaries like Yak Ballz. Articulate, educated, dedicated and innovative, Yak, born Yashar Zadeh, has spent nearly ten years in the game. Packing a track record which speaks volumes more than an inflated ego ever could, the NYC native is ready establish his residency as one of hip-hop’s next heavy-hitters.

Born to Persian-Iranian immigrants and brought up in Flushing, Queens, Yak Ballz caught his first break in 1999, after appearing on the Stretch [Armstrong] and Bobbito [Garcia] show, which had already showcased legends like Big L, Kool Keith, and Large Professor. The following year, a 12” release on Bobbito’s Fondle ‘Em label amplified the hype surrounding the acerbic-tongued upstart, which subsequently opened doors at both Eastern Conference, and Definitive Jux records. With a slew of releases now under his belt, including three well-received full-lengths: My Claim, Scifentology, and his latest, Scifentology II, the True City Killer is poised to become your new favorite artist.

Yak’s chameleonic lyricism feels just as comfortable on hooks or extended verses as it does on bouncy or dissonant instrumentals, and it is this snap-inducing flow that has netted him a cult following. By catching the attention of URB and Rolling Stone magazines, collaborating with a gamut of artists (most notably super-group The Weathermen), and spearheading Scifen Apparel, he has guaranteed his presence in rap’s posterity. Here is a brief peek into his agenda.

“Graffiti was like my gateway drug […] it developed my sense of style across the board from music to fashion to art and how I represent myself as person and artist in my career.”

Format: How would you describe yourself? Give us the essential Yak Skywalker.
Yak Ballz: I’m a True City Kid from Queens New York. I’m not afraid to take risks for and with my music. I fight and work hard for everything I achieve and accomplish. I’m a real artist who does this because I recognize my talent as opposed to someone with no reason to attempt making music because it seems like an easy way out of dealing with the real world.

Format: How do you feel you’ve grown, artistically or otherwise, since your first 12” on Fondle ‘Em [Records]?
Yak Ballz: Since then my world has expanded beyond myself as an individual and the environment I grew up in. I don’t spend an excessive amount of money on sneakers and Polo pieces anymore. I save my money because I need to eat and pay bills. As an artist, the teenage angst I once had may have turned into my questioning the ills of society, government, who I am, and where I fit in the grand scheme of these questions. I graduated college and I don’t do drugs anymore, which is all a part of not taking what I do for a living for granted.

Format: Your newest release, Scifentology II, is next-level. Give us the scoop on why people should be running out to cop it.
Yak Ballz: Thank you. I would urge someone to buy Scifentology II either at a store or on iTunes if they want to avoid running somewhere, because I put my whole heart and soul in it. No fronts, no frills, no glitz and glam, just a can of worms waiting to be opened. It also features production from Aesop Rock, Mondee, Camu Tao, and Chapter 7. Guest features include Cage, Tame One, and Slow Suicide Stimulus!

“I happened to lead a lifestyle that was a constant struggle trying to find a balance between who I was ‘supposed to be,’ and who I really was.”

Format: Who or what was your inspiration for making this album?
Yak Ballz: Books, films, documentaries, old music; rap, rock, and pop. Other inspirations included the different places I’ve been through touring my music and people that have crossed my path in the process and vice versa.

Format: You tackle some pretty serious issues here, such as drug addiction and suicidal tendencies, particularly on cuts like “War in My Head.” Have you managed to overcome these problems, and if so, can you provide us with some insight on how you did it?
Yak Ballz: I think these are issues that all teenagers and young adults think about or experience to some degree. I happened to lead a lifestyle that was a constant struggle trying to find a balance between who I was “supposed to be,” and who I really was. As a teenager I did music, drugs, went to school, and I also was put on medicine that intensified my angst and some of the feelings that came from that pressure. I overcame it by being conscious enough to realize that those feelings were just in my way. It got to a point where I was starting to immerse myself in those feelings, urges, and I knew that I was never going to get ahead in life if I didn’t start thinking outside the box and doing something about my situation.

Format: Is there any particular reason you released this album on FloSpot Records, rather than El-P’s Definitive Jux label?
Yak Ballz: I work closely with Definitive Jux although I am not signed to the label. The album is actually available through Def Jux digitally on www.Definitivejux.net. I have a great relationship with Jux, however, releasing it on FloSpot felt more natural for the whole concept of the project. With FloSpot, I was able to get my hands dirty and be a part of the process from top to bottom which is pretty rewarding in itself.

Yak Ballz

Format: Your MySpace page mentions that the album was collaboration with Scifen Apparel. Why collaborate with a fashion brand on a musical project?
Yak Ballz: Scifen and I have been strategizing for a long time talking about bringing foundation and culture back to the scene. Obviously we can’t bring it back to ’96 but that feeling of the connection between hip-hop fashion and music and how the message was one in the same is what we have been working toward re-creating. It’s the branding of two products that can stand alone on their own but when they come together, forms a special and unique movement. Scifentology II is the theme music for it with the message that both myself and Scifen stand behind.

Format: You’re also Scifen’s flagship artist. What sort of duties does that entail, and what sort of liberties can you exercise?
Yak Ballz: Making people aware of the brand. Rocking the gear. Getting Scifen involved in what I do, as well as doing everything I can to stay involved in what they do, like events and creating concepts. I also get clothes on artists that I am cool with and respect. It’s a family that I am proud to be a part of.

Format: What do you think sets this company apart from other rap-influenced streetwear lines?
Yak Ballz: The message and the foundation I spoke about earlier. A lot of these so-called hip-hop clothing brands are just gimmicky and fly by night with no integrity. Sort of one trick ponies with flashy gear and no meaning. Scifen is the opposite of that.

Format: Let’s talk about EwokOne 5MH for a moment. He has been involved in creating artwork for both of your Scifentology albums, plus the Scifen line. How did you guys meet, and what role has graffiti culture played in your life?
Yak Ballz: Far as I’m concerned you can’t mention New York, graffiti, and urban art without mentioning EwokOne 5MH. We met through TCK crew in NYC during the late 90s’ at Bobbito’s Footwork and marching around the lower eastside and Grenwhich Village. I always was a fan of his style. We had known each other and who each other were for years before we started working together on projects. Ewok has done almost all the Yak Ballz artwork, including Scifentology II, since I actually put out music that had art on the cover.

Graffiti, when I was growing up, had a lot more to do with the culture than it does now. For me, it was a way in to the scene much like B-boying is or any other element. Now it’s a little more one-dimensional but I got sucked into the graff scene, which lead me deeper into the music aspect, and furthermore brought me to events and social gatherings that celebrated the culture as a whole. Graffiti was like my gateway drug and I think the most significant role it played and still plays in my life is that it developed my sense of style across the board from music to fashion to art and how I represent myself as person and artist in my career.

Yak Ballz, Photo by Todd Westphal

Format: Being one of the better-known rappers of Iranian descent, do you that feel you have a torch to carry?
Yak Ballz: Not really. I never got into it thinking I’m going to be the best or best-known Persian rapper. Most people who listen to me don’t even know what nationality I am. It just so happens that I’m Persian and good at what I do. The only torch I carry is the one that reps the kids who believe in themselves while everyone else sleeps.

Format: Are there any new Weathermen, True City Kings, or Cardboard City-related projects on the horizon?
Yak Ballz: A Weathermen project is on the horizon. Cardboard City is so active that there is always something happening from shows to collabs. It’s hard to keep up.

Format: It seems that you are forever on tour. Where did you develop that ethic, and what helps to keep you grounded while you’re traveling?
Yak Ballz: Being on tour is the single most important way to reach your fans. I went on my first tour with Aesop Rock and Cage a while back, and realized that if this was going to be my path, I better embrace it. In fact I loved it from the first second I jumped on so it was nothing I needed to get used to in order to tolerate. Doing things that keep me grounded at home like eating a good meal, chewing it up with friends, and ultimately playing to kids who love it as much as I do make it all worth it.

Format: Thanks for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to address?
Yak Ballz: Thank you for looking out!
My new record, Scifentology II is out everywhere on FloSpot records. It can be purchased on iTunes and most chain stores.

Andrew Rennie

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  1. I think Yak Ballz is one of best…i love how he’s original..and really love how the music makes me feel when i listen to it..i relate with it….Great Article….Yeah

  2. That was a great interview. I love Yaks work and he’s evolved into a mor emature mc as times gone on. Only makes sense that hes teamed with scifen. Theres still hope for this hip hop scene yet!

    Yak, bring us to graceland!



  3. This Kat is one of the many spark plugz that will start the next age of hip-hop. The culture needs more of these type of Katz to put it down.

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