Up until the age of 18, Amir Issaa went by the name of Massimo. A more authentic Italian name, he was able to blend in with his community better. Born in Rome to an Italian mother and an Egyptian father, Issaa felt separated from his fellow citizens and what the “typical Italian” should look like.
“When I look at my skin in the mirror, I see the heritage of both my mother and my father,” Issaa said. “I always felt Italian, but society did not always accept this.”
Issaa now channels this sentiment to inspire Italian individuals in similar situations while using a unique medium: hip-hop. His mission is to spread the word about the new Italy, one with diversity, inclusive immigration, and a fresh idea of what real Italians look like.
A social activist, rapper, and writer, Issaa has visited colleges in the United States for the past five years. For his “Vivo per Questo” tour, UMass Amherst welcomed him to campus for a performance and conversation on Wednesday, November 13, in Herter Hall. He shared a few songs, including ones that translate to “Foreigner in My Country" and "I’m Not an Immigrant.”
Issaa said he enjoys performing at colleges because he not only gets to share his music, but there is also an appreciation about his message: he gets to “educate others about the Italian point of view in a creative way.”
One of the very first to bring hip-hop culture to Italy, Issaa led the way with music that inspires. Using rap, he was able to spread his message about racism, stereotypes, and the integration of immigrants. He started out with mixtapes before going on to release his own albums. He also worked on the soundtrack for the renowned film Scialla! and his own autobiography entitled Vivo per Questo.
While growing up, Issaa always searched for a creative outlet. Before turning to graffiti, he experimented with breakdancing to express himself. This lasted until he found inspiration in hip-hop music at the age of 14.
Drawn to the 1990s rap music from New York City, Issaa tried to imitate it. As a teenager, he said he “wrote lyrics based on his ego.”
This use of more materialistic and prideful lyrics lasted until he was around 21 when his passions deepened. Around this time, Issaa embraced music that shared his identity. He was able to write about more vulnerable aspects about himself, from the discrimination he faced because of his appearance to the struggles his family encountered while his father was in prison.
“Hip-hop saved my life,” Issaa said.
Embracing his passion for both music and activism, Issaa is able to reach countless people who struggle in the midst of racism. However, he is hopeful for the future of Italy—for the transformation into a more inclusive nation that battles discrimination.
“Rap music is a tool to tell my real story,” Issaa said. “Now I fight for my identity: My name is Amir.”