Life As I Know It: The rise of Kurdish-Canadian recording artist Dillin Hoox
“I still remember the panic-stricken look on my mom’s face when I brought home the bullet casings I found while playing outside with the neighbourhood kids.” – Dillin Hoox
Ottawa, ON – From aggressive battle records, songs paying homage to his Kurdish heritage, or music serving as self-help guides to healing and understanding the mind, Ottawa-based artist Dillin Hoox has proven to be a complex soul that is as versatile as he is talented.
The Kurdish-Canadian rapper has been making music for over 15 years but only just recently released his studio album debut, Life As I Know It. Hoox has been featured on HipHopCanada a few times over the years – including an interview or two about his new releases – but this is the first time we’ve really been able to open up about subjects he has otherwise been a bit quiet on in the past.
Despite his in-your-face and aggressive tone on the mic, the 31-year-old MC is quite laid back, and was well-spoken as he answered various questions about his album and subjects on world affairs including the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Peshmerga, and their fight against the terrorist organization ISIS, among other foes.
“The question now is would the international community support the Kurds in any one of the four regions in their quest for self-determination,” explains Hoox. “Many argue that the birth of an independent Kurdistan is closer now than ever.”
Hoox left a Kurdish region of Iran as a child – moving across Canada before finally settling in Ottawa – but his Kurdish roots and the plight of his people inspired his rise as an MC. His earlier tributes like “Home Land” and “Home Land 2,” or “The Barzani Episode,” paying homage to 1940’s Kurdish nationalist leader Mustafa Barzani, have been fan favourites for Kurds around the world. But he also often stepped away from his patriotic duty to show another side of his artistry. The JmorE-assisted “You Can Live” showed early signs of Hoox’s conceptual prowess as the accompanying video he planned out complemented the song perfectly.
He had also built a reputation for fierce battle-like, punchline and metaphor-riddled lyrics dating back to his early days as an MC when he was a teenage member of a local rap group that never quite took off. Hoox was featured on various mixtapes across Canada including the popular S.A.R.S. series by Toronto rap giants, The Empire.
The group would eventually fold, but the experience gained from releasing mixtapes and singles prepared Hoox for a solid run as a solo artist. He had already been working with artists across Canada like Promise (Toronto) and SonReal (Vancouver), and had began to reach across the border for work with the likes of DipSet-affiliate Tom Gist and Ohio underground king, Copywrite.
“My passion for music began at a very young age. I remember being 15 years old and coming home from school one day to tell my parents that I wanted to become a rapper.“
A steady stream of singles and videos would follow over the years while he patiently honed his craft and added production, graphic and web design, video editing, and few other tools to his skill set. His perfectionist attitude called for a do-it-yourself approach to creation and he knew it more than anyone. By learning how to do something yourself, you’re no longer waiting for someone else to achieve something. Not to mention the financial benefits that go with it.
Along with building on his capabilities as a creative talent, Hoox jumped into a few investment opportunities and gained an undisclosed percentage in Los Angeles based production company, Anno Domini Beats (50 Cent, Rick Ross), as well another production firm, Modern Producers. The access to beats as an artist would obviously have its benefits, but Hoox also used the new opportunities to spark his own career as producer, releasing a series of new beats under the company name, Beats Of Mass Production (BMP).
After releasing a huge Mother’s Day 2015 collaboration with international Kurdish star Chopy Fatah called “Daya Gian (Dear Mama),” Hoox began to focus on an official album release, outlining a detail plan that put a heavy emphasis on video support. By the time the promotional campaign for Life As I Know It is complete, each of the 12-songs on the album will have an accompanying music video.
Life As I Know It is certainly used by Hoox as a platform to boast his patriotic pride, but presented with enough diverse subject matter to appeal to a wide range of audiences. In particular, Hoox has recently taken up a fascination with the mind and psychology, and has taken on a self-study approach to understand the inner workings of consciousness.
These concepts are presented in songs like “The Maze” and “Spirit,” while “Clarity” and “Same Story” explore injustices in the world, the morality of the way we live as a society and how twisted our priorities have become. As the lyrics from “Same Story” warn:
“Our food is genetically modified, and we wonder why sickness is on the rise. This ain’t right, people can’t afford groceries / this ain’t life, it ain’t how it’s supposed to be.“
“Bad Dream” is the latest song on the album to receive video support, with the video handled by Toronto firm Concrete Films. The song is a perfect example of something Hoox is doing time and time again: jumping on an incredibly catchy beat, this time courtesy of Diract Beats, calling out bullshit, telling a story and teaching history through intricate lyrics and seasoned word play.
As Hoox walks through the snow covered National Military Cemetery in Ottawa, a clipping from a recent news broadcast reminds of the devastating refugee crisis facing the world, and the innocent victims of unfortunate circumstance:
“The body of one small boy, cradled in a police officer’s arms… he was from Kobanî. His boat sank last night on the way to Greece.”
He goes on to recall various tragic events experienced by Kurdish people, including members of his own family. He references the chemical attacks in Halabja ordered by Sadam Hussein, Kurdish separatist leader Qazî Muhammad’s massacre in Mahabad, women killed and enslaved in Sinjār (also known as Shingal), and more. With Kurdish Peshmerga fighters grabbing headlines with their contributions to the war on ISIS, Kurds have likely never been as widely recognized internationally as these past few years.
The Kurdish struggle to gain statehood has been in and out of the news since their efforts to regain territory started decades ago, but their war on ISIS has put them on the map. Now they’re just looking for that to be literal – a country called Kurdistan that you can find on a map. Hoox has long supported the need for this and his music has often payed homage to those before him that have dedicated their lives – often losing them in the process – for a free and independent Kurdistan.
In 1970, autonomous status was granted to Iraqi Kurdistan in an agreement with the Iraqi government, and its status was re-confirmed as an autonomous entity within the federal Iraqi republic in 2005. Iran has a province named Kuristan although it is not self-ruled. Kurds fighting in the Syrian Civil War took control of large sections of northern Syria as forces loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime withdrew to fight elsewhere. Having established their own government, some Kurds called for autonomy in Syria; others hoped to establish an independent Kurdistan.”
The Dillin Hoox story has really just begun. With some interesting endeavors on the go we’ll be watching close to see where he goes next. Promotion for Life As I Know It will continue for the next few weeks, including the release of the next video in the album series. Stay tuned for that and check out our exclusive Q&A with Hoox below.
Dillin Hoox: Q&A
HipHopCanada: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us and congratulations on the release of your new album!
Dillin Hoox: Thank you! I appreciate all the love and support HHC has shown me over the years.
HipHopCanada: Let’s start off with some backgrounder for people just getting familiar with you. You were born in Iran but have spent most of your life living in Canada. What made your family decide to relocate to North America?
Dillin Hoox: I was born during the Iran-Iraq war, in a region plagued with geopolitical insecurity. My parents decided to immigrate to Canada so that we could have a safe and stable upbringing.
I still remember the panic-stricken look on my mom’s face when I brought home the bullet casings I found while playing outside with the neighbourhood kids.
HipHopCanada: Creating a Kurdish country out of existing Kurdish regions, would involve taking land back from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and even Russia. There is already a self-governed Kurdish autonomous region in Iraq and a de facto autonomous region making up parts of war-torn Syria. Do you think Kurdistan will ever be granted country status? What needs to change for that to happen?
Dillin Hoox: Scattered throughout these four countries, the Kurds are the largest ethnic minority without an independent state of their own. Throughout history, these state governments have not only subjected Kurds to human rights violations, economic disadvantage, and systemic persecution, but also denied them the right to self-determination as outlined and provided for under international law.
Kurdish political parties have fought for their freedom against oppression for many years. The question now is would the international community support the Kurds in any one of the four regions in their quest for self-determination. Many argue that the birth of an independent Kurdistan is closer now than ever. Regardless of where the rest of the world stands on this issue, countries ought to respect their own obligations to international legal instruments in respecting, protecting, and promoting human rights and the right of Kurds and similar groups to self-determination.
“I made music for a few years before turning my attention to the Kurdish struggle. The interest was always there, but I suppose it was a matter of timing.“
HipHopCanada: Your music has been largely, but not exclusively, focused on the plight of your Kurdish people. How much did telling their story influence your decision to make music?
Dillin Hoox: I made music for a few years before turning my attention to the Kurdish struggle. The interest was always there, but I suppose it was a matter of timing. When I first began creating music, a Kurdish filmmaker contacted me to make a song for his film’s soundtrack. I was busy with school and wasn’t able to complete the song in time. But I decided to release the finished product online. This was during MySpace’s glory days. The response was overwhelming. I got more feedback from that one song than all of my previously released music combined. And that’s what started the “Home Land” series.
HipHopCanada: How has your family responded to your art?
Dillin Hoox: My passion for music began at a very young age. I remember being 15 years old and coming home from school one day to tell my parents that I wanted to become a rapper. Naturally, my parents were not too thrilled about the idea! I don’t blame them, haha. Education was their primary concern. So while I didn’t see it benefiting the track I was on at the time, I knew if I got a degree they would relax. And it worked! It only cost $30k in tuition fees, but it worked! [Laughing] But they’re my biggest supporters now.
HipHopCanada: Kurds have been making international headlines more than ever recently, as one of the main oppositions to the terrorist group ISIS. Your single “Peshmergas,” the name of the military forces of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, pays homage to the group and what they represent. What inspired you to make the song and have you received contact from any members of the Peshmergas forces in response to it?
Dillin Hoox: Their remarkable love and passion for the Kurdish people and land. The fact that they don’t discriminate against female fighters is commendable. Women fighting alongside men? This is unheard of for that region. That song basically wrote itself. I sat down to write and finished the entire song in a couple of hours. Yes, family members of Peshmergas have reached out and thanked me, but not the soldiers themselves.
HipHopCanada: Another song really putting you in touch with your roots is the track “Daya Gian (Mother Dear)” featuring Kurdish superstar Chopy Fatah. How did you connect with Chopy and what was the response to the song and video after it had been released?
Dillin Hoox: Vinwar, a rep from VinTV (Kurdish Major label) heard my music and reached out to me. Vinwar put me in contact with Chopy Fatah. Chopy and I handled the creative side of our collaboration and VinTV took care of the business aspect. The song was well received and was in high rotation in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Shout out to the very talented Chopy, Vinwar and everyone over at VinTV.
HipHopCanada: Some fans might be surprised that the song didn’t make the cut on Life As I Know It. Did anything specific prevent the track from being included or did you just decide it didn’t fit?
Dillin Hoox: I preferred not to have any features on my debut album. That’s also the reason why you won’t hear Snak The Ripper’s verse on ‘Same Story’. My next project will feature collaborations, but I wanted to look back at my debut and know only one pen was responsible. I have a ton of respect for artists who can make a solid album without features.
HipHopCanada: Let’s talk some more about the album. One of themes is “The Mind” – taking control of the way it works and understanding how it affects your view of things. When did this become a focus for you, and was it a conscious decision to include songs (like “The Maze”) on the album?
Dillin Hoox: In May 2015, I picked up Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth. While I was reading it, something happened that changed my entire perspective on life. A shift in consciousness. I was able to step back and witness my thoughts. Up to that point, I wasn’t separate from my thoughts. I started becoming more and more aware of the mental chatter in my mind. Our brains are meant to be instruments, something for us to use, not to be used by. We are constantly stuck in our heads, thinking. “I should / shouldn’t have said that… I wish I was more successful… why is that person looking at me?” etc. If we take a moment to observe our minds, this never-ending cycle becomes very apparent. If you think of a loved family member being hit by a car right now, you’ll start to feel anxious and worried, even though it’s just a thought, not reality. Thoughts are not just thoughts; they lead to emotions, to stress, negativity, judgement, comparisons, and so on. Next time you feel any negative emotion, try to observe your mind. What were you thinking that lead to this? You can argue that somebody else said something that made you upset. But it’s all about how you interpret it.
It is our thoughts about what someone is saying that creates the angry reaction. To answer your other question, I’ve always written songs about subjects I’m passionate about. And changing my conditioning has been the hardest but most rewarding work I’ve done on myself. It was a conscious decision. And I want to help people discover this freedom.
“And changing my conditioning has been the hardest but most rewarding work I’ve done on myself. It was a conscious decision. And I want to help people discover this freedom.“
HipHopCanada: In studying the mind, what are some important things you’ve learned?
Dillin Hoox: Our minds need silencing as much as our bodies need exercise. Meditation has become a part of my daily routine and is the most powerful tool a person can use. Becoming aware that you are not your mind is an important first step. Until that happens, you’re completely in its grip.
HipHopCanada: What advice could you give someone struggling to stay focused or struggling to maintain a desired way of thinking?
Dillin Hoox: Meditate, read, exercise, and eat right. Be kinder to yourself. Instead of trying to change your thinking, first try to think less. Get rid of all the mental garbage. Once there is more empty space, you can plant positive thoughts more easily. In my experience, that emptiness is so blissful that planting thoughts is unnecessary.
We have 60,000 thoughts a day, and on average 90% of those thoughts are negative. The best advice I can give anyone is to be more aware and present.
HipHopCanada: When did you take interest in the teachings of Jaggi Vasudev (commonly known as Sadhguru by his followers)? How has his teachings made an impact on your music? Are there any other yogis or mystics that you’ve taken an interest in?
Dillin Hoox: Shortly after reading A New Earth, I discovered I Sadhguru’s teachings online. His words struck a chord deep within me. There are 3 songs on the album inspired by what I’ve learned from Eckhart Tolle and Sadhguru. The late Osho is another mystic that has inspired and influenced me.
HipHopCanada: If you had to pick one song from the project to convince someone to buy the whole project, what would you choose? Why?
Dillin Hoox: I would have to go with “The Maze.” It has the most appeal and one of the most powerful messages on the album. “Karma” is a close second.
HipHopCanada: You’ve got production by Anno Domini and Diract Beats on the album. Can you describe your connection to those 2 companies and how you started working with them?
Dillin Hoox: I’ve been working with Adrian, the founder of Anno Domini, for over a decade. I’ve always admired his hustle and his quality of production. An opportunity opened up a couple years ago where I was able to get involved in the business and I’m now the co-owner of the multi-platinum production company. About a year later, Adrian and I bought and revamped another company called Diract Beats. We recently sold Diract Beats to an interested buyer, who we felt could give more attention to the growth of the company. Shouts to Diract Beats and the whole Anno Domini Nation family: Adrian, Sentury Status, ScareBeatz, Life & Death, 2Deep, Dansonn, Epistra, Screwaholic, Oskar Mike, Vherbal and Don-P. We just launched our brand new website. Make sure you check it out: AnnoDominiNation.com.
“There are 3 songs on the album inspired by what I’ve learned from Eckhart Tolle and Sadhguru.“
HipHopCanada: Have you put a lot of focus on building your own production skills up? Do you think your next project will have any self-produced records?
Dillin Hoox: You’ll definitely be hearing my productions on the next album. It’s been a long time goal of mine and I’m finally making it happen. Timing feels right. And I’m confident in what I’ve been composing as of late.
HipHopCanada: Were you looking for a particular type of sound when selecting beats for the project?
Dillin Hoox: I went into it without a plan. I was open to anything. The beats Quest produced are put together around my vocals. I usually record a song on any beat I’m feeling at the time, then I send my vocals to him and he composes the music. We’ve had success with this formula.
HipHopCanada: You’ve released several music videos in support of the album already. Any new visuals on the way? How did you connect with Concrete Guerilla Films?
Dillin Hoox: Two videos are currently in the editing stage and I’m gearing up to shoot two more. I’m hoping every song ends up with a video. Duxx, owner of Concrete Guerilla, and I connected when I was looking for a clothing manufacturer a while back. I got a shipment I wasn’t happy with and being the hothead I was back then, I flipped out and burnt bridges with Duxx instead of trying to find a solution. I reached out to him to correct the way I reacted a few years later. We ended up reconciling our issues and have had a dope working chemistry ever since. We shot 6 videos in one year. He’s the most talented director I’ve worked with to date. Shout out to Duxx!
HipHopCanada: What’s the response to the album been like? Were you expecting the project to make its debut at the No. 16 spot (peaking at No. 8)?
Dillin Hoox: Lots of love. I’m grateful to my fans for the support and appreciate all the feedback. I try not to have expectations. I’m confident in the project and I’m glad it has been well received so far.
HipHopCanada: What’s next for Dillin Hoox?
Dillin Hoox: I’ve started working on a new album. Be on the lookout for that in late 2017! I’m writing and producing for other artists as well. If you need a song or beats contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you all!