(DEARBORN, MI) — When local rapper Basel “Baze” Hachem uploaded a music video on YouTube this week, it resulted in a social media firestorm for its depiction of young local Arab Americans partying at a hookah lounge.
Baze uploaded the video, titled “Can’t Let Go Remix”, on September 14. Within hours, it captivated the attention of the local community as it was shared across social media
The Arab American News posted the music video on its Facebook page and within 48 hours it had reached more than 20,000 Facebook users and sparked hundreds of mixed comments.
The plot of the video involves Baze serenading a woman in front of local hookah bar Blue Cafe, located on Schaefer Road. in east Dearborn. Inside the hookah lounge, dozens of college-aged locals are seen dancing, smoking hookah and lip syncing the song’s lyrics.
Baze’s clip did seem to generate strong backing by many, who expressed the importance of supporting locals who are trying to break into the entertainment industry. But many of those supporters were drowned out by the most controversial aspect of the video:
It captures two local young women— both of whom wear the headscarf— dancing and lip syncing along with dozens of other men and women. It ignited a range of debates on the hijab in Islam, and the “expected” behavior that comes with the territory.
“The two girls in the headscarves, one is my sister and the other is my cousin,” Baze told The Arab American News. “What people were saying about them was a disgrace. They are grown women, adults supporting their family.”
Baze said he was prepared for the backlash when he decided to let his sister and cousin appear in the video. His wife is also in the video, playing the woman he serenades. They, along with hundreds of other local young adults, showed up at Blue Cafe in August when he distributed flyers asking supporters to join him for the video shoot. It was shot by New Age Media, a local up-and-coming production company.
Since the release of the video, many commentators were also appalled at the “questionable” image the video may be setting for the community. But Baze said it’s the reality of a modern day Dearborn.
“The atmosphere of that video is what happens every weekend at all the cafes in Dearborn,” he said. “My video is innocent. When they have entertainment nights at hookah bars, don’t you see hijabi’s dancing and doing the dabke? When you go to a wedding, don’t you see the proud mother dancing in front of everyone? They were doing normal stuff, but people blew it out of proportion.”
Baze said criticism comes with the territory of his career choice. He was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to Detroit with his family when he was 4-years-old. He soon developed a passion for music, listening to late rapper Tupac Shakur while growing up.
Despite challenges from his father, Baze said he moved out of his home when he was 18 to pursue a career as a rapper. He began writing his own music, releasing free-style mix tapes and distributing them for free. His musical style is versatile, tackling life themes and infusing it with street and club vibes.
“I started off in my own community, they were in my mind first before I went to any other city,” Baze said. “I was on my own. The family wasn’t supporting me and I was giving CDs away for free, thousands of them.”
Due to word of mouth, he would soon earn a positive reputation in the local hip hop scene and would begin charging for shows and mix tapes, making a steady income. He said his family eventually came around to the idea of accepting his career choice.
His music has made it as far as Chicago and Miami and he has also developed a large following in such local cities as Sterling Heights and Novi.
He plans to stay in Dearborn with his wife and two children and hopes his music will eventually reach music executives in Hollywood. He said social media has become his strongest marketing tool.
Baze is aware that it’s not all too common for Arab Americans to pursue careers in the entertainment industry, but referenced former Dearborn resident Rima Fakih, Miss USA 2010, as a good example of someone who pursued her dreams while facing community backlash.
“It’s challenging knowing you are going to get hated on in your own community, but it helps you build up and move on from it,” he said. “If you don’t have haters, you aren’t doing anything right. The people who have been supporting me, without them, my music wouldn’t go anywhere and I thank them.”