The Rocks Off 100: Sama'an Ashrawi, Trill Gladiator
Sama'an Ashrawi with Mayor Annise Parker at FPSF 2013
Who? Sama'an Ashrawi is a filmmaker, a documentarian of almost everything UGK and easily one of the few men Bun B trusts more than anything other than his shoe collection and family. Actually, Ashrawi is like family after the two befriended one another. Last fall, Ashrawi released his All Star Tribute to UGK documentary that brought Bun to tears.
"He reminds me of a young me," Bun says of the Houstonian and University of Texas graduate. Ashrawi is easily one of the more recognizable Trill Gladiators, thanks to his trusty camera and Trill Gladiators jacket. That, and when asked about himself for a change -- as opposed to asking questions to the likes of hip-hop super producers 9th Wonder and Just Blaze -- he's an open book.
Home Base? "Home base is Cypress, Texas. It's where I was raised, it's where I'll always come back to, no matter where I live," says the fresh-faced 23-year-old, who had a birthday last week. "I always tell people, 'Cypress is the biggest little town no one's ever heard of!' And it's true, I've lost count of how many high schools we have at this point, and we have a Bucees!
"Home base also means my family too," Ashrawi adds. "I first got into Hip-Hop because, at a young age, I saw pictures and video coming from my dad's home country of Palestine, and, then, by sheer coincidence, I happened to see a few Public Enemy music videos and I immediately identified with those images -- not to mention all the political rallies my parents took me to as a kid."
That family aspect is Ashrawi's lifeblood. His mom researches everyone he's ever interviewed, his dad went with him to the Trayvon Martin rally at Emancipation Park last year and met Bun B to champion him as a community leader -- not to mention his sisters want him to marry them off to Macklemore.
"My parents instilled me with a desire to seek out knowledge, and especially historical knowledge," he explains. "I try to make that apparent in my interviews whenever possible. There is a social and political context for every event on Earth, and we can't just act like that context doesn't exist.
"I met my best friends David, Zach, Chris, and Scott in Cypress, and we used to get into so much trouble!" Ashrawi continues. "But that's what's kept us together; we've seen each other at our weakest and most vulnerable moments. I definitely wet the bed at Zach's house at least twice while we were in elementary school, and he still hangs out with me, so, yeah, they're pretty awesome.
"I remind myself every day how fortunate I am to have them as best friends because I've never met anyone my age who has had a solid friend group for that long," he concludes.
For obscure tidbits, Sam'an will easily let you know how one Houston rap all-star actually was one of his neighbors. "Fun fact: In high school, Slim Thug lived right down the road from my neighborhood, and we used to drive by his house every other weekend hoping we'd see him," he says. "Zach rolled down the window and yelled, 'We love you, Slim!' Slim just shouted back, in that way that only Slim does, 'Haaauuhh!'"
Why Do You Stay in Houston? "Houston represents the foundation of my career," he says, "It's where I did so many of my first interviews, it's where I first met Bun B, and it's where so many of the mentor figures in my life reside. I paid my dues in Houston; driving to Houston to snag an interview on a school night, sometimes the night before a test, was certainly a common occurrence."
Giddy, he begins listing off every single major reason of keeping base in Space City.
"Last Concert Cafe," he begins. "The drum circle there every Wednesday has long been my haven. I go and bang on on my derbeke [a Middle Eastern drum] until my heart's content, and it's always very therapeutic.
"Warehouse Live and Fitzgerald's," he continues. "I've been to about a million shows in my short life, and, no matter what state I'm in, nothing quite feels like Warehouse Live nor Fitzgerald's. I always have fun at Warehouse Live and my friends and I have been going to Fitzgerald's since our high-school days, when we used to go see The Blue Threads play the downstairs room.
Other major Ashrawi landmarks and haunts:
- Sparkle Burger in East Downtown (a shade north of 45 and Third Ward).
- Mary'z or Cafe Layal on Richmond: "What's better than some amazing chicken shawarma (or falafel, for my herbivorous friends), a bubbling hookah, and good conversation amongst friends and friendly strangers?"
- Hakeem Olajuwon: "Probably the greatest human being to ever go from Lagos to Houston is here. His actions in '94 and '95 would have solved 'many a crises.'"
- The Trill Gladiators: "It's like having a network of superheroes around. They protect the city from injustice and preserve and uphold the general trillness."
But Ashrawi implores you: do not sell bootleg Bun B or Pimp C or UGK CDs. Or else.
Good War Story: "Between getting kicked out of a House of Blues in Dallas over being underage and attempting to enjoy a listening session for Bun B's Trill OG LP back in 2010 or waiting over two hours to get an Erykah Badu interview that never materialized (a feat he hopes to one day correct), there's the Lil' Flip story that will forever remain the craziest."
There was also the time I was interviewing Lil' Flip at his hotel room after a show. It was one of those smokey interviews, if you know what I mean, and everything was going fine until Flip jumped up and said, "Follow me to my potna's room! Keep the cameras rolling!"
We obliged his request, and followed up into the hotel room, up the stairs, and into a bedroom. His potna was nowhere to be found until we turned around and realized he was throwing up in the bathroom. I kid you not, Flip walked over to him and said, "Yeah, we're gonna do the interview right here!" (or something like that).
And so we did an interview right next to the toilet where his friend had just finished throwing up (his friend was still hugging the bowl, ready to spew at any moment). The whole time, I was thinking, "Is this some kind of metaphor?" I'm still not sure what to make of that one, but let's just say it will never make it onto the Internet.
Music Scene Pet Peeve? Without hesitation, he answers, "All the cameras nowadays. Way back when, there were only, like, a dozen photographers/videographers in all of rock and roll (probably not an accurate number). I often wonder how I would've fared in those days.
"I think I would have loved hitting the road with a band and being the only person with a camera," continues Ashrawi. "I'd still love to shoot a tour, but it'd have to be the right one. Cameraphones are also a part of this. It's crazy to go to a show and see hundreds of phones pointed at the stage; makes me wonder if anyone is really enjoying it. It's not about enjoying the moment anymore, it's all about capturing the moment."
Five Records You Can't Live Without:
- Beastie Boys, Paul's Boutique
- UGK, Dirty Money
- The Beatles, Revolver or Rubber Soul
- Jimi Hendrix, Blues
- Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out
Best Show You've Ever Attended: "Beastie Boys in Central Park, NYC 2007," he says. "I don't know how or why, but my parents let 17-year-old me fly to New York City all by myself for 36 hours to go see my favorite rap group in the world do a concert in their backyard. No one can match the type of energy and presence the Beastie Boys bring to the stage, they keep the crowd on their toes!
"Looking back, it's so amazing my parents did let me go because I'll never get to see them again," marvels Ashrasi. "R.I.P. MCA."
See who else has joined The Rocks Off 100 this year on the next page.
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