Living in Queens, being an immigrant from Bangladesh, growing up listening to Jay Z: These are all things that influence rapper Anik Khan's music. But for Khan — whose album, Kites, is out now — there's one influence more powerful than the rest: his father.
"My father is my hero," Khan says. "I never really grew up idolizing entertainers or anything like that, because entertainers didn't keep food in my fridge. My father did."
In 1993, when Khan was 4 years old, his father brought the family to the U.S. from Bangladesh, leaving behind the life he had built there.
"He was doing well, he owned three businesses — educated man with his master's," Khan says. "Three-floor flat house, a driver. And he left all that to come to America, so his kids could have a better education — to move to a one-bedroom apartment in lower-income apartments in Astoria and drive a cab. And I think that is the definition of unconditional love."
Khan's father came to America with the family to seek political asylum. He had fought in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War to gain independence from Pakistan. After the war, he'd earned a master's degree in literature, and Khan remembers how his father would recite Bengali poetry to friends and family.
"My father was the guy who always invited people over to the house no matter how little the space was," Khan says. "So it was, I think subconsciously, him entertaining people and me seeing him always be willing to recite his poetry for anyone — whether it was 2,000 people or just two people — that really influenced me."
When Khan was young, combining his immigrant identity with his life in Queens wasn't always easy for him.
"Being an immigrant kid, you always battle with two worlds," he says. "It was extremely confusing, but also empowering. I would go from being in the house and smelling like curry chicken and food and listening to classical Bengali music, to then walking outside and being on the block with the homies, and listening to Nas, or DMX or Jay Z, and dressing a certain way, and going to play ball and living my life that way."
That struggle with cultural difference moved Khan to go back and visit his roots in Bangladesh — an experience that proved powerful for him.
"I got to experience the actual land and culture in an older age, and I realized how beautiful it is," he says. "It was almost like a shattering of the glass of what I wanted to do with myself and my music and everything all together."
Like many parents, Khan's father wasn't initially keen on his son's desire to be a rapper. But, thanks in part to Khan's dedication, his father has more than come around.
"My father loves that I'm doing this as a career," he says. "Obviously in the beginning, my family was worried. Like, you tell your parents, 'Hey, I'm about to be a rapper!' and they're like, 'Really? Out of all jobs, that's the one you chose?' ... But as soon as he saw how passionate I am about it and [that] I'm never gonna stop, he saw people he never knew start talking about me, he was like, 'This is actually a thing. This is really working.' And now he goes around and tells his friends about everything."