Riz Amhed had an immense breakout year across TV and film in 2016. There was his starring role in The Night Of, and his role as one of the members of Rogue One — escaped pilot Bodhi Rook — in the Star Wars-ish film of the same name. And as his alter ego, rapper Riz MC, he collaborated with former Das Racist member Heems (Himanshu Kumar Suri) as Swet Shop Boys. The duo released their debut LP Cashmere in October.
Cashmere often focuses on being brown — and particularly of South Asian heritage — in societies where white supremacy and a largely Islamophobic brand of xenophobia are being brought ever more rapidly into mainstream politics. (Ahmed is British Pakistani, and Suri is Indian American). The video for “Zayn Malik” — released today, and directed by Broken Antenna — sees Heems and Riz MC rapping amidst a crowd of young-ish South Asians in the streets of London, setting off fireworks as drones circle them. The song, of course, takes its name from the former One Direction band member — himself the first British Pakistani Muslim to reach the heights of pop megastardom in England (and around the globe), and thus someone who has to contend with mainstream British ideas about cultural identity. As Diyana Noory wrote for Noisey of Malik:
Although he has not been particularly vocal about his faith, both people who celebrate his Muslim identity and those who reject it have tried to forge their own image of him as a spokesperson for Islam. His unique identity has inevitably shaped his reception and the discussion around him in ways that have not been the case for his former bandmates.
Malik himself is mentioned on the track named after him only once directly, in Riz MC’s verse, with the line, “I pray for my nephew/I pray you’re not antagonized by all the hating and news and the shit they sanitize/Look Zayn Malik’s got more than eighty virgins on him/There’s more than one direction to get to paradise.”
Watch the video: