NYUnique: ZEHRA MERCHANT: Rhymes on Z’s Mind

“Pakistani dime
Always ready with a new rhyme
Gotta speak with my own mind”

–Zehra Merchant

 
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Lei: First, who are you?
Zehra:
Zehra
Pakistani dime
Always ready with a new rhyme
Gotta speak with my own mind
My major
MCC is lit
Senior is what it says on my transcript
Lei: Tell us a little bit more about Pakistan, the place you originally come from.
Zehra: Pakistan,
The place I grew up
Gave me a lot in every way
For the lucky few
It’s a paradise and golden hue
For the lucky few
Magic encircles the place through and through
Whatever you want, at the push of a button
But living there, and being there
Keeps you humble
You look out of your car
And see men and women praying on the street
You look out of your car
And see children begging for something to eat
Being there gives you something, no place can
It teaches you responsibility
And to always lend a helping hand

 
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Lei: I notice you speak in rhymes. Your words are like lyrics flowing out; it’s fresh and beautiful.
Zehra: This is who I am
Whether you see me bumping on the street
Or you notice it when we speak
Some of the replies are from rhymes I have already written; I just thought they would fit. Often, I also write my essays in spoken word form, because I love the creativity and honesty it brings out in me. My professor said in all his years teaching he had never seen anyone do that. He appreciated and respected my fresh approach to learning. 
Lei: What inspires you?
Zehra: I am grateful for my failures and my successes
You learn a valuable lesson from both
Each force a commitment to growth
Found my voice when I was down
Pakistani rules kept me from expressing myself freely
But eventually,
I had nothing to lose and everything to gain
Wanted to see what the new wave would bring 

 
 

Lei: I know you recently released your first production/music video. That’s a big step and quite the accomplishment. How do you feel about it?
Zehra: Feelin’ okay, feelin’ okay
21, and scared of the aftermath
Ain’t nobody got guts like that
My heart a little heavy
At the same time I’m ready
Made of gold
Ain't nobody here to make me feel less bold
Show stopper since five years old
Betta you know my name
Before I hop on the success jet plane
Write rhymes in 10 minutes
Pictures in 10 days
Though making up my mind
To share all this online
Took the longest time

 
 

Lei: There are many voices on social media. How is yours different and worth being heard?
Zehra: What prompted my honesty on social media was the fact that I wanted to help empower women who live in conservative societies and those who feel oppressed by them. I hate the fact that women are treated differently from men, and society has accepted the clear double standard. People need to be reminded that just because someone decides to do something out of the cultural expectation and norm does not mean they are “crazy” or have committed a sin. I wanted to put myself out there and break the social rules and constructs I grew up with, to show everyone that you can be the change you wish to see in the world and it’ll be worth it as long as you stay true to yourself.
Lei: What is the most important thing to you in your creation?
Zehra: The most important thing to me
Is staying true to my vision:
Cause no matter what you create
Some people gon’ hate
So keep doing you
You can a path and change it too
Don't care if a hater said, what to who?
Let it blow in the shade they throw
Cause they never talk about what they know
Never give up on the show
Got my Yeezys and I’m ready to go

 
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Lei: Who are your fans?
Zehra: The people who appreciate my work are the people who can connect to it and
appreciate its uniqueness. I have some new stuff coming soon!
This one’s for the supporters
Makin’ my moves matter
Makin’ me feel badder
Thank you for the love
I won’t let you down
Stay tuned
I’m comin’ back the second time around
Lei: What is unique to your style?
Zehra: I feel I bring a certain flair like nobody out there. One of my favorite parts of a production is the creative directing and choosing the looks. I am grateful to my team and all the people who work with me. I try to change it up in terms of vibe, energy and color. However, you can always tell it’s my style because of certain touches here and there. I wear an Allah necklace around my neck in all my photos and productions. It is a part of me and I do it to illustrate I am a Muslim and God is where I find my strength and bravery. Some people have asked whether it could be perceived as disrespectful because I am wearing it with "unbecoming" clothes and that it might be unaligned with my behavior, while others appreciate that I am owning my identity. God is a big part of who I am and I should be able to carry that with me at all times; we can’t hide anything from God anyway. I want to show girls and people everywhere that just because you are a Muslim does not mean the world is in black and white and as long as your intentions are pure some things can be gray. Islam is big enough for all of us.

 
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Lei: Do you have anything you want to end with?
Zehra: Settlers don't feel the same urgency I do
They don't understand the tenacity
I got inside me
No this ain't no perjury
Everything I write is mine
Even if you don't f*ck with this dime
You'll f*ck with this rhyme
Stay tuned
And for the people who bitter
I only get better


Directed and Interviewed by: Lei Jin
Photographed by: Alicia Gill
Interviewee: Zehra Merchant

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