Life through the eyes of ‘Baghdad’

Rap artist “Baghdad” in a promotional shoot for his latest album “Sounds of Babylon” Joel Roberts/courtesy

Saif Altai, also known as “Baghdad,” shares what pushes him to pursue his passion for music and how being a person of color in the industry comes with responsibility

Children all have that one thing they want to be when they grow up. They all have dreams of going to the moon, becoming president or walking the red carpet. For Saif Altai he predicts his own future through Lego sets.

Altai expresses that when he started making music as a producer and beatmaker, he never intended to be a professional rap artist. He credits his friends that helped him pick up the art of rapping and got him comfortable with the microphone. 

However, he also credits his childhood toy set.

“When I was little and played with my Lego set, I was always infatuated with designing performance stages and imagining myself performing,” he says. “I guess that foreshadowed me being a music artist who is also majoring in architecture.”

He knew why he wanted to pursue his career in a more professional sense, which was when he started making beats and tracks. Then, he releases them to be available for streaming. 

“It’s that feeling of putting something out there and letting the world hear it with fresh ears,” he says. “That feeling is unmatched.” 

Altai reveals he also tends to be a bit of a perfectionist with his music, which is a “good and bad thing.” Before he drops a song on Spotify and Apple Music, he usually works on them for weeks at a time, recording and mixing day after day until it’s perfect. 

Most of Altai’s music resonates with his personal experiences. He suggests his songs “Stick Around,” “Wavey” and “Crash Bandicoot Y2K” are great examples of that.

Altai describes the messages in his music while diving into some of his more serious tracks. The most heartfelt song to him would be “Free Iraq,” which focuses on the incidents happening in his hometown. The same hometown that inspired his stage name, “Baghdad.”

A fan from Iraq wrote to him, asking why he hasn’t spoken up on such topics before. Reading that message gave him a sense of ignorance. He thought, with the name “Baghdad,” he should speak up about the issues in Iraq. 

After the impact of hearing feedback from his overseas fans, he made a song that sheds light on the lifestyle of their shared hometown and light on the people of southwest Asia. Some topics include bombings, terrorism and war. After the release, that same fan messaged him again, showing his gratitude, saying that he even got teary-eyed while listening to the track.

“I didn’t realize how much of an impact my music can have on someone I’ve never met,” he says.

Altai shares that his experience in the industry has had its highs and lows. He’s met some standout artists that have been great to work with, and he’s met others who would brush you off as if you have nothing good to offer. 

The main goal is to shed light on the “Muslim-American struggle,” he says. Describing it as the traumatic events of living in the middle of a war zone. He says to expect a lot more of him going deeper into those feelings with his future tracks. 

“Putting a piece of creative work out there is one of the most vulnerable things you can do,” Altai says.