The Rapper Son of an Iranian Poet Is Building a New Kind of Record Label
Azad Right still raps, but his current focus is co-running indie label Mind of a Genius.
Photo by Danny Liao
L.A. rapper Azad Right has made selflessly championing others the guiding principle of his career. Today he’s vice president of rising indie label Mind of a Genius (MOAG), whose roster includes recent Coachella performers Gallant and ZHU.
“If you help someone that you believe in, they are naturally going to want to help you. The universe is going to want to conspire for you,” he says at MOAG’s Westside office. His phone buzzes incessantly yet he’s calm and smiling. He was born with the circuitry required to handle chaos.
Born Azad Naficy, the Iranian-American rapper grew up in Section 8 housing. When his parents separated, Right stayed with his father, Majid Naficy, though his mother remained part of his life, taking him to piano and violin lessons. A college professor and poet, Majid Naficy fled Iran in the early ’80s, after his first wife and several family members were executed by Ayatollah Khomeini’s security forces. He’s also been legally blind for Right’s entire life.
The father’s trauma rubbed off on the son. “It got to the point where I was having nightmares. I just felt so bad for him,” Right explains. “I was afraid that people wouldn’t accept me. A lot of it was about me. I was, like, ‘Why me?’ Then I learned compassion and how to have empathy.”
Right cared for his father and attended his poetry readings, absorbing the impact of his words. He saw firsthand “how different walks of life can connect through pain. His pain resonated with so many different people.”
Right hoped to connect with audiences through rap. Though he earned a degree in political science from UC Irvine, he devoted the majority of his college career to an internship at Interscope Records. In addition to making connections at the label, he compiled a contact list that included writers at prominent blogs and publications. By the time he released his first full-length project, The Time Is Right, he knew everyone he needed to email. When friends approached him seeking help with their own careers, he gladly forwarded the contacts he’d worked so hard to collect.
Karmic success came with the release of the video for Right’s 2011 single “Spiderwebs,” which received hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube with zero PR push. That year he was the top opener for artists including Phonte, Jay Rock and Kendrick Lamar.
Unfortunately, nothing panned out in the years that followed. No deals were signed, managers came and went, and a meeting with Nas proved to be only that. But Right has continued to release increasingly auspicious music and build his audience.
“I’m 27 now. A lot of people would’ve given this up, but I’m playing to my strengths now,” he explains. “I don’t think I’m the best there is, but I work every day to try to be the best there is.”
Right now is focused on MOAG, where he works with longtime friend and label founder, David Dann. He plans to release an EP and a full-length LP this summer. But he’ll be too busy helping others succeed to worry about his own projects winning widespread acclaim.
“Before there was this nervous energy and this anxiety that was overwhelming,” Right says. “Now I’m getting to create with people and build careers for artists that I really believe in. That’s enough for me. That gives me peace of mind.”
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