Tibetan refugee and hip-hop artist finds home in Boston music
As a Tibetan refugee who landed in the US at the impressionable age of 14, Young Lama uses his music to speak for those people who don’t have a voice. He’s been there himself; without parents to rely on, he faced homelessness and other tragic circumstances traveling between Tibet, Nepal, and India before finding a home and purpose in Boston.
Channeling his motivation through music, he brings a modern message about struggle as well as success. In the chorus of his single “Self-Made,” Lama raps about his journey and making things happen alone, even with the odds against him: Flew a thousand mile across the ocean / Self-made baby, I don’t owe shit. It’s his biggest hit yet with more than a million views, as well as a jump-off for Lama’s career in Boston and beyond.
While he’s underrated as a rapper in New England by some measures, Lama has a massive growing fan base internationally. His YouTube comments are filled with both love and praise from fans in Asia; asked about the hundreds of thousands of views on his streaming platforms, he noted, “I’ve got so many fans from India and Nepal because I left a little part of me everywhere I was moving.”
Though he’s now an inspiration to others, Lama was himself inspired by the likes of Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, and 50 Cent. In particular, he relates to Marley’s dream of emancipating his people from mental and physical slavery, and says that in his own experience, there’s scant acknowledgment among Americans about the lack of freedom in Tibet under Chinese Communist Party control.
[Watch a video of this interview with Young Lama here]
“I’m glad I made it this far,” he said, explaining that in Tibet, many of his friends and family members weren’t able to reveal their “true” identity due to the fear of exposure. He continued, “There’s still 99.99% that didn’t make it this far, and they could never say who they [were] because they could get in trouble.”
In following his dreams, he took the name Young Lama to remind him of his father, his homeland, and the teachings of the Dalai Lama.
“If I’m going to die one day regardless,” he said, “I’m going to die bringing a big change, whatever it takes.”
Earlier this year, Lama released Blessings and Curses, his latest album, which dropped exclusively on Bandcamp. On 10 tracks, he packs in everything from love songs, to motivational lyrics, to vulnerability; on “No Switching” he rhymes, Blood, sweat and tears / I put my dedication to it / Sacrificed it all, so I could finally see improvement.
Through it all, Lama is laid back, even playful in his creativity. “Snub Nose” mimics the idea of the children’s nursery rhyme “Wheels on the Bus,” but adds a hip-hop twist and introspective lyrics: I love my grandma cause she raised me / And then I love my struggle cause it made me / I’m out here getting paper on the daily / Protect me from my vicious karma / Can’t somebody save me / The wheels on the Benz go round and round.
“I try to stay versatile,” he said. “If I’m sad, I’m going to give you some sad shit. If I’m happy, I’m going to give you some happy shit. If I’m turnt up, I’m going to give you that.”