By Noah Sollinger | August 17, 2022
If you are on Tiktok, you have probably heard of Anees. The 30-year-old has taken the app by storm over the past two years, relentlessly posting videos of his music, many of which are recorded from the driver seat of his sedan. This grind paid off, and today (August 17th), his account has amassed over 2.7 million followers and 36.1 million likes.
Given all the attention Anees has gained from this platform, it’s easy to label him a “Tiktok artist” who only makes songs designed to go viral in 15 second loops. But don’t be mistaken: Tiktok is just a tool for him to share his music with the world, and he has used it to its fullest potential.
Raised in Washington, D.C., Anees was surrounded by music his entire life, but he never truly saw it as a way to make a living. “I never actually believed that it was a career path, strictly because I was afraid of doing something that wasn’t traditional.”
This led to him pursuing traditional education for several years, even attending and graduating from law school. However, it wasn’t until he got that far that he realized the standard path was not for him. “Once I went deep, deep down the rabbit hole… it really hit me like, this shit is not for me, this is truly not for me. And when I got to that lowest point of really being depressed, because I was so out of love with what I was doing, I had to ask myself, well, ‘What do I really want to do?’ And music was the answer.”
Anees does not consider his years spent in school to be wasted, however, as his studies bolstered his songwriting ability. “Studying sociology really helped me see that everybody is really connected. We’re all connected in one way or the other. And songwriting is a way of expressing that interconnectivity.”
Fans have certainly grown fond of this songwriting and musical ability, as Anees’ Tiktok and streaming numbers speak for themselves. One track, “Sun and Moon,” even made it to the top of the Billboard charts in the Philippines after a popular Filipino rapper known as J-Roa added a guest verse. These numbers have brought attention from a variety of prestigious media outlets, with him participating in a Genius Verified interview and performing on Jimmy Kimmel Live just two years after releasing his first song.
He certainly took advantage of all this publicity, and embarked on his first tour this summer. He sold out dates across the Northeast, and in New York, he even played a free show the day following his scheduled concert since so many fans were unable to purchase tickets due to high demand.
Despite this being his first headlining tour, the connection between Anees and his fans runs deep. When we saw him, he let fans sing, brought a few on stage, and even walked through the crowd while singing “Sun and Moon.” His passion and positive energy could be felt from the front to the back of the room, undeniably impressive for someone so new to performing live.
We caught up with Anees right before soundcheck for his July 21st show at the Knitting Factory and he answered a few questions for the groovement:
What was your first live gig?
Music Fest. I played at Music Fest about a little over a year ago. And I did two songs and I was extremely nervous.
How would you describe your music either by genre or general vibe?
I would describe my music as soulful pop.
What’s your pre-show routine?
A lot of manuka honey. Some Wim Hof meditations, some vocal warm ups, and a ton of water.
Who or what do you draw inspiration from?
I think it’s a triad of nature, God, and my wife.
Is there anything you want people to take away from your music?
I think the most important thing to take away from my music is a message of love, but not just a message of romantic love. Love in its many dimensions: love for others, love for self, love for the world around you. I think love plays a role in everything we do creatively and I think it plays a role in our relationships with everybody. I think my songs, whether they’re about loving myself, loving other people, loving God, loving this world, they hold Value because the world needs more love. Well said
What is your dream collaboration?
Oh man, I don’t know about a dream collaboration but I definitely want to make a song with Jon Bellion.
We’d love to hear about your musical upbringing. Were you surrounded by music as a kid or did you find your way to it yourself?
Definitely surrounded. My parents were always playing good music: James Taylor, Jim Croce, Sam Cooke, even stuff from the 90s like Lauryn Hill, Dre. I grew up surrounded by soulful music for sure.
You obviously have a massive following on Tiktok and have gotten a ton of love on your open verse challenges there. What’s it like to feel the love with that platform, especially with so many amazing artists from so many different genres making verses for your songs?
Man, Tiktok changed my life. Tiktok has completely busted open all the doors I didn’t even know existed. And it’s made the world feel like it’s at my fingertips, and the world truly is at my fingertips because of Tiktok, because of Instagram, because of YouTube. All of these social media platforms have given me a reach that I never believed existed before.
And Tiktok facilitated your collaboration with J-Roa, right? How did that come about?
I did an open verse challenge on “Sun and Moon” and J-Roa posted a verse and it was tantalizing, like, the melody was so catchy. And what I loved about his open verse, he made it his own. It wasn’t like, oh, he just fit into my song. He transformed the song, he made the song better. So he and I became very quick friends and I’m probably going to go out to the Philippines.
You just talked about Sun and Moon, which definitely leans a little bit more towards r&b than you have your past. Do you feel like that direction is your future? Or will you continue to move back and forth between the styles?
I don’t believe in sticking to a genre, I believe in sticking to a tone. I think my tone is what speaks for itself. And my tone is the through line between every genre that I try whether it’s pop, hip hop, or r&b. Because I’m not going to say “I’m gonna go make music that all sounds different,” I’m going to say “I’m going to sound like me in any genre that I do.” And I think when I do it that way, it widens the lane for me to be more impactful to all different types of music listeners.
How has your creative process changed as you explore these different genres and grow older?
It’s still the same. I freestyle almost everything, and then I record it, and then once I’m done freestyling it, I listen to it back and transcribe it. And typically that’s how every single song gets written.
What about the music videos? How do you make sure that your personal and musical identity is coming through with your videos?
It’s always a challenge to make sure that the music video truly tells and complements the story that you hear sonically. I think the key is coming up with a narrative that expands your song. Not just a narrative that your song sounds good on, but a narrative that tells the story in an even more expensive light. And I usually don’t have to worry too much about that. Because my best friend Issa, who runs my photo and video, he understands the tone, he understands the vision, he understands the themes that we go for. And so I entrust him with a lot of it.
We saw you perform on Kimmel earlier this summer. What does it feel like to get an opportunity like that this early?
Being on late night TV, being on Jimmy Kimmel, being so new, as an artist and already reaching these levels of exposure, has taught me that there’s no one path for any artist. There’s no blueprint that I have to follow. I’m my own blueprint. And that means that I do things fast, in some ways faster than others, and in some way slower than others. That’s okay. So maybe I released a song slower than another artist, but I get on late night TV faster than them. And that’s just my blueprint. And it’s not right. It’s not wrong. It’s just true to me.
Mental health is something you discussed pretty deeply on your track “Neverland fly.” As an artist you’re constantly showing your face, you’re constantly putting out deeply personal songs. How has your mental health affected you? And how do you keep it in check?
Songwriting is an expression of the human experience. And so for me songwriting has been a great outlet to write about anything I’m feeling whether that’s depression, which I don’t experience anymore, but at one time did, anxiety, or love, or remorse, or excitement, or, rebellion, whatever emotions I’m feeling, I channel them through songwriting. And I think it’s super important for anybody when it comes to mental health to have an outlet: that can be songwriting, that could be exercise, that could be hiking, it could be writing, it could be laughter, could be comedy, it could be watching movies, could be creating movies. I think the most important thing is to not run away from the things you’re experiencing mentally, but to channel them through a creative outlet.
Final question: what’s next for you?
I got a show in Connecticut in two days, then Boston, then Buffalo, then Pittsburgh, then Philly, then DC. Everybody should come to those shows. And if those shows have already happened by the time you’re reading this, I’ve got a song called “Leave Me” and it’s dropping soon and when it drops, it’s going to be a massive, massive song, a number one hit.
📸: shot by Gaby Garcia