News & Politics

DC-Area Rapper Anees Is Getting a Big Boost From Justin Bieber

How did the pop superstar end up in Anees's Instagram livestream?

Photograph by Issa Kaddissi

On Saturday night, Northern Virginia rapper Anees started off one of his typical Instagram livestreams by discussing honey mustard and performing some of his unreleased music. Then, about five minutes in, Anees noticed a notable new viewer: Justin Bieber. Yes, one of the world’s biggest  pop stars had entered the chat of this little-known up-and-comer (check out his latest track, “Slip”). It turned out Bieber was a fan, so they had a conversation—in the middle of the livestream—about music, faith, and their love for their wives. We talked to Anees about how he befriended Bieber (and also, obviously, we had questions about that iconic mustache).

When did you notice that Justin Bieber had joined your livestream?

Initially, I was just performing my songs. Typically, I get around 100-plus people. Next thing you know, I start seeing his comments in the chat, and people started calling attention to it. That’s how it caught my eye. And then he started leaving really positive comments—you know, he was gassing me up. So the energy was really great. Next thing you know, I saw his name in the request to join live. You don’t hesitate when Justin Bieber requests to join your live, so I tapped it right away and just went with it.

What was going through your head talking with him?

It was definitely surreal. That’s one of those things that you have to blink twice and make sure you’re seeing what you’re actually seeing. But it was quite comfortable because he made it comfortable. He’s such a humble guy, and even though he’s the greatest musician in the world, he made it feel as though we were friends.

One of your songs that Bieber seemed drawn to is your latest single, “Slip.” What’s the story behind that song?

It’s a pure love song. It’s a song for people who love deeply, and I wrote it about my wife, because that’s my experience with love. She’s the person who I love. The lyrics in the song are vulnerable because I think that’s what love requires, vulnerability. When you love someone deeply, like I do, the lyrics come natural.

When did you start making music?

In 2017, I graduated law school and then I passed the bar and was at a crossroads in my life. I was in a very dark place, so freestyling was my therapy, because I did not want to practice law. So I would freestyle in my car, because it felt like a way to heal and to find inner peace. I slowly decided to do it on Instagram, because I figured, why don’t I share this part of myself with other people? My career began with social media, which is the beauty of the day and age we live in. You can be your average, everyday person living anywhere. As long as you get a strong internet connection and smartphone, you can put your talent out there and start building a career in music.

So I started freestyling in my car on Instagram Live. I would have maybe four or five people watching me, sometimes less. Sometimes the number would drop to nobody, and I’d be freestyling on a livestream to myself. Slowly those numbers grew to ten, double digits, and then 20. And as my numbers grew and as I became more consistent and as my community shared my music, it grew to be 100 and more. There is no career for me without my community. The people who chose to rally around me when I had 150 followers or 1,000 followers or 5,000 followers, those are the people that made it possible for me to be on an Instagram Live with Justin Bieber.

So what has happened since that live with Bieber?

By the time I’d gotten off live, I’d gained over 10,000 followers. That’s within a period of maybe 30 minutes. In the beginning of my Instagram, it had taken me two years to gain that amount of followers. So that was the first major thing that happened. And then, honestly, a bunch of doors started opening. A bunch of connections were made. I started meeting people whom I truly admire. That’s the power of uplifting other artists. When a great artist sends the elevator back down to uplift someone, they can change their life with just a gesture of love and support. A lot of love and a lot of support have come my way—not just verified people, but more importantly, [I’ve met] people who love my music.

Have you connected with anyone very well-known?

Without getting specific, I’ve been able to connect with producers, fellow artists, and just really awesome people within the industry. I’m more excited about the average, everyday music listener who decided to follow me, and that’s really where my head’s been at. I haven’t spent as much time trying to pivot that live experience into a career opportunity as I have been trying to create an open space for the new listeners who have come. My focus is like, “Okay, I’ve got 10,000 new people here. I’ve got to show them my songs. I’ve got to treat them to the experience that I know to be the Anees experience.”

People have had a lot to say about your mustache. Why do you think people are so into it?

I had a mustache back in like 2018 and it started off as a seasonal piece—you know, something you break out when the weather gets cold. It was never a mainstay in my style. About a year ago, I just decided I didn’t want to shave it—much to my wife’s chagrin. Before you know it, it started becoming something that people really rallied around. It almost became the mascot of the music. The funny thing is, I’ve spent time figuring out how to respond to these comments, so there’s a couple emojis. There’s a chef, who has a mustache, and he’s holding a ladle, and then there’s one of a guy with just a plain old head with a mustache. These days, I respond to those comments [about the ‘stache] with these emojis. It’s a very simple and playful way to let them know that, “Yes, I know I have a mustache, obviously. And I’m happy that you like it.”

What are the next steps you want to take now that you’re becoming more well-known and have made connections with so many new people?

The key for me coming next is just to release my next song. I’ve learned that, especially as an independent artist, you can’t ride the high of one song for too long. You’ve always got to have that next wave coming. So the next step for me, now that I’ve got 10,000 more eyes watching, is to say, “Oh, you love ‘Slip,’ just wait till I release my next song ‘Love Is Crazy.’ Just wait till I release my next song ‘Drunk on Myself’.” Because these songs I believe are every bit as beautiful as “Slip,” perhaps just with a little bit of different styling to them.

This interview has been edited and condensed.