Hythum El Sayyad
By Darlene Donloe
Music fills Hythum El Sayyad’s soul.
It fills every part of the singer/songwriter/musician’s life.
It’s all-consuming, and he’d have it no other way. He lives it. He breathes it. He eats it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
His passion for music can be heard on his latest EP project, Beyond The Plains, currently available on iTunes and Spotify. An EP (short for extended play) is a musical recording that contains more tracks than a single, but is usually unqualified as an album or LP. In this case it’s five. The 27-year-old Bloomington, Indiana native of Egyptian descent, not only wrote and sang the five songs on the EP, he also played all of the instruments.
His music is his own. It’s alternative hip hop. It’s soul. It’s pop rock. It’s fused with Latin and Middle Eastern beats. It’s his. It’s the world’s.
Although he’s clearly marching down a path toward stardom, Hythum’s road hasn’t always been paved with gold.
When he initially moved to Los Angeles from Indiana, Hythum, whose name means ‘young eagle’ in Arabic, actually lived in his car for a month before bunking with a friend for several months until he was able to find his own digs. He’s now called Los Angeles home for a year.
Undeterred by that situation Hythum, who is single, never allowed his circumstances to get in the way of his passion. Steadfast in his resolve to make music, he just continued to make music by playing his guitar while living in his car.
Over the years Hythum, who won a competition called Rhyme Against Crime (raising awareness for gun violence), was the lead singer in a band called Protocol. He was also in a band called Apollo Quad, which opened for artists like Snoop Dogg, Ying Yang Twins, Bone, Thugs N Harmony and more. Now, he’s on his own creating music that will take him and his audience on a melodic voyage.
In conversation with him, it doesn’t take long to realize just how zealous Hythum is about music. His joy is palpable. His enthusiasm is infectious. His voice seems to smile as he talks about his musical journey. Beyond the Plains is his sophomore EP. The first single, Disappear, is on SoundCloud. Last February he released his debut EP called Schematics, now available on iTunes and Spotify. It boasts the songs Supply and Demand, Groove, Death Dealers, Dawn and Think Less, Live More.
I recently caught up with Hythum to talk about Beyond The Plains and how he plans to continue to make sweet music.
Hythum El Sayyad
DD: Tell me about Beyond the Plains. Why the title?
H: The EP is mostly about me moving to California. I named it because it’s about why I made the move and how passion can be a vessel for anything you want to do in life.
I love it here.
DD: What can people expect to hear on the EP?
H: The EP is very interesting. I wrote all the music and played all the instruments (keyboards, guitar and bass). It was a process. It took a while. It’s a lot of jazz influence and blues and hip hop. There is a little bit of everything.
DD: As a songwriter how do you go about writing your material?
H: When I write a song I don’t have anything in mind. I just write it and see what happens.
DD: How long did it take to complete the EP?
H: This one was about six months. I moved to a studio with no TV or Internet and I just wrote. I had a lot of time. I played keyboards. I lived in my car the first month. Then I moved in with a friend. I only had my guitar so I played while in the car. When I moved here I knew one person. For me - when you love something and are passionate you can do anything. The only reason I did that was because no one would sign a lease with me. I had to go get a job first.
DD: What was your first job here?
H: I worked at Fridays in Inglewood. It was the one Magic Johnson used to own. I worked there for about a year. Actually it was about nine months. I was with a friend for three months and saved enough money to get own place.
DD: What is alternative hip hop?
H: I coined my music as that because when they hear hip hop they think of something different. I don’t use synthetic instruments. I use all live instruments.
DD: One of your songs is called Disappear. In the song are the lyrics – “We are lonely creatures.” There is also a line that says: “I am the darkness that lurks outside the fire. I refuse to need you.”
H: Yeah, that’s my favorite line.
DD: Do you really think we’re all lonely creatures?
H: Well, I didn’t mean it as a whole general people. It’s about me and the person I wrote the song about.
DD: Does she know you wrote a song about her?
H: No, she doesn’t know.
DD: How many songs did you start off with and how did you narrow it down to the five tracks on the EP?
H: I had eight. There were a couple people I trusted and got feedback from. Between that and sitting down and listening to the songs over and over again, I see what hits.
DD: Why not eight?
H: I feel like eight is a strange number. I’m releasing songs individually.
DD: You’re also a songwriter. Describe how you write a song. Do you sing it into your phone. Do you always have pen and paper? Do you have to be alone?
H: So much can affect songwriting. It can change. You don’t want to write it for the wrong reasons. You have to listen to what you feel so you can get something more organic. I have a Mac and I have Logic. I have a home recording setup. I turn my phone off and sit there. I take a couple of hours and just be quiet and see if anything happens. Home recording is the best thing to happen to me.
DD: What is it about Arabic music that you like? What is the biggest difference between it and American music?
H: I don’t have too much of a palate of Arabic music. The music is very different. American music has a lot more going on, I guess. Arabic music is very refreshing. It has less factors in their music that affect it. In American culture there is so much that goes into it with your image and social media sites getting all mucked up in it.
DD: You say your music promotes unity and honesty – in what way does it do that?
H: I just think that in hip hop there is a lot of bragging that isn’t real. I want to make humble hip hop that isn’t fake. I’ve always tried to have a strong message to promote people to stand up for their passions and to get what they want out of life. If it wasn’t for music I don’t know how I would connect with people.
DD: Could you live without music?
H: I don’t think I could. Nothing wrong with living a life of buying things. I just can’t do it. All the cars and stuff doesn't matter to me. I have to have passion and a goal to wake me up in the morning. I wake up to my passion.
DD: What is it about music? What does it do for you?
H: You find yourself. For me it was self-realization. It has shown me who I am. It has given me an identity. I look inwards. Concur yourself from within and you can see the world for what it is.
DD: Describe your style?
H: I would say my music is a jazzy soulful hip hop. It’s just kind of a reflection of the music I grew up on. I grew up on B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Stevie Wonder.
DD: Did you discover those artists through your parents?
H: I discovered it on my own. Well, my mom is a huge B.B. King fan. She turned me on to B.B.
DD: How did you develop your sound?
H: I used to be in the band for five years. It had rock and hip hop and elements of jazz. Then I went solo. I sat down at a keyboard and I thought ‘what do I want to sound like?’ I just sat around and I wrote a song called Dawn. I thought, ‘This is what I want.’ I want something people can feel.
DD: What has following your passion taught you?
H: It has been the hardest path I could have possibly taken. No doubting that. Sometimes you don’t get the respect you want. And sometimes no one cares - to be honest. If you care about it, it matters – even if no one else does. You can’t give up that.
DD: What has following your passion cost you?
H: Everything. I mean, but to me I see it as I owe music. It gives me a purpose. Why would I not sacrifice everything? There is no price on what it has given me. It’s the best thing you could possibly get.
DD: Did you have a Plan B in case music didn’t work out?
H: I didn’t have a Plan B. Honestly, there was a time when I felt scared about my life. That’s why I tried to do college. I did one semester. It felt like I was cheating and giving up on my dream. I felt horrible. I gotta sacrifice myself to this. Merit is in trying.
Hythum El Sayyad’s music can be found on SoundCloud, iTunes and Spotify.
For more information: hythummusic.com