Kayvon Asemani was 9 years old in 2005 when his father attempted to murder the boy’s mother in the family’s Ellicott City, Md., apartment. The attack left Asemani’s mother, Samira Salmassi, profoundly brain-damaged and permanently institutionalized, sent her ex-husband back to prison for 30 years, and essentially orphaned their three children.
“What happened very much drove me to do the things I’ve done ever since,” said Asemani, who has accomplished more in the last 16 years than most of us could in a lifetime. And he only just turned 25.
“I learned how to not take things for granted,” said the musician, entrepreneur, digital content creator, and social media influencer.
“Coming from a broken situation, I built an instinct of self-reliance and independence. My work ethic is a big part of who I am; my mother was always working overtime to provide for us because my father was rarely involved. She taught me to look for opportunities even if it seemed there weren’t any.”
Asemani began to write and record hip-hop songs while in elementary school in Ellicott City; he used to perform his raps for his mother. He continued working on music after he and his older brother, Arman, and younger sister, Leila, were accepted at Pennsylvania’s Milton Hershey School for orphaned or otherwise needy youngsters in 2006. After graduating from high school at Milton Hershey in 2014, he was admitted to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
While there, Asemani taught financial literacy to West Philly kids, which deepened his commitment to social justice, while the playful, positive vibe of his music and videos helped make him a campus celebrity. He also landed a featured performance spot during the 2016 International Young Leaders Assembly at the United Nations.
“I make music to inspire people to come together regardless of their background,” said Asemani, an American of Iranian heritage. “I always try to do things that bring different people together.”
A compact young man with a larger-than-life personality — and a multimegawatt smile — Asemani appeared in Forbes magazine as one of the Most Outstanding Business School Grads of 2018. He became friends with author and Wharton professor Adam Grant, who introduced him to Facebook CEO and author Sheryl Sandberg, who included Asemani’s story in Option B, the book she and Grant cowrote.
Asemani founded his own company (Kayvonmusic.com) before graduation, has done TEDX talks — including one he gave to high school students in Norway — and works as a product manager at Facebook. His latest EP is called Stir Crazy Vol. 2 and features songs with titles like ‘Can’t be Copied.’
“You knew right away there was something special about Kayvon,” said Will Ogle, who along with his wife, Clare, served as Asemani’s high school house parents at Hershey.
“Part of it was his drive,” Ogle said. “Kayvon did not waste a relationship, or an encounter, with another person. He genuinely listened to you. We felt like he really wanted us to be successful as his house parents.”
Asemani’s childhood tragedy “was not something that was underneath every day, but I think he has worked through it even more since high school,” said Clare Ogle. “He just takes anything in life that comes at him as a stepping stone instead of a stumbling block.”
The Ogles, who are raising two sons of their own, attended Asemani’s graduation from Penn in 2018. “He knew pretty much everyone on campus,” Clare said.
But Asemani initially found it difficult to find his place at Penn. Everyone he met seemed to be bright and high-achieving, like he was. But none seemed to have experienced anything like what he had gone through as a boy; he had seen his father hit his mother in the head with a tape recorder, before the man took her into the bathroom and attempted to suffocate her.
“Since theeighth grade, Wharton had been my dream school, but I wasn’t really aware of all of the things that were going to make me different from my classmates,” Asemani said. “It was culture shock. It was hard for me to find a group of people there in the beginning that I could identify with.”
Asemani struggled academically — a new and unsettling experience for a straight-A high school student — and at one point thought seriously of transferring elsewhere.
“But I realized I could carve out a niche.” he said. “What I experienced hasn’t been experienced by that many people, and I realized I could show a lot of people that if it’s possible to come from where I came from and get to Wharton, then, from wherever they came from, they also could get to to this place.
“After that mind-set shift, a lot of things changed. I found commonalities with people. I found communities I resonated with. I began sharing more of my music.”
But being an influencer in what Asemani calls “a snow globe” like Penn is a lot different from being one in the world. “I want to grow my influence in the real globe,” he said.
That’s where friend and design consultant / talent manager Jared T. Ross, who’s also a Milton Hershey alum, comes in.
“A key part of Kayvon’s personal brand is about empowering other people,” he said from California, where he’s studying entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of San Francisco. “I would say Kayvon is, above all, an investor of his time and energy in other people,” said Ross, who also directs ‘The Kayvon Show’ video series on Asemani’s website.
“Kayvon is truly an investor in human beings.”
Said Grant, whose books include Originals — How Nonconformists Move the World: “Kayvon’s energy is palpable. It’s not every day somebody walks up and shakes your hand and you say to yourself, ‘This person is on fire.’
“I don’t know where he is going to land, although one version of the answer to that question is Kayvon is very much making his contribution in different chapters [such as] leadership, philanthropy … having a Renaissance career of sorts,” said Grant.
“Kayvon is galvanizing, bridge-building, hope-inspiring. He’s tremendously driven to make the world a better place.”
Asemani also is driven to make a living while making his mark — and being successful enough at both to enable him to inspire, and empower, others.
“If the story ended at, ‘This is what happened to my mom,’ then all the story is, is a tragedy,” he said. “But you can try to make something happen despite, or maybe, because of it. If you have a shot, you just have to take it.”
Asemani is growing his fan base by offering a paid subscription option, available through a phone texting link on his Instagram that offers a video chat with the artist, as well as other perks. He regards subscribers as members of his “Superfamily.”
As for his own family, both his sister and brother are now on their own and doing well.
“My mother would be proud not only of me but of my siblings,” Asemani said. “We carried forward. We didn’t throw it all away. I think our mother would be really proud of the fact that it wasn’t all a waste.
“I think she would feel like she never left, like she was never gone from the picture. She would feel the positive attitude of the great person she was continuing to manifest in spirit. She’s been here all along.”