A second-generation Pakistani, Ahmed was raised in north London's Wembley area but went to a private school outside of the city in Hertfordshire. Inspired equally by jungle and hip-hop, he first got involved with music directly in his mid-teens, cutting his teeth on pirate radio and in many freestyle battles. As a Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) major at Oxford University, Ahmed started a hip-hop/jungle club night called "Hit&Run" and was part of a 12-person jazz-house and electronica ensemble called Confidential Collective. After graduating in 2004, he enrolled in London's Central School of Speech and Drama for a year to study acting and quickly landed a role in the acclaimed, politically charged film The Road to Guantanamo Bay (2006).
His solo musical career up to that point had been confined mainly to battle-rap competitions, of which he won many. The 2006 single "Post 9/11 Blues" was inadvertently leaked by friends of the London MC, first gaining popularity on the Internet. Expectedly, many mainstream outlets, particularly MTV, declined to air the song, but the resulting press coverage prompted some independent radio stations and programs to finally play the track. Faced with record label interest in his music, he decided to found his own imprint, Battered Records, in order to maintain control over promotion and his image, officially issuing the single in August 2006. Capping off his successful year, he won Best MC at the Asian Music Awards for his efforts. In 2007, Ahmed issued his second single as Riz MC, the garage rap-driven "People Like People" (from his debut Microscope), in addition to gaining work with the Asian Dub Foundation for their drum'n'bass opera Gaddafi and starring in the TV drama miniseries Britz. His work in British film carried him into the 2010s, when he finally made his international breakthrough. After appearing in 2014's Sundance hit Nightcrawler, he was cast in a pair of projects that would introduce him to a wider U.S. -- and global -- audience. On the small screen, he was cast as the protagonist of the critically acclaimed HBO drama The Night Of. He later won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor, becoming the first Asian and Muslim to win in the category, as well as the first South Asian male to win an acting Emmy. His efforts to increase representation extended to the big screen that same year when he was cast as one of the ill-fated heroes on the crew of Rogue One, a Star Wars story. To cap his banner year, Ahmed -- along with his Swet Shop Boys partners -- released their politically charged debut full-length, Cashmere, another critically lauded offering from the prolific artist. Forging ahead, Ahmed continued to juggle acting and music careers, starring in the Sony/Marvel flick Venom in 2018 and scoring a number one album on the Billboard 200 for his participation in The Hamilton Mixtape. He also appeared in 2019's Sound of Metal and Weathering with You. He kicked off a new decade with a pair of projects, starting with the film Mogul Mowgli, another critical hit that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. A month later, he issued a concept album under his own name titled The Long Goodbye, which was produced by Swet Shop Boys' sound man Redinho and featured a slew of famous guest appearances. ~ Neil Z. Yeung & Cyril Cordor, Rovi