Leaving Om: Buddhism's Lost Lamas

During a break in a mixing session at a recording studio in Milan, Gomo Tulku, a Tibetan-American hip-hop artist, plays the sample he's inserting into the intro of his debut EP—a group of vocalists singing what sounds eerily like a Tibetan Buddhist chant. One of his Italian producers had it programmed into his keyboard, and when Gomo first heard it, he recalls, he said, "That's dope, I want that. Yo, that's my culture!"

Swiveling in his Aeron chair behind the multitrack console, conferring with the engineers on the mix ("Si, perfecto, bello"), Gomo Tulku looks every bit the part of an aspiring rapper: jeans, black down vest, gray porkpie hat, oversize black-and-gold Super glasses (a Milan brand favored by Jay-Z and Rihanna). But the 23-year-old is not quite the playa he portrays in the video for his first single, "Photograph," in which he drinks in a club and rides in a stretch limo while a host of leggy Italian beauties grind on him. Known as the Rapping Lama, Gomo spent his childhood being groomed to be a high-ranking lama, and the video caused a minor uproar in the online Buddhist community. But Gomo is nearly a teetotaler and insists "Photograph" is a wholesome breakup song about the one romance he's had since leaving the monastery. "Listen to the lyrics!" he says. The hip-hop eye candy was his Italian director's idea.