Abdu Ali
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Abdu Ali

Baltimore, Maryland, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2012

Baltimore, Maryland, United States
Established on Jan, 2012
Band Hip Hop EDM


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Abdu Ali Is the Baltimore Rapper Pushing the City's Sound 'Til It Bleeds"

A low-key, Rust Belt ‘burg, Baltimore can sometimes repel pomp and flash like the wrong side of a magnet. Between those in the city who cling to an antiquated idea of what a proper hip-hop scene should look and sound like—basically 90s New York or nothing—and the outside expectation, thanks to the mythologizing of The Wire, that Baltimore rap should reflect certain hardcore, violent themes, the city’s creativity can become obscured. While there are certainly artists in the city following those paths, one of the most exciting Baltimore exports is Abdu Ali, an artist who’s more Blowfly than Bobby Shmurda, channeling Grace Jones and owing as much to Death as he does to DMX.

In the span of a few years, Ali has asserted himself as a standout in a thriving Baltimore scene that aims for the cultural outskirts, bringing together many of that scene’s familiar aural and aesthetic elements while cutting through conventions and expectations. Often decked out in a church hat and a Technicolor dashiki, he is a product of a patchwork environment that’s as grimy as it is splendid. Baltimore is a balkanized city, with creative enclaves in the Station North Arts District and West Side but also sprawling zones of what are essentially suburbs in the city and large, depressed swaths of vacant homes. Ali, who is gay and who grew up moving between the city’s distinctive east and west sides, bridges any number of cultural gaps.

This year, he’s released two projects, July’s Infinity Epiphanies EP and an EP produced by Baltimore’s Schwarz called Already that came out last month. These recent projects show a growing artistic versatility, with Abdu offering a forceful lyrical delivery and leaning into an eclectic range of production styles, such as on an ethereal Blaqstarr remix. He refers to Schwarz, a St. Louis transplant with whom he is currently on tour, as his “music boyfriend.” Between that collaboration and the success of the summer’s hit party series #KAHLON (which he throws with writer and Noisey contributor Lawrence Burney), Ali’s footprint in the city and beyond has grown markedly in the last few months.

Raised by a young, single mother, Abdu Ali credits his frequent moves from one side of Baltimore the to other with giving him a strong sense of the city on the whole. “My childhood in Baltimore was chill,” he tells me on the phone from tour, only mildly subdued by a sore throat. “I was kind of in my own world. I was a really shy, timid kid, but I always had that urge to perform.” Starting at Booker T. Washington Middle School on the city’s West Side was a poignant part of his life: This was where he would receive an atypically in-depth education on black history as well as begin to play trumpet. Though he was bullied and teased occasionally as a child, he makes the bittersweet admission to me that he “had a special sense of self that, unfortunately, a lot of black kids don’t have. I had a sense of ‘I’m something’ growing up.”

Ali headed next to historic magnet school Baltimore City College, which he says is “where I really found who I was.” In the school’s liberal environment (“where I really became a social butterfly”), he was crowned the homecoming prince as an upperclassman. “I kind of bullshitted with writing a little bit,” he says. “I just feel like Baltimore always had this rich culture. Dance circles everyday, going to Shake-N-Bake (a local roller rink that hosts kiddie discos), going to the ‘Dox when I was 13 (referencing the Paradox nightclub downtown). I was kind of privileged culture-wise. I was just around all this shit.”

Ali was drawn to the craft of writing via classes at the University of Baltimore. On his 2012 EP, INVICTOS, he embraced a Banjee style, tapping into the gay musical subculture while also rejecting the pressure to “go all cunty” with his unhinged rapping. “The Banjee shit came naturally because that’s who I am, a queer boy from Baltimore City, from the hood. From the projects, yet sophisticated, wise, and has a lot of common sense,” he says. “I wanted to get off my chest that not everyone from the hood is ‘ignorant.’”

At the same time, he felt he “needed to have Baltimore Club” in his arsenal, referencing the globe-trotting, house offspring native to the city that has rocked cookouts and clubs for almost three decades. The hi-NRG Bmore Club vibe has since been a constant throughout his work. Brandishing the signature sound of the city and augmenting it with a bevy of overdriven 808s and assorted glitches, he counts Sun-Ra, Erykah Badu and Missy Elliott as influences.

“I wanted it to sound like me, and I think I’m doing good with that now,” he says. His 2013 follow-up, Push + Slay, was more focused, a declarative statement of Abdu Ali as an artist. “Being black and gay is like being at the bottom of the totem pole,” he explains. And the sonic narrative of Push+Slay urges that it’s not enough to just survive. You gotta thrive. “As I got into it, each project, each one just became more and more real,” he confesses. “I don’t just want to be a rapper. I didn’t choose to do this, it chose me. I feel honored to be in this position, to be an artist.”

On “Push + Slay’s” “Bleed,” produced by Bmore Club heavy-hitter James Nasty, Ali raps “I’m gonna give you want you want / what the fuck you want / I’m gonna give you what you need / ‘til it fucking bleeds.” The ominous “Thornz” references the Bible with a mild twist. Speaking on the chorus (“I got thorns in my flesh, but my thorns got roses”), Ali stresses that one should “honor your negatives, embrace your sins. You don’t need nobody to wash ‘em away. Your sins are beautiful.” The song’s monochromatic video is like the prologue to a post-apocalyptic hood opera. Covered in nuclear ash like some fallout-addled Fela Kuti, Ali emerges from four walls to the relative safety of a Baltimore rowhome rooftop. The Lord Bby-produced “Mad Ambrosia” goes harsher, with Abdu chanting “three shots to the head, I ain’t dead / instead I was fed / fruit, wine, and cocoa bread.” The unofficial trilogy is rounded out by “Machete Warz” (“I’m ‘bout to slay you all!”), whose video is like a scene from the impending blood rave’s pre-game.

In the wake of releasing Infinity Epiphanies and Already, Abdu Ali has been on the “Motivational Tour” with Schwarz and New Jersey producer and DJ Kilbourne. It’s in this live context where Ali thrives: “On stage, I feel like I’m a martyr, like Joan Of Arc, delivering a message so people can feel motivated, feel alive and awake,” he says, which would seem contrived if not for the way Ali thrashes, headbangs, and two-steps at a punk rocker’s pace, dripping in sweat and showing James Brown levels of exertion. “You don’t get an understanding of who I am as an artist until you see me perform. The performance is the finale,” he adds. “Like, ‘Oh OK, this is who Abdu Ali is’.”

For those in left field, as so many of Baltimore’s artists are, there will always be an external pressure to make shit palatable. Ali’s music is often labeled as “noise rap,” and he’s frequently lumped in with Death Grips, a comparison he resents. “Just because I’m dark skinned and have a shaved head doesn’t mean we sound alike,” he makes sure to remind me. “I’ve had mad people on tour compare me to them.” With a grown out beard and a penchant for shirtlessness on stage, he does bear at least a physical resemblance to MC Ride. Yet while the comparison to the polarizing outfit may have its pros and cons, Ali’s sonic ethos comes off as more earnest, as carnal as it is cerebral. Distortion and feedback seem like the natural soundtrack to an increasingly chaotic human experience

Of the highly perishable “gay rapper” aesthetic, he hopes that he’s surpassed labels. “Nobody can really put me in a box, because I’m a rapper first. Being gay does have its challenges. It’s this quiet thing that people don’t really say, but they automatically place a judgment on me, and it does make it harder. But I feel like we all surpassed that whole ‘gay’ thing.” In this sentiment, Ali echoes fellow Baltimore rapper DDM, who has been a power of example, by Abdu’s admission, that he too could be gay and rap, aggressively even.

“My music is for the forgotten, the overlooked people, places, things and environments,” he says. “I can’t not do music,” Ali assures me. “This music thing is addictive, on a whole other level. I cannot stop doing this. I want to open up a little bit more, and I want to captivate more people,” he says of his next project. “I want a lot of different people to feel what I’m saying. My next shit, I really want to be big and amazing.” And when someone who’s as passionate as he is puts words to that drive to keep that creative fire going, it’s best to put down the visor and watch the magic happen. - NOISEY/VICE


Abdu Ali has become something of an icon in the Baltimore underground. Rising up from a city he both abhors for its ugliness and loves for its spiritual and artistic power, Ali brings elements of punk, hip-hop, afro-futurism, and jazz to form an eccentric backbone in the local club scene. It's freaky, it's potent, and it makes you move.

His October 2014 release Already features a laundry list of rising Baltimore producers such as DJ Dizzy, Schwarz, Kilbourne, and Blaqstarr. It's a community that the young artist is not only submersed in, but was integral to building; he's one of the curators for KAHLON, a boundary-dissolving bimonthly concert in Baltimore that showcases a variety of world music subgenres suffused with hip-hop.

Recently, Ali left his community to seek inspiration in Brooklyn, NY. What he discovered, however, was far from what he was searching for. After returning to his roots, Ali reflects on the destructive environment that he left behind and shares with BTR some insights into what he learned along the way.

BreakThru Radio (BTR): Almost a year ago you moved from Baltimore to Brooklyn. Recently you moved back to Baltimore. Living here (in BK), it can become way too intense; there's very little space to chill when the energy is at a fever pitch and everyone seems lost, without a narrative.

Tell me a little bit about what prompted your move, and what your experiences were like here creatively.

Abdu Ali (AA): I was stressed for money. I mean, most of us are broke all over the country, but damn, NYC makes it feel like you can't even afford to wipe your ass, and that ain't right! It was hard for me to accept the fact that I had to pay hella money to live in nothing, with no peace and space. I also saw that having an influence on my creations in the future that could compromise integrity and realness of my work. I didn't want my shit to be dictated by money or to become trendy or soulless. NYC is not the NYC I saw growing up as a kid in Spike Lee joints, Lil' Kim albums, or in random underground movies like Downtown 81--not heavily gentrified, cheap, and real as fuck.

In Baltimore I can do me. I also felt like I had no story there [in Brooklyn], so my ability to be truly moved and inspired was difficult. I felt just as much as a gentrifier as some trust fund white kid from Ohio. For me it just feels more special to be based in Baltimore than in Brooklyn, and it's more honest; it will feel good as fuck to be like, "I made it while living in Baltimore."

BTR: How would you compare the musical communities between those two places--as far as the underground is concerned?

AA: Baltimore's underground music scene is like an ugly organic apple from a local farm. Brooklyn's underground music scene is like a Tumblr feed.

BTR: What was it like returning back to Baltimore--did it feel like home at last? Was it easy to pick up where you left off, or does everything feel different now?

AA: It felt uncomfortable and confusing to be back in Baltimore. A lot of people are ashamed to move back home after living in NYC or LA, but I wasn't at all. But I didn't know if I made the right choice (whatever that is).

It was easy to adjust after being back home for just a little bit and it definitely feels real different than it did two years ago; the music scene is starting to blossom again.

BTR: A while ago someone asked you if you had released your "debut" album yet, and you said that you hadn't but you were making moves to release your Off the Wall kind of record. Any progress on that front?

AA: Yes! I decided to take my fucking time to come out with some new new. I ain't pressed to just be dropping shit like it's nothing. I want to really develop some good work, you know? But if you heard "Keep Movin (Negro Kai)," you can see that my sound for the new new will be more full, soulful, and silky. I want it to be more translucent and intimate, too, by rapping and singing more about love, my insecurities, woes--but also still have songs about self-empowerment and conquering societal shade. I want to make more tracks specifically and only for the healing and empowerment of black and brown people all over the world.

Like always, I want the sound to be next level, but in this album more instrumental, meaning playing with more jazzy sounds like saxophones and horns. Of course there will be some Baltimore Club up in there. I've been getting folk like Mighty Mark, Mental Jewelry, and Gobby to work on some sounds for me and what they've been making is the shit! The album will be called Octarine.

BTR: You've always been adamant about going your own way, expressing yourself and disregarding if it sounds like anyone else out there. Why do you think so many artists are concerned with making songs that sound like someone else instead of fighting to find their own voice?

AA: I don't believe artists want to intentionally sound like someone else, I think they are not thinking about sounding unique.

BTR: Who are some of your favorite artists out there right now?

AA: Now, I am obsessed with Chance The Rapper after seeing his performance at Trillectro. Chance and his band are geniuses. Fetty Wap is the bae and his music is the shit. I love DRAM! Rahel from Harlem. And Uniique give me what I need for the club right now! I've been getting into Alice Coltrane a lot, too, and Brandy. B L A C K I E from Houston will always forever be an inspiration to me. I listen to him a lot. I really love what Elon from Baltimore is doing, too. I love "Cheerleader" by OMI! I like a lot of shit, good shit [laughs].

BTR: What's in store for the rest of 2015?

AA: I'm ready to conquer some more shit! I will be doing a lot of touring soon, with Lower Dens, by myself, and Kilbourne. I will have a visual for "Keep Movin (Negro Kai)" coming soon and some new music. My album won't be released 'til January or February 2016. Or maybe not. - BREAK THROUGH RADIO

"Op-Ed: White Privilege and Black Lives in the Baltimore Music Scene"

I moved to Baltimore seven or eight years ago. The city I’d lived in for many years started to feel stagnant, and I felt myself stagnating with it. Friends began selling me on Baltimore and Brooklyn. I picked the former for a number of reasons.

Baltimore makes an artist’s life easy in ways that New York and San Francisco used to but now don’t. It’s cheap to live here. There is sometimes a sense of lawlessness and an accompanying sense of freedom. The most alluring thing about Baltimore for me was the sense of community. People I knew that already lived here spoke in near-mythological terms of the closeness and fertility of the music and arts scene. I found these things to be true. I was enchanted, and remain so.

During my first few years in Baltimore, when friends who lived elsewhere asked me about it, I said many of the same things I’d heard about it before I moved. That it was magical. That I’d never felt so at home. That the people were beautiful and purposed and supportive.

If you asked me the same thing now, I’d still tell you how much I love this city. I’d also still say that living in Baltimore affords one a sense of freedom, except to add that the sense of freedom exists almost solely for non-black artists and musicians. Whatever benefits there are for non-black artists and musicians to live in and move to Baltimore are directly indebted to the majority black population of Baltimore. Our liberties come at the cost of theirs.

"You look at the social, political climate of Baltimore, it’s hard," says Abdu Ali. He’s 25, already a venerated musician, promoter, and DJ, and grew up here. "I read something like seven out of every 10 black men in Baltimore between the ages of 18 and 27 or something is unemployed. The educational system here is corrupt as fuck. Even in just the architecture and the landscape of Baltimore, we got 16,000 abandoned homes here, there’s a lot of ugly here. And that in itself has a deep psychological effect on people."

It took me several years of witnessing the contrast between my life and those of native black Baltimoreans before I started to make this connection. When I did, it became hard not to see it everywhere, in everything. It became nearly impossible to avoid thinking about it. Baltimore is a very poor city. There are a lot of white poor, but a great deal more black poor who have next to nothing. With nothing comes no hope. Into that void pours anger, sadness, and sometimes violence and drugs. Increasingly I saw my life here as parasitic. I find the rent to be cheap here because I am white in an oppressed black city. The feelings of lawlessness and freedom exist for me because I am white in an oppressed black city.

This is reflected in the attention directed toward Baltimore music. Many of the Baltimore musicians who make a national name for themselves, my group included, are mostly if not entirely comprised of white people. Ali discusses this as a not infrequent source of frustration. "Me and my music peers of color have noticed, for one, it’s always that conversation of why a lot of Baltimore musicians can’t really pop off. By pop off I mean establish a career in music, start touring around the world, sell music, play at festivals, the whole nine. Becoming a blossoming musician in a city where, music-wise, it’s culturally rich. We’re right in a good hot spot. Baltimore musicians of color don’t really make it here," says Ali. He’s right. People reading this are likely to be at least nominally familiar with Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Wye Oak, Beach House and/or Lower Dens, but that you might not also know Al Rogers, Jr., :3LON, or even TT the Artist is indefensible.

As much as we might abhor the conditions that give us the upper hand, Baltimore’s white indie musicians are reflective of a larger, endemic divide. It’s not uncommon here to talk about the city as if there are two wholly separate Baltimores. When I brought this up, Abdu said, "It really is a divide between rich, white Baltimore and everybody else. Baltimore, you get into the geography of the city and you can tell it was designed to segregate. You can tell!" The city passed the first segregation laws in the United States in 1910. Unfortunately the divisions all too often run through the music and art scenes as well. "It’s crazy, and why the segregation is so fascinating is Baltimore is so small [laughs]. You would think that people be running into each other all the time and connecting and vibing with each other all the time but they don’t."

It has at times proven difficult to talk about these things with white peers in Baltimore. I think white individuals, whether we’re musicians or not, often avoid discussions about our role in racism because we’re afraid of admitting our complicity in and collective responsibility for the centuries-long suffering of black people, let alone the horrific extent of that suffering. We may also be afraid of speaking out of turn and beyond our authority, although that may also be a lie we tell ourselves to mask the fact that we’re afraid culturally of being conspicuous. Because of that fear, white people are given to thinking about racism as society’s problem instead of a personal issue, and we don’t confront it, or at least not in the ways that would be most useful. White people need to talk about it amongst ourselves more often and in depth. We need to not just be aware of racism, but work to actively destroy it. Abdu makes a very good point regarding this necessity in Baltimore: "If people don’t get it together, come together and try to create some musical, creative community that is really diverse and multi-cultural, everybody gonna be shit-fucked by gentrification and the shade of capitalism because once money starts coming through here, they won’t give a fuck about punk shows and shit like that."

When white people, any of us, think about making a contribution to the lives of our black neighbors, what are we considering contributing? Often times, if we don’t have a lot of money, or we see our lives as hectic and our time limited, contributing our money and time seems like a burden. Making a short, public, emotional statement takes very little time and no money, and we may also think that it makes a difference. After all, our voices are raised (for many of us this happens always and only collectively) in a public forum, for all the world to see. Surely our outrage will be registered and policies begin to change.

But the road from outrage to political change is longer and more convoluted than that. In fact our public declarations of outrage may have no influence on policy change at all. Does anything happen when we register our indignation in posts to Facebook and to Twitter? One thing happens: our friends see that we have posted. Our communities see it. Our black friends and family, and our black neighbors, see that we are on the right side of this fight.

And maybe that is often why we do it: the prospect of a pat on the back.

In 2015, everybody under the Western sun is clamoring for reassurance. When we do our work, when we present ourselves in public, why is it that we desire approval? Why does our appearance, our work, need approval? Why not just do your job to the best of your ability? Why, psychologically, do we need for somebody to tell us that we’re good enough, that we did well, that we look good, and that we belong?

In this country we’ve been inculcated with a cultural doctrine of fear and insecurity that demands successful performance of a function, and whose reward program is entirely comprised of various forms of back-patting. This little nightmare is omnipresent. Who do you know that isn’t looking for stress relief? What is it that we need relief from? Everything around us is telling us to wonder whether or not we’re good enough. Even if you’re white and straight and not worried about being discriminated against, you’re seeking relief from the society you live in, a free market society that demands that you, the consumer, meet its expectations. I don’t know a single goddamn person that isn’t looking for relief from that foolishness.

At the intersection of the roads to both relief from societal pressures and personal accountability to the wellbeing of African-Americans, amongst others, is an answer in the form of simple ritual: think about others all of the time. Every time your mind begins to turn to your worries, turn it back to others. Who around you, stranger or familiar, is in need of something you can provide? This is the "trick" to end all tricks. It isn’t selfless, nor does it does feel like a burden. It works, and it feels right and good. It leads away from the pretense of public discourse that is social media, toward substantive human interaction, and ultimately to concrete human action.

When I think about this advice, I’ll admit that I’m mostly thinking of white people. I feel unqualified to give this sort of advice to people of color because I can’t experience an entire dimension of their lives, and can’t know what racial discrimination does to a person’s psychology. I try to remind myself that I’m ignorant in this matter. (Ignorance is really only threatening as long as it goes unacknowledged.) The best I can offer to someone whose experiences I can’t understand is to ask them what they need.

When Freddie Gray died, voices from throughout the largely white artistic social scene of which I’m a part were raised against the racist treatment of Baltimore’s black community. I don’t think it’s that it took events of that magnitude to rouse us from our utopian slumber. We’re all human here and for some of us it may have been the first time we publicly condemned violence against black people at the hands of white supremacy. Some of us didn’t yet have the words to express anything but coarse fury and the most basic convictions. It brought people out and it brought them together. Abdu agrees. "Baltimore felt so good that week, too, ironically with all the chaos and shade going on. There was a lot of shit going on with people coming together, and like, that’s how Baltimore should be all the time," he said. At the same time, he thought to himself, "I know I’m a realistic bitch and I try not to be dark with having that perspective all the time, but, this shit is not gonna be forever, soon as the cameras leave watch the fuck it go right back to normal."

This was a common worry and not an unfounded one. When the news vampires rolled out and took their 24-hour cycle with them, the conversation dropped off, too, but didn’t disappear. It’s still happening here, if quietly, and it’s better than it’s been before. As a community, we’re slowly learning what we need to do.

Baltimore needs more integrated spaces. As Abdu pointed out, "We definitely have the people that wanna support creatives here, and we definitely have enough creative people. We just don’t have the spaces. Some people just don’t wanna open their doors to people or whatever, so thanks to the Crown, Windup, EMP Collective, for like holding it down for people because we definitely need spaces to do our thing."

We need to make a point to have integrated shows. "Make an effort to book shows for people you usually don’t book shows with. Try to include people that you usually don’t include." Abdu later adds, "People gotta go through their own shit, but they either forget or just don’t think about it, you know what I’m saying? But a lot of times I feel like as far as race, a lot of white creatives are scared to approach black people, and it might be some subconscious racist trip but it almost might just be some racial insecurity stuff, they don’t wanna feel like they wanna step on people’s shit, which I completely understand."

We need to have more open and honest communication, allow for frustrations to be expressed, recognize each other as humans and respond with compassion. "We gotta be not afraid of...just being criticized and criticizing."

Finally, here it all is, wrapped up nice by Baltimore's prodigal child, Abdu Ali:

"In this day and age, you ain’t got shit to do. What needs to happen is that people need to realize we all in the same fucking boat. After we deal with racism, we gotta deal with capitalism, which is the big…that’s the monster right there! You know what I’m saying. I feel like capitalism developed racism. Divide and conquer, honey. OK?"

I love Baltimore. It’s the rare place where culture springs forth from within. It feels like a small town. I believe it’s a place with the potential to form a kind of authentic, broader community, where societal mores are rejected for humanist ones, where consumer culture dies from lack of interest, and where our long-spurned African-American community members are finally given their fair due. - Pitchfork

"Premiere: Listen to Abdu Ali's "Keep Movin (Negro Kai)""

Baltimore rapper Abdu Ali continues to push the boundaries of art through music. His latest track, "Keep Movin (Negro Kai)," is delivered with a stream of consciousness flow, cutting through the minimalist backdrop with a spiritual air to it. "I'm riding in my green Suzuki hatchback, never looking back, never looking back/In the battlefields of Baltimore, where you can't afford to be no whore," he raps. Some pretty heavy imagery taking place here. Maybe a better way to describe "Keep Movin" is by comparing it to the cover art, which is designed by Adam Joumal Echahly. While the song is disjointed at times, it still pulls the listener in through its unique style. Expect to hear more of this from Abdu Ali in the coming months.

Along with new music, Abdu Ali is planning to hit the road later this month for his Keep Movin Tour, with scheduled stops in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and more. Full tour dates can be found in the flyer (designed by Richie Pope) below. - Complex Magazine


Still working on that hot first release.



Currently at a loss for words...