Over a year ago, my friend Abdu Ali and I had a heated debate on whether or not his music was hip hop. I honestly wasn't sure that he did fit a rap mold and even though I wasn't totally embracive of the music at the time, I maintained an open ear. To be reasonable, hip hop culture has continued to be shaped and molded into something that’s way more than it’s past definition. As mellow or hyped lyrics recur over a soul sample or an often plainly straight male giving his impression on the world, the boundaries are fading more every day.
Witnessing Ali's live show has definitely prompted me to change my own definition. What many of us hold dear to us, as lovers of the culture, is the first time it hit us in the chest and gave us a place to feel accepted. I witnessed that what Abdu does every show is rip his soul from his heart and leave the pieces all over the floor for the audience to see. Whether they, or myself, want to accept it or not.
You see his inspiration from mid 90’s emcees like DMX and Baltimore Radio/Club music Legend Miss Tony, but there’s also layers of a strictly West Side Baltimore identity that no one knows what to do with. I saw it on my out of towner friend’s faces when I first introduced them to Lor Scoota or Young Moose. Baltimore culture is truly on an island of it’s own. Listening to Ali’s music, I’m reminded of the oppression of Baltimore as a city and the oppression that exist within our society in regards to gay culture. I admire his resistance. Baltimore Club Music, a derrivative of Chicago house and Miami bass, channelled the city's soul, aggression, and heart way before hip hop did. Now, the city has an actual chance at being widely relevant in both avenues. I had the pleasure of speaking to Abdu about his local showcase Kahlon, being an emcee, and the various emotions of being African American, gay, and a Baltimorean.
Where does that energy in your live performance come from?
When I first started performing I would watch live music performances from artists I really fuck with it, for hours on YouTube, to study and be inspired. I would watch artists like Patti Labelle, Beyonce, MJ, Kanye West. I wanted to see what made their performances so special and visceral. What I learned is that it's not even necessarily their talent or level of artistry that made their performances special. It was God. A God like a entity that came through them and delivered a message and a poignant energy of emotions. It's like some people are the chosen ones to be blessed to be able to carry such a opulent force and deliver the honey of our humanity through music or any art. I feel like my energy comes from the sky, the cosmos. It comes seemingly from nowhere, because I'm pretty chill and laid back on the regular - yet when I perform I black the fuck out and transform into a deity or something.
I know that it's Kahlon's purpose to blend genre's but did you have any reservations about booking Lor Scoota for Kahlon?
The only thing I was concerned about when booking Lor Scoota was the cops. They're always fucking with the vibes of a music event when street rappers perform, provoking shit to pop off as if people are monkeys in a cage. I was concerned that they were going to try and shut the party down. They did show up too, with two paddy wagons, ready to lock people up. But they couldn't penetrate the positive vibes of Kahlon and ended up not doing shit because that night had too much love and goodness for them to fuck with. I'm pretty sure they went home mad.
I saw a picture from the show and the crowd lifted you on their shoulders. What was that feeling like?
For me, my performance was euphoric. It was the first time I was completely overwhelmed by the energy of the crowd. I went into a deep place I had never been before and let the crowd take over me. I loved it. I was honored. The crowd definitely was in good vibes and spewing out so much love so when Lor Scoota came on, it was even more goodness for him, and they were really into his set. Little do most know, me and Scoota are from the same area in Baltimore, so I think our music vibes cross paths but tell different narratives of a similar vein. If that makes sense.
Do you carry any added pressure with you being an openly gay emcee verses being one who just fits the previous status quo in hip hop?
No, not really. It's only that I have different circumstances or go through different challenges because of my choice to be who the fuck I am. It's always hard for any artist who isn't of the norm.
I've seen you tour a lot in the last couple of years. How has it changed your outlook on people, music, and life?
Touring and performing a lot has definitely changed my wants and needs as an artist. At first I was doing this for me as a personal release and to gain appreciation from people. It was kinda all ego. But then I started to realize how I was effecting people with my performances. Like people would get really emo and release just as much energy as I did that they had pint up or wanted to get out. So then I realize I gained a responsibility. To help people free themselves through movement, words, and voice. I realized that I am a voice not just for myself and for my own life experience, but for others too. My story, my frustrations, my glory, everything I experienced in life - many other people did, too. So, I don’t know. I guess through my music, I'm mothering people, letting them know that it'll be okay. I also realized how small I am. You tour and you go to places where they don't give a fuck about what's going on in your life or community, and these places aren't even far from your home. Like I think mad artists are blind and don't realize how unimportant they are. Mad music nowadays is all like "look at me and I'm the shit everywhere." Nah, my nigga. In Knoxville, Tennessee there's many people that don't know who the fuck you are and don't care. You gotta win people's heart for real too and touring does that. This internet shit, the blogs, and all that can only go but so far. So yeah, touring has humbled the fuck outta me.
What influenced your recurring show in Baltimore, Kahlon? What do you feel it's become and what's your mission?
I felt like Baltimore needed KAHLON, because there are plenty of artistic voids to fill. Like it's picking up now, the art/music scene in Baltimore. But for a while it was dead. Also I wanted to create an event that had diversity not just race wise but genre wise too. I don't want to go to a show and party and sit through the same indie punk or electronic artists for hours that all sound the fucking same. Blah.
Do you feel like Black music culture is becoming white washed in the media?
Black culture been fucked over by White people in America. It's the way. From publishers telling Zora Neale Hurston not use the black dialect in her stories to corny ass white rappers like Macklemore imposing on our shit. It's the sad truth of the land of the free, that niggas can't have shit, we stay getting Christopher Columbus'd.
What can we do about it?
Try to build and create our own platforms and become our own majority and not be dependent on white people's money.
At one of your shows this past summer you said "Fuck Robin Williams" after his untimely death. Why?
No disrespect to his passing. I was upset at the attention his death, a celebrity, was getting versus Ferguson. At the time, not just media but people - my friends on social media included. It just makes me upset, how we value our shit. I feel like what's happening in Ferguson hits my soul more than a death of celebrity, someone I never met and who has not contributed anything to better my life personally.
As a creative in this generation do you feel the need to constantly put out work at a fast pace?
I don't think you need to put out a lot of work. I just think you need to put out the right shit. Good shit. It lasts longer than some quick processed bullshit music. You don't want to fade away like a tweet. Good music always makes a good impact no matter what. The only thing that I do believe an artist must do a lot is perform and maintain a good amount of press. But nothing touches people and make an impact on them like a performance which can have a positive lasting effect on an artist's career.
You and Schwarz have created some great raw music together. Can you tell me about your working relationship and what you plan to do with this next record?
We vibe well when it comes to music. He gets what I want musically, even if what I describe is ambiguous. Maybe us both being cancers, water signs, helps us connect better. Also he's from St. Louis, which is kinda gritty and real like Baltimore, and both of us have a love for Houston, Memphis, ATL rap, and of course Baltimore Club. We just vibe well. It's natural. Nothing more than a blessing.