ABSTRACT RUDE: IT’S ONLY AT THE PRECIPICE THAT WE CHANGE
Abstract Rude is the independent Los Angeles hip-hop mainstay who co-founded Project Blowed and stood next to Aceyalone and Myka 9 in Haiku D’Etat—all currently touring together—and much more. His newest Rejuvenation (produced by Vitamin D) is out now on Rhymesayers and he is also working on RudeNation TV online. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
Is it true that when you were getting Project Blowed started, you and Aceyalone were paying for the first tape by pawning Nintendos and cameras?
Abstract Rude: It started literally with us having no money. It was post-Freestyle Fellowship—Fellowship had briefly disbanded and gone their separate ways. Acey was in L.A. struggling and we were keeping up on fries and chicken strips and keeping up on blunts. And Acey knew because of the success of To Whom It May Concern that there was power in that—there was value in that. So he started getting with CVE and me and Fat Jack—we put together the idea to do the album and it was like whatever we had laying around. Acey had one of those dinosaur big Motorola cell phones, I had a Nintendo, a camera—he pawned a video camera that he had. The funny thing was that we only needed like $300, looking back on it—but I guess for us at that moment, $300 was a lot of money. Me and him came up with $150 of it and we got the other half from some cats out of San Bernardino that were down to support us. They were the silent partners—Point Blank magazine and they got credit on the initial tape. We got tapes and they got tapes and we just started out slinging tapes. Somewhere I do have a copy of the tape—and it’s funny, that reminded me that there was no Internet so we had a P.O. box on the back of that. I remember that four or six months after us having the tape out, Acey came over to Fat Jack’s house and dropped off like two grocery bags worth of mail that we had. You wouldn’t have believed it—it was people from all over. It was so overwhelming—we couldn’t even read it all. We started opening it up but there were long letters—like long heart-pouring-out letters and I tried to read through all of it and I may have read through the first two bags, and then he came back with two more bags and his sister—who loaned us the P.O. box—would complain to get this mail. And every time we got it there was bags and bags and that’s when me and him kind of went ‘Hmm’ with the hands on the chin. ‘Hmm, something’s going on here.’ There were letters from South America, everywhere in Europe, everywhere in Canada and that’s when we knew we got something here—there’s a lot of kids feeling what we were doing.
What was the nerve that you guys hit? Why were people connecting so hard and so fast?
The nerve we hit was the do-it-yourself nerve. It was all the hip-hop—not singing. You know they make singers out of people who can’t sing but it’s still different—no matter how much a person tries to autotune or whatever, you’re sucking at the Super Bowl and the world is going to hear and you’ll be all over YouTube as the laughing stock. But with rapping, I think the average person can rap—rapping is talking rhythmically and we all talk rhythmically in some way. So rapping empowers way more people to feel like they can do it and to want to chime in on it and to want to be a part of it. Records have always been put out by companies—and sure there were mixtapes and things like that—but I think from us getting signed and our brief ventures with the labels, we kind of had a sense about quality. We knew you want to design the cover and at least look like you’re competing with the big boys, so maybe that’s what we did because we designed our cover and it was a collage. Of course collages exploded after that—I’m not saying we were the first to do a collage but definitely on the underground level we had the whole collage. You’re showing your whole crew all around and we didn’t know it but we were showing L.A. So know you know these things and you set it up and you market it, right? But back then we were just doing what we were and we weren’t on the outside looking in—we were just doing us and we struck the nerve. When they saw us repping our little town—21310, we put that on there. People went, ‘Wow, you rep your area code?’ Nobody was ever repping their area code—I felt like to a large degree we started that. Of course we had gangbanger stuff repping in jail. But on the DIY approach, I know we struck that nerve with most American kids because you sat back and you watched MTV and they took KDAY off the radio so there was really a thirst for hip-hop and for stuff that really had a good intention and was coming from a good place of just youthful creative expression in the streets.
I read an interview by your producer Vitamin D and he said when he was growing up he said there was consequences for ‘wackness.’ How do you feel about the idea of trial by fire when you’re an up-and-coming artist?
It’s sort of like believing that it’s only at the precipice that we change. Only when you’re up against it the most—when you’re facing the most fire—does it motivate you to save your ass. Either you’re gonna step up to the plate or you’re gonna burn and wither away and you’re gonna realize that you couldn’t do that. Like me wanting to go into the NBA. Me and a couple of guys who were on my high school team, we thought we were good until we jumped up a division. We got this coach that they drafted from the inner city that worked at John Muir so he was used to the raw talent and came in working with us and said, ‘OK, I’m going to put you in the L.A. Watts tournament.’ We got in that and soon as we played Banning, we got crushed. We played Manual Arts and just got slaughtered by like 60 or something—they were dunking all over the place. It was like watching the Lakers play a junior high school. I was like 15 or 16. I went to the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies right here on Fairfax and 18th Street. So anyways we found out, ‘Oh, maybe we’re not ready for the NBA… so I better chase my dreams rhyming.’ But I’ll tell you—from me playing basketball and the whole locker-room competitiveness was why I was primed for the Good Life atmosphere because I saw it as that. I saw it as good old locker-room competing and good old locker-room rites of passage. There were people who would come into the Good Life and Project Blowed and always catch feelings about that, but I just always thought they were being too sensitive. A lot of times when you get that sensitive, it’s because you can’t stand the heat—if you can’t step up to the plate then you should be one of the spectators.
With the recent Good Life documentary and new albums from you, Aceyalone and Myka 9 out—what are you most proud of now?
Honestly—what I’m the proudest about is that we’re still here. I’m proudest that we still push ourselves to be creative and I’m the proudest that there’s world wide recognition for it and the story is getting out there and we’re still here—kind of like standing strong, not bitter. I think we went through out bitter phase because that’s just normal, that’s just human. How you come out of it constructively is to still be here—and you know when they don’t because you don’t hear their name no more. For me, I never was that bitter but as a collective—it was more like things caught us off guard. It caught us off guard that we were getting bags of mail to the P.O. box. It caught us off guard when we started hearing other groups coming out sounding like us. Because before it was always like we had to fight to get people to like it, it seemed like.
What was the first time you heard somebody obviously riding what you were doing?
Well—imitation is flattery, you know what I mean? It makes you realize that you have been in it long enough now where you brought something to it. And what, you gonna forget the times that you were biting? You forget the times you took a rapper’s rhyme and broke down every rhyme he said and switched up only a couple of words and went around your friends acting like it was your rap?
Did you ever do that?
Of course. Everybody does that. If you really study—just like people that make beats or DJs, they will listen to the beat that the producer made and they will try to find that same break the producer used. They know what sample it is if they’re diggers—if their fingers are dusty, they know what sample it is. But you’re supposed to kind of remake the beat and be like, ‘Oh, that’s how he did it—OK, now I get how I can bring my thing to that.’ That’s what this is—give and take. If all you ever do is take though, you’ll never give back. When you listen to stuff like that, it kind of sticks with you as something that’s like violating a code—a G code or something.
In an interview with Slug, he was saying that once you got on Rhymesayers people would come up to you like, ‘Teach me something.’ Do you feel like a teacher?
In some ways I always did have that—that’s just my normal personality. I seem to remember being one of the kids who could help out the other kids with their school work. One of the teammates who the coach could be like, ‘OK, watch how Aaron’s doing it.’ That’s just moms instilling in me to lead by example early on. It was no different than when I first got down with the Blowed. When I first got down with the Good Life and Blowed I was real young, but I had older cats around me and I was humble enough to know to listen to them so just on that alone—for me having the wisdom of them—I came in as somewhat of—at least an under-leader under Acey, and I was able to gain his trust at a very young age and in and of itself that was something. I’ve always been the go-getter—to go plant a flag and be an ambassador for us as someone who talks to the leaders of other crews and try to make it like I’m an open book—‘All my cards on the table—you could ask whatever—let’s chop it up, let’s build!’
Is that the same reason you still give change to guys on the street?
The reason I still give change to people on the street is because I know they wouldn’t be asking for it if they didn’t need it, and I’ve been in a position before where I’ve needed change. I can remember being in high school sometimes and the kids at the school would help me eat—it’s not like I was dirt poor but maybe I wasn’t eating as good as they were right on that day and they helped me. So when you needed help in your life, it’s a lot easier to give it.
I read an interview where they asked you how you got into hip-hop in the first place and you just said, ‘I was born in the ‘70s.’ What happened?
I’ll tell you straight up. It starts with gospel music at the church—my mom raised me in the Baptist church. That and most of the rhythm and blues and soul artists back then came from the church—they grew up in church, too. But for me at that age, I’d have to say the Jackson 5. The Jackson 5 family reunion at Dodger Stadium was my first concert that my uncle took me to. I remember when ‘Billie Jean’ came on, I had to be on my uncle’s shoulders and we went to the front and I saw him throw the hat and I watched the hat and where it went in the crowd and watched people fight over it—it was like, ‘Wow.’ So the Jackson 5 and all that stuff that your parents would play like that when you’d clean the house on Saturdays. Earth Wind & Fire, the Temptations, James Brown, you know what I mean—from there as far as urban music as it starts getting a little more rap-hip-hop. I’d have to say Chaka Khan—‘I’ll Feel For You.’ My cousin went to school with her daughter so that was the thing—we were into Chaka Khan and then I started with the first rap stuff like Dream Team, Kurtis Blow ‘Basketball.’ The earliest memories I have of listening to music on the radio—my uncle bought me that first Sony Walkman and there were songs like that, that I could remember recording off tape onto a cassette. Then of course Fat Boys intrigued me and then I really started getting into all the stuff on Def Jam. To me that’s when rap just came alive—before that it seemed to me kind of old.
How do you mean?
Because I was so young and the rappers like Sugar Hill Gang and Kurtis Blow—I don’t know how old they were back then but I think they were in their 30s already, right? And like I said, we knew Chaka Khan’s daughter so we knew she wasn’t young. So when L.L. hit and when you got Run DMC wearing no shoe strings and Fat Boys coming out eating a bunch of pizza, this is speaking to a kid now. And I got into anything that ever came out on Def Jam. On The Good Life DVD I remember a great moment is when Chuck D comes into Project Blowed. It was pretty early, like ’96, so we’d only been doing it for a couple years. And on the This Is The Life DVD there’s a quote from him saying ‘this is about one of the most important times in hip-hop.’ That just makes me feel really good—a hip-hop euphoria right there. I remember watching Yo! MTV Raps and Fab Five Freddy asked Run DMC, ‘What’s your favorite new stuff?’ And Run says, ‘What’s that one group? Oh, yeah—Freestyle Fellowship, best rap group around!’ All of us back in L.A. were going, ‘Yeah!’ We were all jumping up giving each other high fives.
We did an interview with Acey and he said, ‘Whatever I’m doing, I don’t make my fans comfortable—I always give them something that can kind of shake them a little bit.’ What do you think you do?
You know what? I probably do the exact opposite—I probably make them feel comfortable. I’ll tell you what I do in each forum. I think listening to me on record, I’ll soothe you and definitely give you that motivation of like, ‘Yeah, I needed to hear that based on what I was going through.’ I have a line on one of my songs where I go, ‘Give ‘em the same feeling as our first LP.’ If it ain’t broke don’t fix it—for me. Even though I always experiment, but I always experimented when I was young, so to a certain degree it’s that healing thing when you get to hear it in your own personal space. Then as the perspective of what I represent, I think I am able to make people feel proud that I am always representing that same shit they always knew. The comment I get a lot is, ‘Man, glad to see you’re still doing your thing.’ And I think in a live forum, when people see me live, I’m actually able to sometimes get them to forget about me on stage. I see couples dancing with each other—getting lost in each other’s eyes while one of my songs is playing. Whereas you see some cats that just the crowd goes out there and looks at them—even if they’re nodding, it’s just about watching them. Not really like ‘we’re enjoying the music, getting lost in the feeling, just dancing around as if we were at a high school dance…’
Some people have called you a healer—how do you feel about that?
Well, it’s humbling. I made a song on my old album Think Tank called ‘Front Row’ and it was a take on an old gospel song ‘Give Me My Flowers,’ and it’s about giving your mom a bouquet of flowers now, instead of on a casket when she’s dead and gone. It’s just about appreciating people and appreciating times and the moment you’re in now. That has definitely been a song I’ve been told where people will have their grandmother or mother or whoever pass and it helped get them through. For me, stuff like that makes music worth it—it makes it all worth it for me. That regardless of what it sells it has an application—it has a place in this world and it kind of validates that this is what I was born to do.
ABSTRACT RUDE WITH MYKA 9, ACEYALONE AND MORE ON FRI., MAY 22, AT THE AIRLINER, 2419 N. BROADWAY, LOS ANGELES. 8PM / $15 / 18+. MYSPACE.COM/URBANUNDERGROUNDWEEKLY. ABSTRACT RUDE’S REJUVENATION IS OUT NOW ON RHYMESAYERS. VISIT ABSTRACT RUDE AT MYSPACE.COM/ABSTRACTRUDE.