Abstract Rude says he knew he had arrived when he signed with the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal Records in 1995.
Mike D got his mix tape, and soon enough the then 18-year-old understood what life on a label was like. "From then on it was like, Wow! You're here," Ab says. "It was bigger then I could even grasp. It was definitely a life-changer."
Ab came up performing at the Good Life Café, a South Central L.A. health food purveyor where many young hip-hop artists earned their stripes. In 1994, Ab formed Project Blowed with fellow MC Aceyalone. The workshop/open mic helps young artists sharpen their technique and learn to take criticism. Ab says he wanted to continue to give hip-hop creators the same kind of guidance and support he had in his younger years.
No matter what advice Ab imparts to the youth, they may never capture his ability to switch the flow. Methodical at one moment and racing the clock the next, Ab floors it and pumps the breaks several times throughout a track. His lyrics capture the mundane and the politically controversial, while his smooth baritone leaves no doubt as to who's on the mic.
With his new record Rejuvenation out this year, Ab is hitting the road with Aceyalone and Mikah 9. The trio forms the hip-hop supergroup Haiku D'Etat, and it's the first time since 2004 all three members will share the stage. Each performer gets his own set, and then Haiku D'Etat takes over.
How does it feel to be going out with the rest of Haiku D'Etat for the first time in five years?
I definitely am excited. I'm happy for the fans, too, because I know they like seeing us when we unite like Voltron and give them the powerhouse with all the collaborative songs.
Can you talk about the role the Good Life Café had in helping you get your start?
I came in there young, at 15, 16 years old. Instead of hanging out at the park and playing basketball—being a lot closer to elements that could stray me into the street life—I was going there on a particular evening. It became one of those kind of nurturing centers in the same fray as school and church.
What happens on a typical evening at Project Blowed?
We have a sign-in. If you get there early enough, you'll be on the list. When your name is called, you get up and give a presentation to the crowd that's usually between two and five minutes. It's a free-for-all for the public to come and be heard. If the crowd isn't feeling it, they might let you know. That's just the trial by fire that you need to have longevity in this, because it doesn't get any easier the further you move up.
The Los Angeles hip-hop scene is probably best known for gangster rap. Do you feel it's important to show that the city has a different side?
“There are artists that think for a living in South Central.’
You know, we don't ... . Yes. The answer to that question is yes. But I would like to point out that we don't like to look at ourselves as really being on two different sides of the fence. I think that's something that the media likes to portray. They say, They're the good guys and then these guys are the ones that rap about the bad things. It's not that. Just like in life there's duality. It's not like you're never going to hear anything negative in a quote-unquote conscious MC's music. But for the most part, we're not hauling off in those themes. We do like to show a side that has to do with appreciation of art. We're trying to sell ourselves as a South Central art club. There are artists that think for a living in South Central.
On Rejuvenation you work for the first time with DJ Vitamin D. How hard is it to cultivate a good relationship with a DJ?
It takes a lifetime. It takes forever. But initially, right from the gate, I could tell we had a lot in common. Before we went to the studio, we just kind of hung out. We both like to play basketball. We both like to play video games. We both like to play dominos. I could tell I was going to get along with him really easily. In the studio, he likes to have you do your thing and then when you leave he's rubbing his hands like, Now I get to touch it and do my tricks. We made a true connection on the album.
What did the recording process consist of?
I would fly up to Seattle for a week at a time and we'd go a whole week straight. This would happen every three to four months for three years in order for us to record about 38 songs. Then it took the last two years to kind of knife through it, mix most of that and hear what was usable to end up telling the story we told in Rejuvenation.
Is five years the longest you've ever worked on a record before?
It's the longest I ever have, and it's the longest I ever intend on working on another one.
You switch up the flow in your songs. Is that a conscious decision or does it naturally happen?
I think it naturally happens. It's not a conscious effort. Each different piece of music speaks to me in a different way. I'll tune into certain elements of any particular instrument on any given track. Sometimes the bass line speaks to me; sometimes it's the keys and sometimes it's the drum sounds. I just never know what my ear is going to pick up first. But I do know when I have the flow. I go with it and I don't overthink it.