A sophomore project is usually meant to build on the thing that made you special to listeners your first time around. But for Abdu Ali, he’s approaching things like he never released the fiery, untapped cry for independence that was his debut project, Invictos. “I was holding a lot in while recording Invictos,” he said to me recently as we chatted in my living room. “This time around I’ve been going ham with the vocals. I lost my voice a few times while recording the project. The flow and lyrics are much better now too. Like, I’m giving bars.” That project, Push + Slay is his new introduction—something he hasn’t let any close friends listen to and says is more of a rap project than the alternative Baltimore Club sounds he gave his first time around. “I listened to a lot of Tempa T and Bjork in the process of recording this and the result is a grungy, dark and punk sound,” he says while gazing off into space; it’s hard for him to hide his angst while we’re talking about the music he’s been keeping secret from everybody, but he isn’t withdrawn from discussing it.
Push + Slay’s leadoff “Bleed” isn’t foreign to the overall sound of Invictos: Ballroom crashes, uptempo drums, talking about conquering his past, with just enough Baltimore Club sounds to let you know where he’s coming from. But the evolution is in his delivery; other than the first song he ever released, “Banjee Musick”, he hasn’t been a rap mold, even though the influence has always been present. “Bleed” makes a point to knock down limitations, and that isn’t coincidental. “A lot of songs don’t sound alike on Push + Slay, but my vocal performance is what’s gonna be the dealbreaker,” he says. “Bleed is just straight up Baltimore. I can’t say that for the rest of the project. Me and James Nasty just vibe. Maybe it has something to do with us both being from Baltimore or us both having a lot of musical influences but he’s really good at incorporating different styles into Baltimore Club. I did the song in one take.”
Other than the music itself, a topic we couldn’t seem to escape was the presence, or absence, of his following. In other conversations we’ve had he’s been candid about his frustration with not getting the attention that he wants for his music—even though SPIN named Invictos one of the most slept on rap releases in 2013’s first quarter. But while on my couch, he seemed to have a better understanding of what needs to be done to get where he wants to be: “Until I’m working my hardest—like eating, sleeping and shitting out music and performance-hard—I have no room to complain,” is what he said while mentioning that he’s been taking notes from artists like Death Grips, B L A C K I E, Bjork and whoever else that’s not afraid to be completely comfortable in their creativity, even if they seem insane in the process.”I need to work hard and focus on making the best shit I can make. Period.”
Watch the music video for “Bleed” and look out for Push + Slay, set to release on Friday, September 13th: