It took just one cassette and one movie for Abstract Rude to figure out what he'd be when he grew up. "I bought Run-D.M.C.'s Raising Hell – on tape, of course – from the record store right around the corner from my house," says the South Central Los Angeles native of his 9-year-old self.
"I took that tape home, and it was a whole new experience," he says. "These guys were rapping about their tennis shoes – Adidas, which I loved and wanted a pair – and the album was called Raising Hell, which was kind of taboo. And in their videos, they wore black leather, which kind of reminded you of the Black Panthers, but it was very playful and had a very young, fun energy."
The movie, meanwhile, was Krush Groove, which featured Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J and the Fat Boys. "That was the movie where we saw our heroes on the big screen," says the Rhymesayers recording artist whose latest album, Keep the Feel: A Legacy of Hip-Hop Soul, features guest appearances from labelmates Atmosphere and Brother Ali. "I'd say the combination of Raising Hell and Krush Groove changed my life; I knew I was going to be in hip-hop."
While still in his teens, Abstract Rude (real name Aaron Pointer) began rapping Thursday nights at the Good Life Café, a kind of hip-hop incubator where, legend has it, fellow South Central natives like Ice Cube and the Pharcyde would make appearances.
"L.A. always had people who loved hip-hop, and would throw DJ parties at skating rinks like World on Wheels and Skate Rink USA," he says in the same deeply resonant voice that delivers Abstract Rude's uplifting lyrics. "When the big acts from New York would come out here, they would play at the Sports Arena, and our local scene would be producing the shows. But yes, it took awhile for our homegrown people to break out of the shadows."
It also took awhile for Abstract Rude to garner attention beyond the West Coast, where he fronted the soul- and jazz-influenced Abstract Tribe Unique. He eventually recorded with the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal label before making the leap to Rhymesayers.
Currently, he's putting the finishing touches on his soon-to-be-released album, Outcry. "I'm calling it a mixtape, even though it's all original music produced by DJ Vadim of Ninja Tunes fame, who's out of the U.K.," Abstract Rude says. "We'll be dropping it very soon."
The goal is to get socially conscious tracks like "All Said and Done" and "The Fisherman" out there during the uncertain days leading up to Washington, D.C.'s changing of the presidential guard. "I think my core fans will really appreciate this offering, and I think it will soothe them, just like my voice has the ability to do," says the MC.
"I'm a firm believer in God – my faith is in Him – so I never fret who the president is, who the councilman is, who the mayor is, who the cops are," he explains. "I want to remind everybody that, hey, we're still living and we're still us."