Over the years, what has been presented to the listening public as “hip-hop” has become increasingly homogenized, catering to listeners’ most basic (and often destructive) desires. Luckily for those wanting more from their hip-hop music, Toronto rapper MC Abdominal (aka Abs) is fighting the good fight, bringing honest, intelligent rap music into the world.
“I think it’s a problem, really,” explains Abs from his home base in Toronto. “The average listener doesn’t have the time to dig and see what else is out there. They will, sometimes by default, listen to what’s presented to them. If you give listeners a choice you’ll be surprised that they’re actually capable of getting into different things. If what was out there was more diverse, the industry would be surprised. I think they underestimate the listener.”
The music Abdominal has been creating for over a decade is the sound of a man trying to get in touch with those deeper parts of himself — those parts that we all share as people.
“The majority of us are not these superheroes who are the toughest guys who get all the girls and have crazy money and jewelry. The average listener is just a regular person who is into the music, so I think so long as music sounds good and is done well, it’s not like you have to perpetuate that image and stick to those themes,” says Abs.
That drive to bring something unique and positive into the hip-hop world has manifested itself in the “blues-hop” record, Sitting Music. “I think I was just getting tired of doing the typical, straight-ahead rap music, hip-hop music that I’d done in the past just because I’d done it so long,” says Abs, recounting the genesis of the album. “I wanted something a little quieter, more introspective, that would showcase the lyrics a bit more. As much as I’m a fan of big, heavy, fat hip-hop beats, sometimes they have a tendency to drown out the lyrics a little bit, particularly when you’re trying to perform the songs live, so I just wanted something a little quieter.”
The quieter sound comes courtesy of his band, the Obliques, rather than the obligatory DJ spinning boom-bap and funk beats. “Really, it’s not even a band; it’s just two guys, percussion and guitarist, very stripped-down and minimal. I just like saying that I have a band,” jokes Abs.
Lyrically, Sitting Music is full of intelligent and reflective rhymes covering everything from Abs favourite food on “A Brief History of the Chicken Wing” to, more arrestingly, his experiences with OCD on “Sock Hop.” Talking with Abs, it’s clear that releasing a song that covers such delicate ground is a catharsis for both rapper and listener. “I’m definitely not the only person with OCD, so I’ve already seen — since I put out the record — people have already gotten in touch with me and been like, ‘Oh man, I totally have that too! I’m going to play this song for my friends to explain.’ ”
Looking inward and reporting his honest findings is something that separates Abs from many of his hip-hop contemporaries. “It’s always good to put yourself out in your music. It can be a little uncomfortable at times, but ultimately those are the songs that people really end up resonating with the most,” says Abs. “There’s probably enough rap songs in the world where people are like ‘Yo, I’m the best! I’m the shit!’ I think it’s kind of rare for people to show a slightly more vulnerable side, be a little honest about things that are going on in their life.”
On “Courage,” the latest single from and one of the many high points in Sitting Music, Abs touches on a vulnerable subject every single person can relate to — familial love and inspiration. Most strikingly, he does this with help from his 61-year-old mother, whom he enlisted as guest MC. It’s clear that this track, of all the personal moments on the record, stands out as something Abs is rightfully proud of. “I said, ‘Mom, on my next album I want to do a song together.’ She said, ‘Okay, cool.’ I wrote my part and she wrote her part completely independently, and the third verse — we go back and forth — we got together and wrote that last verse. I sort of coached her about how to get it on beat and how to flow it. But her verse, she wrote it all by herself. It’s actually her throwing down!”