Rapper extraordinaire Abel Meri has been releasing music at a furious pace in 2020. His latest EP “#BLM” has been met with critical acclaim for its palpable expression of emotion, vividly capturing the outrage around the tragic death of George Floyd.
We recently sat down with the esteemed lyricist to discuss his journey as an artist and his thoughts on rap today.
For those that don’t already know, explain the geography of the “DMV” area and the rap scene in your hometown?
The DMV basically refers to Washington, DC, Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland collectively. DMV is an acronym for DC. Maryland and Virginia. I’m from Alexandria, VA which is about 8 miles south of DC.
DC is more known for Go-go music but the rap scene is also very active. There’s a lot of homegrown talent here and a list of OGs that paved the way. Wale is the biggest rap artist to come out of the area, but artists like Young Dame, Tr3demark and myself have been pumping out super dope lyrical content. There are also a lot of really talented producers and DJs, as well as celebrated artists like Demont Pinder. As far as rap, there are a lot of different sounds here. That’s what I really like about the DMV rap scene. We are all so different creatively. There’s no singular artistic sound for the area. Although we are inseparable from our Jordans, New Balance and Foamposite sneakers.
What first sparked your interest in rap?
The thing that immediately struck me about rap music was the unfiltered honesty and authenticity of it. Not just the lyrics and the journalistic sensibility it has, but also the fact that the artists on stage look just like the fans in the audience. By that I mean straight from the streets to the stage without makeup or wardrobe. There is no polish or choreography like some other genres of music. The truthfulness of it was captivating to me and always has been. Also, I feel like when you are listening to Jay-Z or Biggie or Eminem, you are hearing them and not a songwriter’s thoughts or vision being delivered by an artist. You actually get to know the artists personally through their music. You know about Jay-Z’s stint as a drug dealer and his friends by name. You know about Eminem’s relationships with his mother and daughter. I’ve never found that level of personal investment in other genres of music.
Who were your biggest influences?
I’m a 90’s head so Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac and Biggie were my biggest influences. I learned something different from each of them. Flow and charisma from Jay, artistry and creativity from Nas, social awareness and consciousness from Pac and storytelling and imagery from BIG. The thoughts, perspective and voice are always mine, but those guys taught me how to create good song structure and say something worth hearing when I rap.
Do you remember your first rap ever?
No I don’t. I remember saying it, but not what I said. I was in high school and it was a battle rap against a friend. Everyone went crazy when I said it. I wish I did remember the rhyme though just to see how bad it would sound looking back now.
What is your favorite rap album ever?
Man…it depends on the day. It’s really a toss-up between “Reasonable Doubt” and “It Was Written.” I don’t think you can go wrong with either. Jay made a game-changing debut and Nas defied the sophomore slump with a highly evolved follow up to “Illmatic.” 1996 was a great year for hip hop.
Who is your favorite rapper and why?
Jay-Z is my favorite MC ever. I was a fan of his since Reasonable Doubt dropped. I vividly remember buying the “Feelin’ It” single on cassette and rhyming on the B-side instrumental. I still have the “Dead Presidents” maxi single at my parent’s house somewhere. I remember arguing with friends that he was the greatest rapper I ever heard back then, so it’s pretty gratifying seeing that bear out as the consensus today.
What is your creative process?
People don’t believe me when I say it but I don’t write lyrics down anymore. I haven’t in almost two years. I didn’t believe artists when they said that, but I now realize that it was just a level of mastery that I had not yet ascended to. Producers send me beats to listen to. I choose the ones that inspire me, and then I just say what’s on my mind in the moment. It’s almost like the songs write themselves. It’s a totally organic process and there is a profound cathartic effect to it all.
How do you feel about the label “conscious” rapper?
I wear it proudly. I look at it as a badge of honor. I don’t see a negative stigma with it. I think being conscious is a good thing. Definitely better than being unconscious. Maybe some rappers see that as being a square or uncool in some way. Gangster rapper may seem like a cooler label to be associated with, but I’m not a street guy so I can’t identify with that. My objective as an artist is to provoke thought, edify, entertain and hopefully inspire my audience. But I have to use my own experiences, thoughts and story to do that authentically.
What do you think makes rap music different from other genres?
I think there is an innate authenticity to rap that you simply don’t find in other genres of music. The journalistic sensibility I mentioned adds gravity. Rappers don’t only discuss abstract theories like love, but they also use their environment to speak truth to power and bring awareness to overlooked demographics. I think that separates rap from other genres.
What do you think of the younger generation of rappers, and where do you see rap going in the future?
Rap is a really young genre of music. When you think about it, the oldest pioneers of rap are still relatively young. Kurtis Blow is 60. Rev Run is only 55. Other genres of music like Jazz and Country are much older, and have been reinvented by multiple generations of artists along the way. Early Jazz dates back to like 1910 so it’s about 110 years old today. Rap is barely 40. Many of today’s younger rap artists have evolved their sound to reflect them which is understandable. But you still have lyrical artists like J. Cole and Kendrick. Artistically, rap ebbs and flows in cycles. Think of all the different waves and sounds that rap has gone through; Conscious Rap, Gangster Rap, Crunk, Trap. My philosophy as an artist is to always offer the best version of myself at all times without conceding my artistic integrity. We all have different voices and perspectives to offer the world. When we set out to create art that fits a momentary sound trend, it becomes contrived and we compromise the authenticity of the art. As long as rap artists are speaking their truth and creating from an honest and organic place, I think rap will remain a great space. The fact that rap and hip hop culture overall has grown from what many “industry experts” thought was a trend that would soon die off, to undeniably the most powerful and influential art form of our time is a testament to all the great artists that have contributed.
Abel’s latest EP “#BLM” is currently available on all digital platforms.