Call & Response: Abdominal

I've got something special for you this week. Abdominal (aka MC Abs) is one of brighest stars in Toronto's underground hip hop scene. He released his debut solo record Escape From The Pigeon Hole earlier this year on Toronto-based Do Right Records and it could very well be the hip hop album of the year.

Abs was kind enough to answer some questions for us to help us promote his show this Friday at the Mod Club (opening for Montreal turntable wizard Kid Koala). In the process however, he also might have laid down the internet's first blog freestyle.

Keep reading for all the goods from Abs.

blogTO: Abdominal is a great name. When did you first start using it and why?

Abdominal: Bit of an embarassing story actually. I was performing with DJ Serious WAY back in the day (prob. '93ish) & my face was a little sweaty mid-show. So I pulled my shirt up to wipe my face & some girl in the crowd yelled out, "nice abs!!". Serious started jokingly calling me that afterwards & it just kinda stuck.

You've been recording and performing for a long time with a solid list of DJ's/producers, but Escape From The Pigeon Hole is your first "solo" record. What makes this record different from the others you've done in the past and why did you decide to release a solo record now?

Well, the main difference was this was the first time it was really just me in the driver's seat, creatively speaking. Now, there were obviously a lot of other people involved in helping me make the record, but I had final creative say on everything, which was a bit daunting at times, but also really liberating. I decided to do a solo record now because I had met so many cool & talented people through all the travelling & touring I had been doing, and I wanted to put together a project where I could collaborate with all of those people.

Why did you call your record Escape From The Pigeon Hole?

Over the course of doing past projects, I realized how quickly people (particularily in the media) are prone to 'pigeon hole' you & your music, into neat but not necessarily always accurate categories. For example, I had a few food-related tracks on past releases. Suddenly I found I was being labelled 'the food rapper'. Later, work I did with the UK's DJ Format had a bit of an 'old school' feel to it. And so I quickly became, 'Abs, that old school rapper'. Now don't get me wrong, all that stuff is a big part of what I do, but it's not the end all, be all of what I'm about as an artist. So my goal with this album, my first real solo project, was to show a more complete picture of myself musically. So there are some food references on there, as well as some old school sounding tracks, but there's also some different sounds as well...allowing me to "Escape From the Pigeon Hole".

There's an amazing track on your record called "T.Ode" with a phone message intro by Mayor David Miller. How did you hook that up?

We (Notes to Self, who are feat. on that track, & myself) were asked to perform that song at the opening gala event for this celebrate Toronto festival called Humanitas. Mayor Miller was scheduled to give a speech right after we finished. And so we crossed paths as we were leaving the stage & he was coming on. He quickly mentioned how much he had loved the tune. So while he was giving his speech, Rosh from Notes had the brilliant idea that we approach him about recording an intro for the song. I mentioned it to Miller after his speech & he was really enthusiastic about it. He ended up calling my phone & leaving the message that starts the track a few weeks later. Big ups Mayor Miller every time!!

There's also some cool scratching with a sample of an old guy talking about Toronto. Where's that from?

That's from this old Toronto tourism record from the '70s. I can't give you the name though...gotta watch out for those uncleared sample suits!!

There's a funny blog post on your Myspace page from a while back where you talk about a kooky Portuguese neighbour who would talk your ear off and give you suspicious homemade wine. What's your relationship with him now?

Oh he's out in full force enjoying the summer every day on the porch. I humour him occasionally & let him tell me all about the old country (at least I think that's what he's talking about...the ratio of Portugese words to English is approx. 9 to 1). But for the most part though, I have to duck him & get on with my day...which I know sounds cold, but seriously, once he gets going, he doesn't stop for at least 45 minutes.

You're opening for Kid Koala this Friday night at the Mod Club. Any chance of you joining him on stage for a song or two?

Hey, it's his show...if he calls me up I'm game, but I'll leave that up to him. I've done some shows with him before in the UK though, so we know each other at least.

You're well-known for your freestyling skills. You might not go for this, but have you ever tried typing a freestyle?

Yeah it's true I got a hype flow
but only on the mic yo,
cuz on the keyboard I type slow...
slower than the worst receptionist,
give me pen & paper, it's effortless,
but it's strictly 2 fingers on the keypad,
frustrating to the point I'll say "Egad!",
like Veronica's pop, you know Mr. Lodge,
by now my digits got blisters gotta stop,
so I'll sign off here, peace thanks for reading
damn you blogto, my fingers are bleeding.

Call & Response is a weekly series of Q&A's with bands/artists from or playing in Toronto. Photo by D.B.

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