30 Under 35 2020

Abdu Ali Moves Beyond Musical Genres

Dean Kissick

Photography by Aubrey Mayer

Abdu Ali

“For me,” says Baltimore native Abdu Ali, “music is a spiritual practice.” They grew up going to Methodist Episcopal churches in their hometown. Now they’re agnostic and touring the States with an emancipatory musical ceremony of their own devising. “During my shows,” Ali continues, “I want to transmute the space into a trampoline where my audience can bounce way up in the sky and take a piece of the sun, the stars, god, devouring it into themselves so that they feel unleashed from the barriers that oppress them. My shows need to give church.” With everything they do, they’re building a church of experience: the experience of a marginalized person giving into the urge to live as their fullest self, to stand up for themselves and be free and take everybody with them if they can.

Still from Abdu Ali and Karryl Eugene’s What is Your Legacy? by as they lay 1990 Baltimore, 1998 Brooklyn as they lay, (2019).

Ali feels an affinity with Moor Mother, serpentwithfeet, JPEGMAFIA and other black musicians now tearing down boundaries; this is the post-genre movement, they say. Not only does Ali blend aspects of Baltimore club, rap, psychedelia, avant-garde jazz, space music and beat poetry in their songs, but they’re also branching out into art and literature and everything else. They don’t believe that the limits exist anymore. They’re up in the sky with the sun and the stars. “I did that, I killed that,” Ali sings on the hard- to-define hit “Did Dat,” laying driving urgent vocals over soft, relaxing melodies and dancing with all the cool kids in the park. “I did that, I killed that.” So what comes next?

Well, next comes “as they lay”—a fluid collaborative platform for live events, performances, digital conversations, sound pieces, everything—and a plan to take the art world by storm. “I’ve been wanting to step into that world for a min, but honestly didn’t feel ready,” they say. “Now I do, and now I know how I want to. But yeah, hopefully you’ll see a bitch at an art opening in 2020!”