Abhi the Nomad Interview
(Unlike the majority of interviews which were conducted via e-mail, this interview was conducted via Zoom call, so below is a transcription of our more conversational approach to this interview). Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
1. What is your name and your profession(s)?
My name is Abhi. I am a professional musician (since 2018) and I make indie hip-hop. I live in Austin, Texas and I love cats and Cool Ranch Doritos.
2. What is your ethnic background and what is your citizenship?
I am Indian--South Indian--from Chennai. I am an Indian citizen; I was born in India, I have an Indian passport, but am here [in the US] on a visa.
3. Are either/both of your parents musicians or somehow involved in the music industry?
Nope, neither. However, my mom always used to sing Carnatic music growing up and my dad used to collect cassettes, records, and CDs, and would try to put us on to music. Some of the first music I ever heard was John Denver and the Bee Gees; my dad was tuned into a lot of Western Music and he would even buy the Grammys' winners collection CDs every year. He would buy those every year, so that's what I knew of music growing up and how I got introduced to it.
4. Please tell us a little bit about your experience, either growing up as an AAPI in America, or as a person of Asian descent who immigrated to America, whichever applies.
It has changed a lot since I've been here. I feel like the casual racism was so chill and prevalent when I first moved here. Now, I feel like I can be myself--and maybe that's me just growing up more--I feel like society has changed a little to allow different narratives for Asian people to exist out of their stereotypes and boxes. My experience has been learning how to deal with that change, really.
I've lived in so many different countries my whole life--that's where "the Nomad" part comes from--many of [my experiences in those countries] have been a lot more racist than [in] America actually. My American experience was the least racist experience I've had, though I [still] did have quite a lot of interactions that I didn't want to have here [in the US]. Honestly, I feel like America's kind of coming around a little a bit to Asians--and yes, it's taken an obnoxiously long time for a first world country that's the leader in all the media production and the narratives in the melting pot of the world--but yes.
Also, I think it's different in music. As a brown person in America, the experience has gotten a little bit easier to a certain extent, but as a brown person in music, it's a different story entirely.
I feel like you kind of have to travel to experience the different tiers of racism. It varies from what ethnicity you are, but as someone who is really dark skinned and also Indian, it wasn't always great. *laughs* Those experiences make you stronger though, so, America, for me, was a piece of cake.
5. How connected do you feel to your heritage/culture(s)?
More connected than I was before, emotionally, but knowledge wise, not a lot because I have not been back home in a while. I talk to my parents now and then, but I haven't seen my parents in about three and a half years and I don't have any family out here. I don't have many links back to the culture here.
6. 6a.) How did you get into music? Did you major in music in college? Where did you attend college/university (and grad school(s), if applicable) and in what subjects did you get your degree(s)?
I got into the creation of music around the age of 13 or 14. I was studying in Beijing, China--I was in middle school--I know it's really random...so, I'm a third culture kid... that's also why I'm not very connected with Indian culture either, I just absorbed whatever was there wherever I was. We were allowed to rent out MacBooks and so I did just that and opened up GarageBand and just noodled around it and put some sounds together. Down the line, my dad suggested getting me Logic, but then decided it was too expensive, but I figured out a way. *laughs*
By the time I had gotten to college, I had four or five years of music technology experience, so I decided to study Music Production. I attended California Lutheran University... I didn't really learn anything there, but it was mostly about the life experience and the connections I made. Since I studied music, I was able to intern at a studio for a year after I graduated, but *laughs* none of that helped. *laughs* I like to endorse staying in school... and I still will, but I believe in not going to school for music. All I am going to say is--I never admit this, but--my dad was right. I should have gone for music history or music theory or something like that. Studying music production in 2011--they hadn't really figured out sh*t yet, it was it was just like a hodgepodge of things to learn; it wasn't really useful.
6b.) When and how did you decide you were going to pursue music professionally? What were your parents’ reactions to you deciding to pursue music? Do they support your music career now?
I decided a long time ago, I just didn't execute the plan until I was about 24 *laughs*... I truly decided when I was 15. I told my parents I was going to be a rapper and they thought it was hilarious--this is not to shade them, they have been so supportive the entire time--but yeah, they laughed and it was funny to them. I got really emotional about it at the time, but then I thought about it a couple years ago, and I realized that if my son told me he was going to be a rapper, I would die of laughter... so, I get it. So yeah, I decided a really long time ago, but I felt like I could really pull it off and execute it back in 2017 and 2018.
I'm lucky I have great parents. My parents have always been kind of progressive and super supportive. They just said that if I was going to do music "for real", I had to go "100%" and go to school for music and get a scholarship; I did all that and it didn't help. They weren't really convinced about music as a career--they were justified in that belief--until I started making things really happen.
7. What are a few of your (music) projects of which you are the proudest? What were your roles on those projects? Beyond those projects, please feel free to name some of your other credits as well as any brands/companies you officially endorse.
I have several projects; I'm a catalogue guy and keep things up. My first project I ever dropped was my capstone thesis from when I was in college. I had to make an EP since I studied Music Production... and so, I've kept that up, and that's from 2014. I have two or three albums up. My most recent one is my favorite thing I've made--Abhi vs. The Universe--and that's probably the way it'll always be, the latest thing that I make will probably be my favorite thing at the time. So go check it out: Abhi vs. the Universe.
I don't really endorse anyone, but I am all about the Lemon-lime Gatorades. I just want everyone to know that. It's the best flavor; I drink an egregious amount of them.
8. What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) being an AAPI in the music world? What are some obstacles you have encountered (if any) as an AAPI in general (non-music)? Conversely, has being an AAPI ever helped you in the music industry or in general?
Damn, there are lot of obstacles... we could be here 10 hours [discussing this]. The biggest one really is that it's hard to push a narrative of a minority group in a country where you're the minority, unless you really paint yourself that way--if I was spitting bars in a kurta it would probably sell more because people would think, "Yo, he can rap, but he's Indian" and that would be so funny to white people. It's hard to sell yourself as a minority personality if you don't gimmick your own culture. I've been saying this for years now. The image of me kinda throws people off. To you, it doesn't because you're brown and you know other brown people who walk around in jeans and a shirt, but a lot of other people haven't really seen that. Especially as someone living in Texas, there's not a lot of brown people even in media getting in front of the camera and singing and rapping and just being brown in America, which is normal--they're just normal people--but I don't think a lot of other people have understood that...it hasn't been drilled into their heads yet, so because of that, marketing that and branding that is really hard.
9. 9a.) Who are some AAPI musicians/composers/producers who have previously inspired and currently inspire you (if any)? Why?
Yeah, there are a lot. There's this guy Rohan -- I think his Instagram handle is @rohan.jp3 -- he does 3D rendering and makes these crazy f*ckin beats. This kid is insane, he's one of the most talented people in the world. People like that are so inspiring; he's breaking so many boundaries. He will do these full 3D renders of these crazy visuals that you would see in movies and puts his own beats behind it... and he's better than most people who have been producing for over 30 years.
I have a discord full of people--a lot of brown kids who make music... a surprising amount of them--and there's this rap group, Keralanka, they're also really inspiring. It's these two guys based out of Canada--one of them is a rapper and the other is a producer, and the rapper is the only person in my peer group who I"m afraid to rap a song with because he's so good. He's crazy good at rapping. That's really inspiring and they're doing cool sh*t on TikTok too. The list goes on... brown people are feeling more and more comfortable putting themselves out there, outside of the box, and that's always inspiring to me. It makes me feel like what I'm doing okay--it's been very validating.
Also, I don't want to forget Shan Vincent de Paul--he's this crazy South Asian rapper. He's graced the cover of GQ India or Rolling Stone India, I think. He's always commenting on my sh*t and giving me props and stuff and he definitely does not have to. He's crazy good and he's done a lot of cool things.
Finally, my homie, Himanshu, Heems from Das Racist--they used to be a rap group back in the day. He was the first brown rapper in the United States. Pretty crazy. When I saw that group coming up in 2012, when I was in college, that was the most validating thing to see in my life--he was solo back in the day, rapping next to LP and all these super technical rappers, and he was spitting bars next to them. Seeing that was so cool--like wow, they have a brown guy up there. He's also a really cool guy and a beacon for brown musicians.
9b.) What are your hopes for the AAPI music community and your hopes for AAPIs in general?
I hope that art just becomes normalized in our communities more, outside of just the United States, you know? Not only holding on to our culture and traditional art that is beautiful and we've cultivated over centuries and has developed and grown, but also taking it out to the world and exploring and expressing ourselves through different mediums and forms--I hope that becomes more normalized in our communities and culture as a whole and and there's a focus put on it, because, for me at least, that's what makes India so cool--the culture, and art is part of that culture. I feel like a lot of our older communities don't really recognize that as something that's worth pursuing or chasing, but I think it's actually one of the most noble things you can chase, as someone from that culture as you're speaking and spreading that same language. Even when I rap in English and I rap over Western-influenced beats, I am still only saying things that I can say, that I've lived through and I've experienced and that is brown culture, regardless of what you classify it as.... that's just what it is. That's what I hope.
10. Name one or two non-music-related things/subjects about which you are also passionate.
Gaming--I play a lot of video games. This (motions with his hand to his room) is my streaming setup. If I'm not making music or doing something music related, then I'm usually playing games.
11. Any final thoughts? Alternatively, do you have any questions for me and/or the greater AAPI music community?
I like having outlets where I can speak on stuff like this because I don't really talk about it much. [Aside from that], go listen to Abhi the Nomad. Do it. The live show is where people start to believe, so please come see me live. I will be touring in the fall probably! Thanks!
Support Abhi online :)
Spotify: Abhi the Nomad
Bandcamp: Abhi the Nomad
YouTube: Abhi the Nomad
Images courtesy of Abhi the Nomad