Keep Movin': Abdu Ali talks about moving back to Baltimore

Abdu Ali on the roof of his apartment in Baltimore
Abdu Ali on the roof of his apartment in Baltimore (Keem Griffey)

En route to the airport to continue the rest of my tour last year, I crossed my tweenage hood on MLK and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Back then I was afraid.

Not just of flying, but of not moving when flying.


It's been a whole winter and spring since I moved back to Baltimore from my brief long-winded stay in Brooklyn. I went there because I was lusty. I felt like in order to give my music self a boost, I needed to move to "the big city." At that time Baltimore was for me dense, dry, and restraining my creative aspirations. I felt weighed down by unambitious peers, family woes, and Baltimore's fucked social, political, and economic structure. It's hard to LIVE in such a space and being a black king-queen in Charm City ain't easy. A city where in 2013 the unemployment rate for black men between the ages of 20 and 24 was 37 percent. A lot of punk or indie/electronic white bands seem to get on constantly, and most of the creative outlets/platforms like galleries or publications are full of white people in high positions which is crazy in a city that's predominantly black. So many "fuck you"s in my face constantly, it seemed. So I said fuck you too and left.

New York City was alluring because it seemed as if musicians like me could make it there. Although I was already performing shows there, especially in Brooklyn, I still felt like I had to move because I still didn't have access to the aid that NYC offers musicians, such as performance platforms that really did something for an artist or connections to booking agencies, public relations, and so on. All the shit you need to elevate yourself as an artist. Being underground is a cool hustle, but I need a universal platform. I want galactic festivals, I want the big press, and I want a global reach. I just want more.

So I went there and went fucking crazy. I lost my shit. I don't know exactly why but I was feeling "Blue Jasmine" (fuck the perv Woody Allen btw) zany, and not in touch with my reality. I had a cute living situation too, living solo dolo in the happenings of Bushwick, Brooklyn, but I still had no space, no peace. NYC has no chill, which can be beautiful but also chaotic and for me the vibes were too intense. It's a place that harbors insanity, and can clothe it in sheep's wool, but the insanity sneaks up on your ass and fucks your medulla oblongata on the low, and you feel like all your functions are not in function.

But truly I went cray because I was a runaway. I sprinted from Baltimore leaving my issues unresolved. I felt guilty for giving up on my city. I felt weak. Like I was nothing. I am nothing without my home and I abandoned it. I went to a place that doesn’t even care for me, doesn’t tend to my needs, and doesn’t nurture anyone who isn’t willing to bend over backward for it, especially artists like me. Space is important and there’s none in NYC. The space that was left in Brooklyn was robbed by trust fund babies and oblivious rich white yuppies. I felt like just as much as an invader as they were. I had no narrative in Brooklyn, so I felt untrue.
My environment is crucial to my drive and motivation to create and New York did nothing for me. I am more provoked in Baltimore to create because there is more that pokes at my soul in Baltimore. It’s not just because it’s home but it’s also that place that simply does it for me. Baltimore is real as fuck. NYC has too many distractions from the truth (whatever that is) but truth seems to stand out in Baltimore. I also felt like I was compromising my life to live in Brooklyn. My space, time, and self were being robbed. At home I can do whatever the fuck I want when I want because it’s affordable, there are still many fresh ideas here, and Baltimore is unruly. There are too many rules in New York City. I see many of my NYC peers being mind-fucked by the money there and not even realize it, like putting in so much time at a job that does nothing for them. Personally, that’s what I see. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to end up living in the Big Apple for years without ever being able to eat from the apple tree. Nah, fuck that. So I came back to Baltimore.

So I'm here. Based in Baltimore. Living and loving it. It ain't pretty and it ain't for the weak but so much of this place gets me boiled to deliver sounds that I never hear from anywhere else, so I think that's enough to keep me rooted here. I realized that if I'm flying I must be moving, no matter where the fuck I'm at!