Abhi the Nomad has lived in many lands on his way to hip-hop succes
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Global citizen Abhi the Nomad — rapper, singer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, visual artist, video editor — anticipates a time when his South Indian origins are no longer a novelty.
“I’m not really complaining — being Indian’s actually almost an advantage,” Abhi, 25, said in a phone chat earlier this month, referring to his ethnicity’s value as a media hook. “But it’d be cool if a lot of Indians were prominent in hip-hop. They’re not, and I don’t know why.”
Abhi the Nomad, Harrison SandsWhen: 8 p.m. Oct. 17Where: Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. BelmontTickets: $12 (17+up)
Born in Madras of a career-diplomat father and a mother who taught English as a second language, Abhi the Nomad — who navigates his first-ever headlining road show, The American Alien Tour, into the Beat Kitchen Oct. 17 — has lived a life worthy of his moniker.
As the Nomad has shuttled between continents, initially with his family and eventually under his own steam, Abhi has resided in India, China, Hong Kong, France, the Fiji Islands and these United States. A vivid early memory of his childhood in the subcontinent, he related, was of being pedaled to kindergarten in the “creaky wooden” rear compartment of a cycle rickshaw. When his father’s diplomatic posting later switched landmasses — the family relocated to Beijing — Abhi attended an American middle school there.
Detailing his preteen preferences in music, Abhi described himself as “pretty much on the same path as a lot of American kids my age, listening to what was popular in school: the pop-punk phase of Green Day, Blink-182 and all that stuff. When I started being really into music was when I got into Linkin Park.”
That mega-selling West Coast alt-metal band of the early 2000s “had elements of hip-hop; [Linkin Park] was, like, a gateway drug,” Abhi observed with a laugh. “Then I got into hip-hop” — with an assist from his dad, who’d stumbled upon the oeuvre of Chicago’s then-embryonic rap superstar, Kanye West, in a gym-workout song mix.
Père shared discovery with fils, and Abhi’s ensuing Kanye fandom deepened and broadened, branching out first to West’s protégé, thematically substantive rapper (and fellow Chicagoan) Lupe Fiasco, and then to “conscious hip-hop, like, from back in the day: Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Black Thought [and] the Roots — all that stuff.”
Abhi dipped a toe into hip-hop production himself starting “in late, late middle school, right before I moved to the Fiji Islands for high school. I started off with remixing stuff, then I just would pull a cappella [unaccompanied vocal] tracks from the Internet, and try to, like, build beats around them using [Apple’s foundational music-production software] GarageBand. And then trying to rap was probably like a year after that.”
Abhi continued making music in high school, though as he admitted, “I didn’t show anyone what I did, because it was awful.” Post-graduation, however, “I started sharing everything; I even put up a little project on iTunes.” Alas, according to Abhi, that too was “awful. I don’t know if it’s [still] on there; I pray it’s not.” Asked for his creation’s song title, Abhi grimly claimed, “I dunno what it’s called.”
But a 2014 album called “Beginning,” which he released as a college capstone project in 2014, while majoring in sound production at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, garnered Abhi a devoted audience; their numbers swelled even more with his 2015 follow-up, “Where Are My Friends.” The Nomad’s online following was key to his then being signed to seminal rap label Tommy Boy Records, in the words of Brian Delaney, a talent scout for the New York-based imprint. “Abhi’s fan base is driving everything,” Delaney stated. “They jump on whatever he does — they’re rabid.”
Now, having finally secured a coveted EB1 Alien of Extraordinary Ability visa in May (after many precarious, Catch-22 years as an international student, walking the red-tape tightrope of our government’s F1 travel permit), Abhi has put down solid roots in Austin, Texas, free to ply his musical trade in America without fear of deportation.
Tommy Boy released Abhi’s head-turning debut album, “Marbled,” in February, preceded by extra-favorable press. NPR had already featured the title track in its “Songs We Love” series, on Jan. 18: “Delivered over a bouncy beat, [Abhi] masks his moody truths behind synth stabs and muted trumpet riffs that echo his penchant for late-night party binges. … The way he dances melodically between the rhythms, it’s easy to forget the song is essentially an immigrant’s tale of loss.”
He would tell an immigrant’s tale of joy four months later, though, upon being notified that his EB1 had come through. “I thought it would be a phone call or something,” Abhi recounted, “but I got an email. I was here in Austin on the student visa, working on something in my graphic-design class, when the subject line ‘Electronic Approval’ popped up on my phone. I ran outside and yelled. Loudly.”