Abhi the Nomad, whose moniker holds no mystery once he recounts his globe-trotting upbringing, is a 23-year-old rap- per living outside of Los Angeles and exploring the music scene this side of the Pacific. He grew up on whatever American and British rock he could get his
hands on, and fell in love with hip hop as a teenager.
A mix of these genres shape his current style.
He described his most recent EP, Where Are My
Friends?, as the pinnacle of his sound because of its
combination of alternative rock and rap.
“Basically the sound is really heavy baselines, mid
tempo music that’s gritty, raw and melodic at the
same time, and the content is melancholic and nostal-
gic,” he said. “It kind of sounds a bit aged too, it has
some vintage old-school influences.”
He raps on beats made on his guitar, and extra per-
cussions add funky rhythms that are far from what one
would imagine when thinking of the styles he pulls
from. Abhi is still gaining traction as an artist, but he
talks about his development and growth as a musician
finding his own way with integrity and the key
moments of his unique journey as a musical nomad.
He’s even working on a pop EP for a friend and colleague, just to try his hand at some Top 40 type stuff
(But shhh! He’s just doing production on it).
You’ve moved around a lot. Can you describe the
I was born in the outskirts of Madras, but Madras is
pretty much what I refer to as my hometown since
most people don’t know where exactly it is. Even I forget the name sometimes. Perambur.
I was raised there until I was four. I spent a lot of
time with my grandfather, who has now passed away,
and my grandmother, who’s still alive. My dad was
there for a lot of the time, but I remember that for the
last half he was studying for his foreign service exam
so he wasn’t around much. I don’t remember a lot of
it; I wasn’t even four.
Then we got news that we were moving to Beijing
because that’s where my dad was posted — he had
officially become an Indian foreign service officer.
I was raised in Beijing for four years. I didn’t know
any English until I was about six or seven, and even
then I was pretty rusty, but I was growing used to speaking
how the other international kids were speaking, which was
basically with an American accent.
Right after that we moved to Hong Kong, and I went to a
British school where a lot of people spoke with a British
accent, but my American English stuck with me.
Three years later we moved back to Beijing.
Up until this point, my main focus, if I could say I had a
focus at all outside of playing, was drawing. I was really
good at art and won several competitions. I looked forward
to drawing every second of every day. I was obsessed with it.
Then, when I was around the age of 11 or 12, when were
in Beijing for the second time, I started listening to music.
The first band I listened to was Linkin Park, a rock rap
group. I got really into them. Because they had a few hip
hop elements, I started getting into more rap. I started listening to what were the classics back then, late ’90s, early
2000s, so G-Unit, 50 Cent, Eminem, that stuff.
Then one day my dad brings home a workout playlist that
he made for himself. On it was Kanye West — and for me,
a moment when I found a true, bigger love for music was
when I first heard Kanye West. I felt this really deep passion. That’s when the art started to fade out a little and
music came into my life.
Is this also when you started making music, or trying to?
Sort of. I got a laptop for doing homework around this
time. It was a MacBook and it had Garage Band on it.
I started downloading a cappella music, so just vocals of
various hit songs by whoever were the big rappers of the
day, DMX, 50 Cent. I’d just put my own beat to them and
make remixes. I was doing this for a long time.
Then I thought, ‘ Wouldn’t it be interesting if I wrote some
words and put them over my own beats?’ I was 13 or 14.
I was not good at all for a while, until I was about 16 or 17
and had more of a solidified sound... I was young so I
sounded young; people couldn’t really relate to the music.
Toward the end of high school, it changed a little. Before
that, no one knew I was trying to rap or make music. But in
high school, I did a talent show and everyone was there. It
was a huge school, so I was really nervous. I came in third
place, which was amazing for me at the time because I didn’t know people would like me. I performed a cover of a
song by Fort Minor called Remember the Name. It was really big back in the day.
I got a free iPod shuffle from that competition (laughs).
That’s when I sort of believed in myself for the first time.
School finished and, that summer, my dad got posted
back in India. We went back to India, to New Delhi, and
that was a time when I wasn’t really making music because
I wasn’t that excited to be there. I was bored.
Then we got the news, after 10 months, that we were
moving to the Fiji Islands. I was like, ‘Hell yeah, that’s super
cool.’ We moved there and I started making music again.
This time around I picked up the guitar. I took some
classes and began blending it in with some other music.
I still sounded kind of bad. But my parents really believed
in me and gave me a lot of support.
I reached out to a local radio station and was like, ‘Hey,
I’ve got some songs that maybe you guys would like.’ They
told me to send them over; I was so surprised. But I went
into the actual radio station and played them some stuff,
and they just loved every single bit of it. I don’t know how
or why, but they loved it. They started playing my stuff on
the radio, and that’s when I really got involved in music.
Were you doing this totally on your own, or did you have
friends you kind of hung out with and made music with?
I met some local kids and started collaborating. This was
probably around junior year of high school. There was one
singer, his name was J J. We did some covers of Top 40
stuff, like Bruno Mars. His songs were big and we were performing them at all these public events and bars. Our
names just got thrown around a lot.
At the time, I wasn’t called Abhi the Nomad. People used
to call me ‘Milkshake,’ which was a reference to my being
under 18 and unable to drink. Whenever my friends took
me to bars, I’d order a milkshake (laughs).
When I was still ‘Milkshake,’ I put out a fake album on
iTunes and people really liked it, and they even bought it.
So, I gained confidence and I also met a guitarist and
singer, Stephen Saphor, who’s one of my best friends now,
and bassist Nilesh Pawar.
I started meeting up with Stephen, writing songs, and
Nilesh would come too. They were older than me by two to
three years. I got a vibe from them about what it was like to
be their age — they were a lot harsher than I was, and I was
running around all happy-go-lucky. They made me a bit
more mature, musically and emotionally. I think they really changed my life.
India, Fiji, China, Hong Kong, America are just some of the stops
and influences in his journey as a musician. Chaya Babu/India
Abroad catches up with upcoming rapper Abhi the Nomad.