Five decades later, several social uprisings have taken place across this country. From Ferguson to Baltimore to UC Berkeley, some unheard, frustrated citizens have once again begun expressing their anger towards the status quo through aggressive means.
However, is the majority of this current generation of young people really too enamored with capturing the perfect selfie or vibing off Xanax to continue to take appropriate action against injustice and discrimination? That question is part of the introspection that plays out on Abbas “Bas” Hamad’s latest music collection Too High To Riot.
I recently spoke with Bas about the inspiration for the Dreamville Records release. We also chatted about another politically tinged topic – Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban for seven majority-Muslim countries.
In addition, the Paris-born/NYC-raised emcee discussed his progress on completing author Malcolm Gladwell’s debated “10,000 Hours” theory which suggests ten thousand hours of deliberate practice are needed in order for anyone to master a particular field.
Even with last year’s Too High To Riot and 2014’s Last Winter in his discography as well as serving as a headlining act on a nationwide tour under his belt, Bas admits to still working tirelessly to cross that 10K-hr milestone.
Listeners should not be surprised the 29-year-old artisan is putting in even more time for crafting high-quality music. Another body of work is on the way.
Too High To Riot – that title seems even more relevant now than when the album dropped.
Yeah, I agree.
Did you foresee the theme of the album’s title being so topical?
I want the albums’ titles to be iconic for my whole career. As time progresses, you want more people to see the thought and inspiration behind it, and also interpret it as their own. But from the jump, it had a lot to do with personal issues as well as issues I perceived in society.
That’s where “Too High To Riot” stems from. It’s just me living this life, being on the road, and pursuing my dreams. And all the things that that entails – the good and the bad.
And also you’re snapping back to the real world and realizing we’re kind of living in this fairy tale as performing artists or in general. A lot of people in our generation – with the way the media and social media are – everyone’s living in a narrative. Either a narrative they created or a narrative they’ve seen and want to emulate.
While you’re busy living in this simulation you create for yourself, there’s all these much more pressing things going on. But we’re just too faded, too high, too caught up in our lifestyles and all the bullsh-t we’re into to really pay attention in order to make a statement or a stand.
I wanted to say that because those are the thoughts that go through my head. I feel like I’m part of the problem. I could be doing more and less self-serving things with my time. We’re all in this.
Didn’t you go to Ferguson?
I did. We all went out there with Cole and Dreamville. A bunch of us went out there for a couple of days.
That’s more than some people have done.
I know. But I still don’t think that’s any excuse. I think a lot of people don’t have the resources and they feel helpless in a sense. I’m not too far removed from feeling the same, so I can’t really blame anyone.
I just felt like I made the assessment about myself first. I didn’t want to point the finger because I know I’m part of it. We all could be doing more. We could all be a little more aware of the things going on around us and the impact we can have on them. Unfortunately, it’s not where we’re trending.
I know you don’t like to necessarily consider yourself a political rapper, but you do touch on political topics in your music. So I wanted to ask you for your opinion on Donald Trump, particularly the travel ban. Your family is from Sudan. What was your reaction?
It was really disheartening. I have siblings overseas, so my first concern is them being able to get back and reuniting with the rest of my family. I feel like the whole world is moving inwards in a sense. Every country is going in this isolation mode. It’s a worldwide trend. It’s even more alarming than just Donald Trump.
It’s these far-right leaders popping up everywhere that are strictly about anti-immigration and moving society backward. That’s what Trump is essentially doing. That was the more shocking part to me.
I felt like these are things that took generations to achieve and they can’t possibly be wiped out in the span of two weeks of this guy being president. That’s not how democracy works. But apparently, we’re all in for a big surprise.
With all that’s going on in the world, do you feel like music has the power to push back against that issue? Some people make the argument that culture is the greatest weapon against ideas like fascism.
Yeah, I do, because, at the end of the day, the music speaks to the youth. None of us are going to convince Donald Trump and his circle of 70-year-old white men that they have some wrong policies regarding the world. But you can convince the next generation.
I’ve been looking at exit polls from the last election. They show how Millennials were voting. It wasn’t even close, so I think there’s hope in that. Because that’s who we’re speaking to at the end of the day. We gotta keep trying to shape the thoughts and minds of the next kids coming up.
When they come to our concerts and see black kids, Hispanic kids, white kids, Asian kids, those are the moments. Somebody like Trump got so popular because he spoke to people that didn’t have to see or deal with Muslims or other races. He could feed off the ignorance.
But if they had more experience going to concerts and festivals with people of all walks of life, you can shape how they feel about other people. When people have real life experiences with other people, they’ve already shattered those stereotypes and that PR isn’t as effective.
I read an interview where you said you purposely challenged yourself on Too High To Riot to be more honest. Have you figured out how you’re going to challenge yourself on the next project? Is there something that you’re really interested in getting across in your next body of work?
I think it’s expanding on that. Too High To Riot was honest, but it wasn’t in all facets. There are certain aspects I didn’t touch on because I wasn’t experiencing them. This past year alone has brought on a whole host of experiences. Not just for my career, but from a personal standpoint that I want to share with my fans.
Every time you come to listen to one of my albums, you should have an update on my growth as a man, things I’m experiencing, and how I’m responding to them. That doesn’t really end. The more you experience things, the more you have to speak on. So honesty is still the calling card.
Sonically, there are some real interesting progressions. But there are topics that I didn’t speak on on Too High To Riot that I touch on more on this one.
You started rapping about six years ago?
Do you feel like you’ve mastered this art form?
No, not at all. That’s the exciting part of it. Those are the “eureka” moments in the studio. That’s what the progression is when you go in and you find a new wrinkle, whether it’s in your flow, in your tone, in your melodies, in your writing, or in your cadence.
The more you learn, the more the parameters expand. That’s the most exciting part of the creative process – knowing that I haven’t put my 10,000 hours in. It’s still an evolution and a process. From that standpoint, I’m just as excited as my fans in a sense. I want to know what I can do next. First and foremost, I want to know how I can grow and then deliver that.
One thing I’ve picked up from listening to the music, watching the documentaries, and from having conversations with you guys, it feels like the Dreamville team seems to be structured like a family.
Yeah, 100 percent. It’s a family operation. It’s not about “what you can do for me.” It’s about what we can all achieve together. It’s been that way from jump.
Yeah man, Cole’s not in it to make a load of cash off us. He’s good. He’s going to be okay regardless. He’s doing it to share music and artists that he likes and messages that he respects. That’s what he built here. I think from top-down, we all take that philosophy and run with it.
Stream Too High To Riot below.