Exclusives 4 December 2020
Author: Oli Knight

GRM Exclusive: Why Abra Cadabra was always destined for greatness

4 December 2020

2020 has been the year of Abra Cadabra. To some, his meteoric rise to the top of the UK scene may come as something of a surprise. However, those who know, know that Abra’s talent has never been questioned.

Since his emergence onto the scene with his now legendary “Blackbox freestyle,” it has been impossible to deny that Abra has superstar ability. Whether he would materialise this ability into success was a different question altogether. For a man whose music was so obviously exemplary, his commitment to the craft was questionable, however this theme of inconsistency seems to finally be lifting. Abra has grabbed the scene by the horns in the last 11 months, relentlessly dropping banger after banger for his fans, and clearly establishing himself at the forefront of the current drill scene. 

Abra Cadabra has come to be known for his ability to create drill music that feels wholly unique to him. Despite his illustrious career since, it is hard to argue that any Abra Cadabra song has had the cultural impact of “Robbery”, particularly the Krept & Konan remix. First previewed on his Blackbox performance, “Robbery” would go on to become one of the most defining songs of the late 2010’s within the wider UK rap scene, with the remix receiving over 25 million views. People were dumbfounded by Abra’s combination of a unique, gravelly yet silky voice, with effortless flows and engaging lyrical content. The future looked inexplicably bright for the young Tottenham rapper, as he captivated fans and artists alike with his brand of drill which seemed specifically engineered to create as much hype as was humanly possible.

However, Abra’s rise to the top of the wider UK rap scene was far from linear, especially in the context of this initial early success. Instead, Abra has undertaken an arduous journey over the last few years, in which his talent was undisputed, but his consistency and commitment to music certainly were. 

Whilst some may remember Abra’s Blackbox performance more for being the birth of “Robbery”, personally my favourite part is when he rides the timeless instrumental to 2Pac’s “Letter 2 My Unborn”. The ease at which Abra flows on this old school production speaks volumes to his technical ability as a rapper. Interchanging between rapping and singing, Abra gave us an early taste of his artistic flair, demonstrating that he was not an artist to be taken lightly. What is even more impressive in this freestyle is his ability to so easily juggle different delivery styles, flows, and lyrical content throughout a six-minute freestyle. For an artist making their introduction to the scene, this is extremely rare and encapsulates why Abra exists within such a small circle in the UK scene in terms of raw talent. For anyone who saw this freestyle at the time of release, it is hard to be surprised by how far Abra has come; the potential was always glaringly obvious. 

Abra has always been mature beyond his years, and this was reflected in his music. His “Mad About Bars” freestyle demonstrated an early awareness of the fleeting nature of success, as he asks “But my question is, when the buzz decides to leave will they remember me?”. This again highlighted Abz’s maturity; despite being only 18 at the time and having just burst onto the scene with his Blackbox, he was not interested in basking in his fame.

This level of introspection is unique to artists today within the drill scene. Artists in the drill scene often reject expressing their true emotions so as to maintain their macho, untouchable image that they seek to project. Abra does not fall victim to this, instead choosing to take the listener on a journey through his life, exploring his own emotions and thoughts with nuance and depth. As an artist who primarily makes drill music, Abra truly exists within a lane of his own; not purely by virtue of his musical versatility but his capacity for deep thought and his ability to translate this into his music.

“BLM” may be seen as a new venture in the career of Abra, but those who know his catalogue are well aware that he has always expressed an interest in deeper subject matter. “The Roads”, featuring fellow OFB member Kush was another instance of Abra grappling with the realities of life. It is a beautiful song; an ode to the trials and tribulations of life on the roads, and a recognition of the vicious cycle with which it can sweep innocent children into.

This song demonstrates an almost shocking level of self awareness, with Abra pouring out his pain onto a reflective beat. As Abra sings “All these olders older than me I don’t see them as old/They never told me kick ball, jump in the booth, they just want me on the roads” emotion oozes out of his voice, and the listener is taken into his tortured past growing up on the unforgiving streets of Tottenham. His recounting of his attempts to save his mother from being evicted illustrate his ability to weave personal stories into a message which holds universal truth to children born into similar socio-economic environments to himself. 

This song, therefore, exhibits the melding of the technical ability, musical artistry, and undeniable wisdom that Abra possessed, and all at the age of 18. In the context of this song, the excellence of “BLM” is perhaps unsurprising; Abra always had soulful and sincere music in his arsenal. 

“BLM” may well go on to mark a watershed moment in the story of Abra Cadabra. For a genre which is so reflective of the environment within which the artists live and experience, there have been few attempts in the drill scene to cohesively tackle the subject of institutional racism. The song marks not only an important moment within the UK rap scene, but wider UK society, as the children of a vilified class of black men make an artistic stand against the climate of hate which still pervades our society to this day.

The world of Rap is not kind to people who disappear from the scene and go long periods of time without releasing, there is perhaps no easier way to ‘fall off’ as a rapper; especially as the UK scene is only increasing in its saturation of quality artists. Abra Cadabra took a sabbatical for nearly a year in February of 2019, up until late November, when he returned with the aptly named “Remember Me?”.

Following an undeniably prolific first two years in the scene, 2018 and 2019 were very quiet for Abra. After the release of the five track long E.P Feature Boy in June of 2018, Abra would only release his “Daily Duppy” and “Smoke”, before his return with “Remember Me?” in late 2019, marking a lapse in output which could threaten the relevancy of any artists’ career in today’s musical landscape.

However, Abra simply cannot be measured in the same way other artists might be. Since his Blackbox, Abra had asserted just how undeniable his talent was, making it nearly impossible for fans to stop caring about him. Throughout the months of not releasing any music, the calls for new releases did not slow, but rather began to intensify.

So many songs made within the UK rap scene are merely reflections of current trends, and thus turn stale after a few months of play. Songs such as “The Roads”, “Art of War” and “Valentine” have a certain longevity that ensure they don’t fall victim to this.

“Remember Me?” was the perfect homecoming for Abra. When the beat drops Abra bursts onto an M1OnTheBeat production, rapping “take a step into my world, let me show you that, real block living, gangbanging everyday, subconsciously sinning”. Immediately, the listener is placed in the environment of Abra, as he takes you on a musical journey through the realities of life as Abra Cadabra. The video is largely filmed on the Broadwater Farm estate, which is of course the home turf for OFB. Other OFB members such as Bandokay, Double Lz and Kush make appearances throughout the video, further asserting that Abra was finally home, back in the UK rap scene where he belonged and making music for his dedicated fans.

Abra would upset what seemed like a permanent return to drill with the release of “Superstar” which would be the first single for the E.P Love or Lust. This marked a departure from the seeming onslaught of drill that Abra was releasing, reminding fans of the true versatility of Abra Cadabra. Love or Lust, as the title suggests, is an exploration into Abra’s world of relationships, as he attempts to seek love in a world full of lust. This short project reasserted to the world that Abra Cadabra is not just a drill rapper, and still has the ability and desire to step outside of the drill genre and make music that feels as if it belongs on the complete opposite end of the musical spectrum. Abra swaps his trademark aggressive, relentless flow and delivery for a softly spoken drawl, allowing his remarkably deep voice and flair with the ladies to take precedence throughout the project. 

Since this sonical detour, Abra has appeared intent on securing his hold over the UK drill scene, dropping a spree of tracks since Love or Lust; all of which mark a return to his trademark brand of drill. “Let Man Know” was the perfect return to drill for Abra; teaming up with fellow OFB members Bandokay and Double Lz. Abra Cadabra seizes this track for himself, attacking the beat with lyrical venom and precise flows, while Bandokay and Double Lz both offer stellar verses. Since then, Abra Cadabra has embarked on a run of solo releases which have demonstrated his uncanny ability to release hit after hit .

With the release of “On Deck”, it would become one of the biggest songs released all year. All of the attributes Abra had demonstrated on previous releases- which made it clear how special of a rapper he is- were apparent on this tune. However, both “Cadabra Freestyle” and “On Deck” have been removed from youtube since their release, with “Cadabra Freestyle” even being re-uploaded and then deleted on two separate occasions. Bearing in mind that 1011’s “Next Up”, perhaps the most famous deleted drill video ever, was only deleted once, illustrates how there are still structural limitations in the drill scene to the potential success that artists can attain. The removal of these songs proves that there is little evidence of these structural limitations being eroded with time.

If there is one thing that could stop Abra from ascending to the heights of the UK music industry, it is outside forces deciding to use censorship to control art that they don’t understand. These outside forces tend to generally manifest in the form of the Police, who continue to view drill music as stimulating gang violence as opposed to offering an escape route out of it. Working with Youtube, they are able to get any video they want to be removed, especially when songs contain lyrics that are interpreted as “harassment” or “bullying” and thus strictly speaking do violate youtube’s code of conduct. Hopefully, there will be structural shifts in the way that influential institutions such as the Police attempt to deal with gang violence; instead of focusing on art which spawns from these harsh realities.

Abra has just kept going and going since, with the release of “Spin This Coup”, “Show Me” and his “Fire in the Booth”. “Show Me” is in a similar vein to “Spin This Coupe” to an extent, as Abra crafts yet another catchy hook and manages to mesh it expertly with high octane verses. However, Abra flexes his singing ability more on “Show Me”, offering a completely unique sound of drill music as he switches effortlessly from fast-faced, aggressive flows to more melodic breaks.

Abra’s sequel to his initial Fire in the Booth was long-awaited. Spitting over the iconic “Pound Cake” instrumental, Abra goes down a similar route to his legendary “Mad About Bars” freestyle, offering precious insight into his mind and the battles he faces, whilst offering his take on the pitfalls of contemporary society. Lyrics such as “I had to boil the kettle just to have a bath” and “What, you think I’d rather die than kill?” are laced with conviction and add colour to the persona behind Abra Cadabra. However, his most impressive pondering throughout the track is possibly “If I lived in central, trust me that’s what I’d probably rap about/Probably rapping about managing bank accounts/But I grew up in the T side of London so I’m rapping about banging and scheming on the trapper’s house”. This is a very concise rebuttal to the critics of drill and the wider UK rap scene, who condemn its graphic lyrics and repeated references to drugs and violence. Abra simply states that he can only rap about what he knows, therefore shifting the attention of inquisition not to the rapper, but to society, for creating an environment in which someone had to grow up with these experiences.

Since this, Abra has gone on to release more details about his upcoming project; it will titled Product of My Environment dropping on the 4th of December, featuring the likes of Dappy, D Block Europe, Krept and Konan and frequent collaborator Kush.

The cover art depicts a giant Abra sitting on the roof of Broadwater Farm Estate. The album art especially is intriguing, as it illustrates the dichotomy of Abra’s emergence as one of the biggest stars in the rap game, someone who is seemingly larger than life; yet still resides within his natural environment of Broadwater Farm.

Only time will tell if Abra will realise his endless potential, but if his year of domination has taught us anything, it’s that when Abra works hard, he can do anything.