Bilal Abbey is a Pittsburgh hip hop artist and producer, who performs solo, and with the group Tribe Eternal. Bilal’s music promotes self-awareness and individual growth, and his passion for music is fed by his deep love for every part of the process, from writing to mixing, mastering and producing. Bilal performed on Adda’s Sunday Showcase Series on July 5th, and raised money for the Black Girls Code. Black Girls Code is an organization seeking to introduce young girls of color to opportunities to learn computer programming and technology and foster a potential interest in STEM programs.
How did you become interested in music?
I got interested in doing music in the fifth grade. I was friends with some kids who rapped. From there, I was always interested in trying it myself and I started rapping in ninth grade. Our school gave us laptops and I started with a crappy USB microphone. There was also this free program called Mixla and so I would use that to make music. I wanted to do my own music from start to finish. I was never one to go to studios; I’ve always enjoyed recording myself, mixing and mastering and stuff. It’s been my journey to learn my style by doing the behind-the-scenes work on my own. It’s different every time I sit down and do it; it’s not a cookie cutter. That’s what, in my opinion, has made a lot of music sound so standardized. Every time you sit down, it should be a different experience.
When did you start performing?
I was in an African band in elementary school. We played traditional instruments and did African dance. In 2007 or 2008 I had my first performance as a hip hop artist at the Shadow Lounge. That was a legendary spot and lots of talented people would come through. I went to Atlanta for college and did some shows there as well. Now, I do a lot of projects for bands where I’m helping out or producing.
How would you describe your sound?
That’s a difficult question because I really make music based on how I feel in the moment. Now that I’m also producing, my sound is on the neo soul side of hip hop. Neo soul isn’t so much a genre as it is a perspective on music. It’s really based on the core belief that people should be interacting with each other through kindness, and at the heart of it is self-reflection and reflection on your environment.
What's the music community in Pittsburgh like?
I was born and raised here and came back after four years of college in Atlanta. It’s been up and down. The Pittsburgh music community is always on the brink of existing and not existing. There aren’t too many places here that support the perpetuation of music. In other cities there are more opportunities to get consistent gigs, like residencies at restaurants. Here you can’t really get a solid weekly spot. Most venues don’t like to have rappers because of whatever experience they’ve had with a part of the rap community.
There are some amazingly talented musicians and writers here, but it’s hard to tell what’s here because it’s always covered in mud. You think about places like Spirit, that support a lot of local music and they’ve only been open for three years. We need to have more of a culture of putting on shows. My biggest beneficial experience has been being able to cultivate my music with others. But promoters seem to look at music as a novelty. I want that focus to shift.
Do you have any upcoming releases?
Me and Pharoah Lum, he’s also a part of Tribe Eternal, we created a project together called Grits and Grenades. We’re working on a second installment now and we’ll release them together sometime later this year. Grits and Grenades really focuses on people’s habit to identify with their struggles in a deep way that keeps them in their struggles. We talk about our experience living in Pittsburgh and growing up in certain neighborhoods. We will be performing at the Fresh Fest Digi Fest in August.