ABRA, the Atlanta-based songwriter, producer and singer, refuses to be categorised into any cheesy new definitions of genre (“PBRnB” I’m looking at you). Drawing on influences as diverse as 90s RnB, 80s radio pop and British garage, her latest EP, PRINCESS, spans the wild evolution of popular music in the last 30 years. Building on the minimal sound she established on last year’s Rose, PRINCESS is a collection of melancholy, unsettling and sensual ruminations on love, sex and heartbreak, all backed by 808s and booming bass.
The opening track, "COME 4 ME" lets you know it’s going to be an interesting ride. This is not an easy listening RnB record. At only a minute long, it is abrupt and somewhat abrasive, featuring strong bass, a nagging synth line and discordant backing vocals.
"PULL UP" is a slow, sexy and detached take on reckless romance and emotional instability—“Said I’m crazy, you ain’t seen shit yet…” ABRA croons with alarming indifference. Drums, bass and minimal synth accents act as the only additions to her vocal line.
"CRYBABY," the single (released in June), is definitely the most commercially accessible track on the EP. It is up-tempo and perhaps even danceable if you leave aside its moody undertone. Driven by 808 drumbeats, the opening lines feel like something from a Grandmaster Flash album and the chorus (if you can call it that) gives ABRA a chance to show off her vocal range – the melody reminiscent of something from 1993’s Janet.
This unique mix of sounds reflects ABRA’s Trans-Atlantic upbringing. Born in New York and raised in the UK until the age of 8, she credits London with having an enduring influence on her music. Not surprisingly, she’s established a quite a following in London and earlier this year, she travelled back to perform for her home crowd. FACT covered this trip in as short documentary that you can watch here.).
Atlanta, too, has played an important role in her musical development. Her first releases, via YouTube, were a series of acoustic covers of Atlanta rap hits—including Gucci Mane’s "Beat It Up" and Waka Flocka Flame’s "No Hands." In 2014, she found her creative home at Atlanta’s Awful Records. Awful, founded by internet sensation Father, is comprised of a diverse group of boundary-pushing misfits, including Archibald Slim, KeithCharlesSpacebar, Ethereal, Richposlim, Slug Christ, GAHM, Micah Freeman and Tommy Genesis (who features on track 4 of PRINCESS, "BIG BOI"). While loosely categorised as a hip-hop crew, Awful’s artists cover a range of styles, all unconventional and impossible to quite pin down.
ABRA has gained a lot of exposure over the last year. So much so that hip hop’s number one flow thief, one Aubrey Drake Graham, has reportedly been taking notes. Last September ABRA called out Drake on Twitter for plagiarising the hook from her song "U Kno" on his and Future’s "Diamonds Dancing." Whether or not there’s truth behind the accusation, it certainly suggests that ABRA is on the cusp of something big and PRINCESS has the potential to take her there. Watch this space…
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