Tony Cummings quizzed Vancouver-based emcee ABIDE.N about his life and music
For every Lecrae or Toby Mac blessed with record company support there are today a thousand militant gospel rappers using their verbal skills to proclaim a life transformed by Christ. The gospel rap scene is today a thriving, international internet-connected underground where emcees and producers hone their skills through download albums and mixtapes as they take their music and message to a street savvy audience. One of the freshest gospel hip-hop talents currently enjoying a Cross Rhythms turntable hit with his invigorating "In My Senses" is Canada's abide.n. Cross Rhythms quizzed the 33 year old rapper about his life and ministry. He was born Ben Vlasveld in Richmond, British Columbia. His family (mum, dad, sister and two brothers) were both Christians and musical.
Abide.n remembered, "When I was quite young I remember we used to practise as a family and sing together and then perform in an old folks home or some kind of venue. As we got older we each found our own way on what we preferred to invest our passions in. Even though most Canadians I knew weren't into urban music for some reason my brothers and I growing up were heavily influenced by R&B and hip-hop. Looking back, some things I used to do - like braid my hair into cornrows and wear big diamond stud earrings - was quite funny. . .no offence to anyone who does this. For me school was always difficult academically but I had a lot of great teachers that tried to cultivate the artistic side of me. At the time I found it annoying but looking back in hindsight I am very grateful now for I believe it helped me realize were my gifts are to this day. Some of the good times growing up were going to summer camps with my family, playing basketball with friends and kin until the sun went down and some of the bad times were when my parents split (which was a complicated matter, no placing blame on either one of them) and seeing some relatives deal with substance abuse in order to cope with personal struggles. My story as a child is just a few colors that I dab into from my palette when it comes to being inspired, I hope that the pictures I paint over beats never have dull strokes. God is the author of creativity, I'm sure he's got a lot of ideas to share with me for the music to keep on coming."
Ben became a Christian as a child but as he entered his adolescence he drifted away. "I would still call my self a Christian but I was not really walking the walk. It was in my early 20s after a relationship with a girl that went extremely sour, my eyes were opened to see the difference between the light and the dark. From that point on I decided that there would be no middle ground as to where I stood. I then recommitted my life."
The emerging Christian rap music of the '90s was a big influence on Ben and his brothers. "My interest in rapping and hip-hop was birthed from a lot of the pioneers of Christian rap, D-boy, JC and Da Boyz, dc Talk , T-Bone, etc. Back in the '90s when the coordinated dance routine thing was big in mainstream hip-hop my brothers and I would practise routines and we would try to write songs from time to time. I would rap the lyrics of my favourite artist or I would write my own stuff. Later I started to get involved in a lifestyle in my teen years contradictory to the roots of my beliefs. I put that aside and just followed whatever the crowd I was hanging with was doing. I always had a love inside of me for raw hip-hop and would occasionally tune in to some of the boom bap, east coast artists that were big at the time, The Wu Tang Clan, Guru from Gang Starr, Tribe Called Quest, Vancouver's own The Rascalz, etc. But it wasn't until I moved to Sweden for a year in 2000 to attend a Bible school that the essence of these things resurfaced. The elements of hip-hop seemed to be more practiced in Europe so I got into break dancing and then when I returned home I decided I wanted to take rapping seriously."
Back in Vancouver abide.n began going out to play gigs. He said, "I did a lot of live performing before I started recording. I (and our group) try to be open to share the music to an array of audiences. We have performed at charities, bars, youth conventions, churches, prisons, etc. Some of my highlights are being part of a movement in Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics called More Than Gold. We performed with many other artists throughout the Vancouver area during the games. Other highlights were playing at a convention called History Maker and at the Matsqui Prison here locally."
Although he'd recorded plenty of demos it was the 'abide.n' EP which generated the "In My Senses" turntable hit which was the rapper's first official release. He explained, "The 'abide.n' EP is the first recording I have done since I met England's own Souls Rest. I am strictly a lyricist so it was always difficult to get a finished project together. My relationship with Souls Rest is tight for we connect like family, our wives are good friends too. When they first moved to Canada and I saw them at my church I had an intuition that they were into music with a similar vibe to what I like. Plus they had a live DJ, which seems to be rare these days. I love the turntables slicing and dicing up cuts in the music. At the time I was part of a core of hip-hop and God lovers from different cities in the area that would put on shows in the Downtown area called Word On The Street. The shows were started up by MC Arise and they still go on today every couple months. Anyways, I invited out Souls Rest to perform there and eventually I started performing with them. We clicked and just recently they officially invited me to be part of their crew. We have just finished our first EP together called 'Trio'."
Abide.n spoke about his "In My Senses" turntable hit. "The song is about being aware of the fact that God is omnipresent (meaning everywhere) and so I can't escape from his closeness. But a lot of times in an everyday busy life I may not take the effort to notice his attributes. I try my best not to have a compartmentalized life. 'In My Senses' is about being aware of God's fingerprints in a variety of things, 'cause I believe when I'm just aware of him in church or church functions it's easy to turn that awareness on and off. Some of my best times of feeling God near is in the not so glamorous situations when I choose to thank him for guidance. But yet also the awareness is magnified when I watch a serene sunset and choose to thank him for that too. Basically it's just about constant commune with my creator; I can't deny his existence, even my senses testify. I tend to be quite analytical sometimes, over-analyzing, ha, ha, but I guess it helps with my writing."
As well as being a member of Souls Rest abide.n has recently completed a solo album, 'Love & Significance'. He spoke about the project, "Most of the production is from Nikoh Es, a very talented emcee, graffiti artist and producer from Spain who now lives in Canada in close proximity. The rest of the production and the recordings of lyrics were done by A.son from Souls Rest plus many other talented people that helped contribute to the album. Example, cuts by DJ Philimonic. Lyrically this project was written in the way I always try to approach a song. I try my best to use rich words, depth within the message, poetic, transparency, some stories and encouragement. I try to stay away from just giving a bunch of information and try to divert from what seems to be expected from a rapper. It seems like there are a trillion rap artists out there, it's easy just to jump on the bandwagon of what seems normal to talk about whether it's mainstream or underground. I hope I can always come real and write as sincere as possible in hopes that somebody can relate. At the end of writing 'Love & Significance' I realized there was a common theme throughout the track list. No matter what our beliefs are I think we all share these desires, to be loved by someone and to have a sense of worth and to know that we are not just existing."
As well as 'Love & Significance', things are really taking off with Souls Rest. Enthused this most engaging of gospel rappers, "We are planning on putting out one new song per month for the time being plus recording a music video. Hopefully by next year Souls Rest will start touring across Canada and perhaps make a trip out to the UK. On a personal level my character is constantly being developed daily as a new husband/rapper, so I need to remember why I named myself abide.n, continually abiding in a strong vine to branch out in life with firm roots and bear fruit in whatever sphere of influence I've been called to."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.