Melodic migration

By Francesca Emms and Jayson Soma
Photography by Anna Briggs

Featured in Capital #60
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Abid is the bean counter and Abrzy counts the beats.

Abid Rahman spends his days working as an accountant at Xero’s Wellington office. But when the 26-year-old closes his spreadsheets, he picks up his song-sheets and becomes Abrzy – a rapper who has opened for international hip hop artists such as Lil Yachty, Kid Ink, Tinie Tempah, and Bliss n Eso.

Originally from Bangladesh, Abid has few memories from his early childhood in Dhaka. He says very specific things stick in his mind, “like what colour my school uniform was, or this particular cough syrup that my mum would give me when I was sick, that I didn’t really like.” Abid lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with his mother and father. “My mum stayed home to look after me, and my dad had to work two or three jobs to support us.” One of those jobs was with the Dhaka Electrical Supply Authority. There, Abid’s father met a New Zealander called Peter who convinced him he should move to Aotearoa for a better life for his young son. “When we moved we actually stayed at his house in Auckland for a month,” says Abid. “He’s a very kind man and we’re still friends with their family.”

Life as a first-generation immigrant was a challenge. With no English, Abid was an outsider, and this made his school years difficult. “Children can be cruel, so there was a lot of bullying and little happiness. I wasn’t the sportiest, wasn’t the smartest, wasn’t the most popular, but the thing I excelled at was music,” he says. Over the years Abid and his family made trips back to Bangladesh to visit family. Seeing the poverty-stricken city of his childhood, Abid realised that despite the difficulties of starting afresh in a new country, New Zealand provided the tools to do anything he wanted with his life. He says he felt it was his obligation to make the most of the opportunities that he’d been blessed with.

In the early 2000s Eminem’s high-pitched voice and profane lyrics were screaming out of every radio station and television music channel. Abid obsessed over the complex wordplay and rehearsed every verse to perfection. “I got two or three bootleg Eminem albums and would listen to them religiously, learn all the verses and then perform to myself,” he says. “That was the real catalyst for me. I realised that for the first time in my life, I’m actually good at something.” Inspired by his loved ones back in Dhaka, Abid started to write his own songs. He says the contrast of his two very different worlds helps him write music with conviction, and speak from the heart. “It encourages me to share my story. The story of my people, the story of our hopes, dreams, and aspirations to the world.”

Abid’s songwriting process begins with a beat. “I just let it play for ages in the background, absorbing it. The beat will make me feel a certain type of way, and dictate the direction of the music sonically and lyrically.” Once he has an idea he’ll do a draft recording of the vocals, just humming and free styling the lyrics, to capture the correct flows, cadences, and melodies. “Once I’m happy with that I will physically put pen to paper and write the words that fit into the pocket of the beat.” When the lyrics are finalised he records his vocals. “I wouldn’t say I sing like Usher Raymond,” Abid laughs, “but I definitely try to incorporate melodies in my raps and flows as it just helps switch things and make the music more appealing. I love to rap some solid bars and lyrics, and ultimately that’s what I want to be known as.”

Abid describes the mixing and mastering process as lots of trial and error. “Making a song is a lot like sculpting with clay,” he says, “you fine tune it until it becomes a work of art.” He does his own writing, recording, mixing and mastering. The only thing he doesn’t do is make the beats. “I will work and collaborate with several beat makers online that are selling their beats through communities like SoundCloud, Reddit, and Youtube.”

While he’s already making money through streams and shows, Abid says he’s not ready to tour. “You need to establish a really good fanbase before you can tour, otherwise no one will come to your shows.”

“I’m in this first stage trying to reach as many people as I can. You need to make really good music to cut through the sea of musicians. I’m trying to make as much quality music as I can to keep developing this fanbase of mine.”

Abid says performing alongside international fame has given him priceless experience. However, there’s a sense of connection and “togetherness” that comes with playing small shows in his favourite city in the world. “Nothing beats seeing your friends front row at a small, intimate rap gig somewhere off Cuba Street.” Abid’s younger brother, who was born in New Zealand, also lives in Wellington and has been to every single Abrzy show since he turned 18. “My family are 100% supportive,” says Abid.

So how does Abrzy the rapper coexist with Abid the accountant? “I like accountancy, I actually really do,” says Abid. “The skills I’ve gained at my job, like work ethic, organisation and concentration, translate effectively into my music. And any business relationships I form.” Xero is very supportive of Abid – his work mates are fans and even his boss goes to his shows. “I’m not just a financial accountant,” says Abid, “I think that’s an important cog in the makeup of Abrzy.”

Abid spends every spare moment on his music, unless he’s studying for his chartered accountancy qualification. “Humans are so incredible that there is no limit to your potential and understanding. Like, just because you do ‘this’ doesn’t mean you can’t do ‘that’. There’s always room in our minds to explore new things and learn. Anytime you undertake higher education it’s never a bad thing.”

The dream is to make a comfortable living through his music, touring and streaming, but also to reach people; Abid says, “it’s an incredible feeling knowing you can change someone’s life through music. Someone could behaving a bad day but your music lifts them. That is definitely how it works for me. So it is my dream to have that effect on people.” In the meantime, Abid’s plan is, “to be the best person I can be at Xero, while working on music every single day. And if you are consistent and work hard enough, doors will open which will lead to bigger things.”


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