Hello Aban, thanks for accepting our invitation. Firstly we would like to ask you, although quite some time has passed, when and how you came in contact with the Hip Hop culture.
I started to approach Hip Hop around 1996. Back then the only way to come into contact with this culture was through someone who shared this same interest. The media was not as powerful as it is today. The few references you might come across on radio and TV were far from a truthful representation of Hip Hop and Rap. Scarce information was passed on by word of mouth and through the only specialized magazine, which had such a low circulation that it was very hard to find outside big cities. I was first introduced to the culture by a friend. One of the few friends that hasn’t switched on me during these 34 years. I say this because, at the time, only a true friend would have shared his “passions” and “secrets” so candidly.
In those days people were very jealous of the knowledge, techniques, rap groups and records they had discovered. The reason for this was that musical knowledge was based on constant research, time and dedication. Music wasn’t as easily accessible as it is today. Niche genres such as rap, reggae, techno and all other underground subcultures were backed by a very solid scene because, as I said previously, only those who were very passionate could recognize peers with similar musical taste who had already ventured away from the monotony of the mainstream. This situation could have only occured in Italy’s dictatorial music landscape. Just to think that Caterina Caselli was still pulling the strings of the music industry. Oh, she still is? Hi Mrs. Caselli!
Can you tell us an anecdote: why the name “Aban”, how was it born?
The name ABAN is not an acronym. It has many meanings, but I only realized this at a later stage. This is how I came to use it. I had many tags, the first was Shine then I chose Urto. Like many others I used to read AL (Italian Hip Hop magazine) while sitting on the toilet. One day I was reading an Eron interview where he said that his tag was made up of the letters he could write best. Since I was passionate about writing as well as mcing I followed his advice. My best letters were A, B and N. So I have other 37 variants of this name to work with!
In 2003 you established Thug Team together with Tacco and released your first project as a crew. Can you tell us a bit about this important period?
“Strategie” is the release I am most proud of and Thug Team is the first crew I made records with. We were more than a family and shared many experiences, especially me and Tacco who founded the crew at least two years before this first release. I had just moved from Lecce to Perugia where my sister, in collaboration with another Dj, had set up a sound system called Shotta P ( at first it was just called Shotta, then, during the cutting of a dub plate, the legendary Buju Banton added a P for police). I was at one with the streets at this time, organizing illegal jams (with my very first crew Lupiae Squad) and dabbling in football hooliganism. Then a few of my closest homies got arrested. I decided to take a break and go visit my sister in Perugia. That’s when I started playing my ragga – hip hop sets at the dancehall parties she was organizing, where eventually I would meet Ill Tacco who was a veteran of that scene.
Thug Team was one of the first Italian groups to rap about street shit on the album “Strategie”. At the time this was not entirely well received. However you were extremely credible, talking about situations you had really lived. What can you tell us about that period?
That album was way ahead of its time. The stuff we rapped about, the structure and beats were different. It was steeped in street mentality and many old heads in the Italian scene were against that. We were naturally gravitating towards occupied social clubs and block parties while we were keeping our distance from the “trendy” part of the scene. I remember all the big names who were part of this higher cast. They were truly great for having started the movement, but they acted like an elite always trying to sniff out the sucker. These guys hated us because the street themes we rapped about were against the teachings of the Zulu Nation. I was full of anger when I got to Perugia because a large number of people in my circle had just been arrested. They were only involved in football hooliganism, but the authorities pinned charges on them that were far more severe. They wanted the public opinion to turn against Ultras Lecce. Not to mention that I had just finished 2 years and 7 months probation.
The state police committed gross misconduct and abuse of power in handling my case. My conviction in court was based on a confession which was completely invented by an inspector who had a big imagination. During my interrogation, which occurred without the presence of a lawyer or my parents, he would let me hear my girlfriend sobbing on the phone. I guess he was applying his own personal interpretation of the law. Three out of four members of the team had previous convictions. Aside from music, street life was our common ground. Nothing too serious that warranted a life sentence, just a few minor offences here and there. That’s how we would spend our days. Every one of us had a troubled past: substance abuse, brawls and small time dealing.
The divine art of hip hop was a way out for us all. That’s why we called ourselves the Thug Team, Tupac (r.i.p) had nothing to do with it, if anything we were more inspired by Mobb Deep or CNN. Once we had honed our skills we focused on our attitude, which was absolutely genuine, far from the militaristic approach of the Zulu Nation that was asking an entrance fee of 10.000 lira for a membership card. Hip Hop was the reason why we all avoided ending up dead or in jail.
In 2007 after your experience with Thug Team you established Sud Est Records, which is still a force to be reckoned with in the independent Hip – Hop scene. Among its most memorable releases were the albums “S.U.D” and “Ancora Fuori”. We were deeply impressed by some bars on a track called “Cronaca Reale” from this period. They went something like this: “Today is a new day take a breath and reflect / There’s a big difference between living the streets and being a gangsta” Can you please explain this point of view to our readers and do you still feel that way today?
Cronaca Reale is obviously based on a true story. It was inspired by a homicide that re-ignited a mafia war after many years of peace. In my area (Lecce) being a rapper was never easy due to small-town mentality. In those days you can imagine how the streets would have reacted to these kids talking about machine guns, slinging kilos and imaginary street organizations in their “my little pony” world. In the real world, when you talk about the streets without living it, someone who is actually about that life may come and check you for talking reckless about magnum guns and dope sales. Releasing songs like Storie Ordinarie, telling kids to stay away from the life of crime at the height of a mafia war, meant we were constantly aware of the fact that we could run into trouble on the streets or at shows.
We were really from the streets but felt no need to brag about it. The streets embraced us because we were there day and night. I have never seen myself as a gangster or a criminal, although I really ran a dope spot for some time. I inevitably came into contact with negative situations and my only way out was music. We never had respect for rules because we were well aware of what rules meant in our environment: the power of a surname or someone’s mom waiting at your door with a 38. We loved the streets and those living the street life.
I fell in love with the streets when I was 16. I left home and the streets became my sole companion. I based my dreams and aspirations off of that world. Some haters, who were obviously pissed at the respect and attention we had in the hood, called us out as wannabe gangster rappers. Our vibe was far from that, we were doing street rap.
Since you have released 5 solo albums and recorded countless collaborations its safe to say we can call you a veteran of the scene. When did you realize you had an important role in the Italian HH scene?
While I was working in railroad maintenance, I acquired some shares in an illegal club. These were offered to me by a group of red skins who knew me through a common friend, chief hooligan Mirko Skin, who was forever banned from soccer games and stadiums for having participated in numerous brawls. I was in charge of organizing the rap parties and Mr. Mokka, who also was a great purveyor of “fine products”, remained in charge of accounting. I was responsible for organizing many legendary rap concerts such as: Slum Village from Detroit (first time in Italy), Afu Ra from New York (first time in Italy), Grand Agent and Liv Raynge, whom I personally introduced to the group Club Dogo. I also set up shows for at least 60% of top level Italian acts, both new and old school such as: Kaos, Alien Army, Gopher D, Club Dogo, Dj Shablo, Turi, Stokka and Mad Buddy, Inoki, Mazzini Maghreb, Lama Islam and Nunzio, Jimmy Spinelli and the list goes on…
On one of your latest releases, the Album “A Ferro E Fuoco”, the legendary Lou X appears as a guest, tell us how you met and what his role was in making that album.
I met Luiggio (Lou X) about 6 years ago. Of course I had been listening to his music since 1996. I was at a rap battle in a small town close to Lecce. Dega, an ex-member of my label Sud Est Records, who was an incredibly dope freestyler, was on stage killing it. While I was watching the battle my brother Brenno Itani from Bologna screams at me: “Paoloooo, Lou X is backstage!”.
I had no idea why Lou X would turn up to a small time event, but I knew that Brenno would never say something like that if it wasn’t true. I went backstage and immediately saw him, surrounded by a crowd of people. I made my way towards him extended my hand and said: “Hi, my name is Aban, although you don’t know me I owe you a lot, for a start I began rapping after hearing your music”. I gave him a bit of hash and said: “This is a little present, I ask you to accept this without saying thanks, if anything I’m the one who has to say thank you”. Without adding anything else I turned my back and left. I went back in the crowd and rolled a joint, my heart beating like a drum.
After awhile I see Lou X coming back towards me accompanied by Brenno, who says: “I’m going to leave you guys alone now, I’m sure you have a lot to talk about”. The thing he said which stuck with me after that first conversation was: “Someone has to do the dirty work and you do it well”. After that I didn’t see him for awhile.
One day during an interview they asked me who I would like to collaborate with in the Italian scene. I said Lou X. That very next day Lou calls me up: “So when are we doing this album then?”. I told him my album was almost finished but I would love it if he could drop a verse on one of the songs. He said: “Ok but we gotta meet and write it together like back in the day”. I invited him to the studio with Dj Disastro and Anastasia. Lou would pick the samples and Dj Disastro would chop and loop them but he was never satisfied. Until Luiggio said: “I got it!” and in less than an hour Dj Disastro had made a banging beat. Me and Luiggio started writing to It. I wrote two verses and asked him which one I should keep he said: “Both of them”. Then, after a few minutes of silence, he said: “This track is only missing a hook” and he came up with A Ferro E Fuoco. I decided to use it as the album title as a tribute. We became good friends. Every time we see each other it’s a party.
Since the beginning you have always spoken about your attitude and how important it is, in one song you say: “You can’t choose your surroundings, You can’t choose your parents, you can’t choose your attitude, you are born with it!” Why do you feel attitude is so important in Hip Hop music and other artistic expressions? Do you think its importance is being lost?
Attitude is the motor and your mindset is the fuel. You can be the best rapper in the world but if your motivation is just to get rich and famous, you weren’t born to do this you just learned the technicalities of an art form. This is even more evident in the scene today.
ThrowUp Magazine is particularly focused on Street Art and writing because it has a fundamental role in Hip Hop culture: are you involved in this scene at all? If so are there any crews or writers from your city you would like to shout out?
I was constantly painting up until 2005. In Lecce I formed the crew 2TD (Two To Destroy) with DNA. In Perugia I met Bero who is part of the POT Crew and M4C (Molotow 4 Cops). He was responsible for evolving my style from bubble and block letters to wildstyle. After 2005 my actions started diminishing gradually, however, now and then I still get the urge to go out at night to spray paint that cement which is so dear to us. I feel that a true writer does not need to be name dropped or shouted out by anyone. Maybe the fact that I won’t mention any particular names will motivate these guys further to go out there and risk it all to put their name where it can be seen. Also I don’t want to precipitate any conflicts between rival crews. All of them are friends to me!
The interview is almost over but we still have a couple of questions before we let you go. Are you working on anything new? What can we expect of you in 2020? What are your plans for the future?
At the moment I’m recording a new album at the Sud Est Studio. But I have promised myself not to reveal anything about this project yet. Meanwhile the new Sud Est Records headquarters/ studio is being built. I am also about to release a mixtape, a collection of all my features with other artists. I am proud of the fact that I have never collaborated with a wack rapper, not for money and neither for friendship. This project will also contain three unreleased singles from the new album and a couple of instrumental remixes. I am also working on a secret project with the director Luca Bianchini and director of photography G. Cavallini. I have another project that is centered around rap music in collaboration with my sister Angela Morelli who has recently moved to Norway. In addition I have been contacted by a Swiss production company that wants me to work on a soundtrack for a movie about an Italian Muay Thai champion. I cannot reveal more about this either.
My plans for the future are: to have a baby with my girlfriend Ludovica, to reach the top of the charts an independent album. I want to reach the same level as my old chums who made it and compete with these new baby gangsters without having to make any marketing compromises. I want to go platinum with a song that you or I would never expect to make it, but especially I want to show these 79 time platinum rappers that 9 out of the 13 songs on their albums are shit and have no content. They are simply sucking their own ego’s dick, lubrifying it with watches, chains and expensive jackets. This bullshit sounds like a wedding list rather than a rap song.