Abstract Rude fans might miss his 16-year-old dreadlocks.

But with a new album out, the newly shorn rapper’s baritone, sing-song vocals, technical lyrics and passion for West Coast hip hop remain.

Reached 15 minutes after his set at New York’s Webster Hall, Abstract (real name Aaron Pointer) reflected on the new documentary This Is The Life. The film traces the mid-90s Good Life open mic nights in South Central L.A. that kicked off his career, and that of friends like the Freestyle Fellowship. Later, the crew built a network of MCs that stretched all the way to Vancouver’s Battleaxe Records.

“I’m happy that the story is finally being documented in a respectful and accurate way … (There’s) also a bit of nostalgia … a real roller coaster ride of emotions,” he said. “We were always cool with the whole West Coast scene … and it was building in other parts — Stone’s Throw, the Likwid crew … You’d find these different clusters of crews, that are all independent and involved in their own style, but also come from a sound that we’re all from.”

Growing up listening to gospel and soul and imitating the theme songs of his favourite TV shows, Abstract was also interested in melodic rappers like Slick Rick. Hanging out at Good Life with the jazz-influenced Freestyle Fellowship and one of his groups, Haiku d’Etat, he wanted to capture the cadence and technical detail of that genre, but add his own stamp.

“I had a voice where I could express myself melodically. I’m not an R&B singer like D’Angelo … but I could hold a note for a little while anyway,” he said. “(Haiku d’Etat) was like a pro team that goes to the Olympics … One person would lead, and the other two take off with it — one gives the send off, and the other two chase it and work to get at that same subject matter and cadence.”

Rob McMahon is a freelance writer. A graduate of UBC’s Journalism program, he contributes to Metro and other publications. Top music memories include a road trip to Coachella and catching Lollapalooza ‘95.