With the accessibility of social media and music streaming services, entry-level artists can be heard anywhere in a matter of minutes upon releasing their music. Social media provides a platform for artists to build relationships through collaborations and bartering. One artist in particular has been proficient in this, catching our attention over the past few years. The multi-talented artist is a singer, songwriter, producer and illustrator, named Abel Gray.
Abel caught the attention of the Chicago group Hurt Everybody that you may have heard of after posting some animations inspired by their self-titled EP. This lead to an unforgettable art/music collaboration, a catalyst for Abel’s career,
“I like to show my appreciation for certain projects in art form, and occasionally the artists reach out and ask me to work on something.”
He’s responsible for the entire art direction of HE's 2015 project 2K47, and was a featured vocalist on the Supa Bwe produced, “Summer Kings”. This served as his entry into the Chicago music scene, as a singer and an illustrator. Since then, he’s made artwork for other locals like Beach Jesus, Alex Wiley, and KAMI to name a few. Abel also animated the visual for Supa’s Cam O’bi produced, “Fool Wit It Freestyle” featuring Chance The Rapper. It's gained over 4 million plays since October last year. It makes sense for Abel to have his hand in Chicago music; some of his oldest musical influences come from the city.
Born in a town called Redditch in the north-east district of Worcestershire, England, Sam LeDoyen (p/k/a Abel Gray) grew up with Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, as well as The Gorillaz, Eminem, OutKast, and Linkin Park. Music and art was integral to his development. Some of Abel’s earliest memories in music arrangement stem from an old Microsoft Windows turned Playstation 2 game called “eJay Clubworld(1997-2002).” Around the age of fifteen Abel began approaching music from a more serious place. Since then, he’s moved to London with hopes of achieving success through a variety of mediums.
Like Chicago, London is brewing with unique music makers on all levels of the industry. He’s only lived there for under a year, but Abel has found people that not only caught his eye, but are garnering attention in the London scene as well. One example is mixed media artist, poet, and musician, Kojey Radical. “First I heard of Kojey was the ‘Bambu’ video. I think it must have been on a blog or something and it just stuck out like mad.”
The song “Bambu” stems from the East Londoner’s sophomore project titled 23WINTERS, an EP largely associated with UK’s Black Lives Matter movement. In an interview with HIGHSNOBIETY from March of this year, Kojey expressed sentiments for moving beyond that typecast. Says Kojey, “If you’re asking me to be the spokesperson for all of that, you’re asking me to tap into very emotional and long-lasting ailments. And to constantly go back there and make that my dialogue.. it’s depressing! (Laughs) It’s great that it’s out there, and I’m never going to take that out of my songs.”
They met through Abel showcasing appreciation for Kojey’s work. As Abel puts it, “Kojey defies categorisation, really. He’s been a poet longer than a musical artist I think, so there's always a poetic edge and an added depth to his music. Also his visuals are consistently powerful.”
Abel also mentioned A2, a singer-songwriting producer who grew up in Croydon, London. A2 came up in South London’s rap and grime scene, but gravitated toward the piano through r&b, jazz, and blues at an early age. As his career took shape, A2 began creating something different from what he was used to hearing. Songs like “X2 (DBLE)” and “Holograms” showcase his ability to keep it funky, yet casual; tunes you can bump riding around with your people, but also the type of music you can chill with. In Abel’s words,
“A2 is kinda enigmatic. Maybe that's partly strong branding but there's a kind of mystery to his music somehow, like you’re getting a piece of a story that you might never hear the rest of. That’s cool to me.”
Hip-hop came from the Bronx in the late 70’s, and the craft of rap has since spread across the globe. It's prevalent in other cultures, and they have the talent to back it up. Bonkaz is another artist, a rapper from London who’s been making some controversial waves since his breakout hit “We Run The Block” in 2015. Lyrics like “Re-up and free up the sets, free up the mandem, beat up the feds,” might not get you too many friends in high places, but conveys a powerful message that lit up the streets of London. Abel first heard about Bonkaz through a playlist that featured both artists. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t heard of him before,
“Bonkaz sticks out just off pure rapping ability. He’s my go-to when I need to hear a string of sick multis and ten different flows in one verse, but he also brings a vulnerability to it that most people who can rap like that won’t give you.”
Abel Gray is relatively new to the London scene, but understands it takes time and dedication before you can consider yourself apart of something. Like most parts of the music industry, it’s equally imperative and difficult to carve your own lane. As someone from the outside looking in, Abel has come to understand some key elements to artist survival in London.
“Maybe if you’re grime or certain other genres you might be able to take advantage of existing routes and platforms, but outside of that I think you really have to do your own thing and find yourself before anyone is going to pay attention. Maybe that applies everywhere.”
Abel is no stranger to the journey of introspection artists often credit to their success. Two years ago, he released three projects featuring distinct self-portrait illustrations for the covers. The were titled, Outsider On The Inside Volumes 1-3, three five track EPs overflowing with Abel’s diverse musical background. The projects feature a few visuals as well, from his quick delivery in “Better Than”, the grungy riffs in “Respect”, to the bounciness of “Don’t Stop”, Abel switches up the vibe with the gumption of an experienced musician.
He intends to display this level of craftsmanship throughout his next project, “Sides Of A Circle”. He’s creating, recording, and mixing his entire forthcoming project as well as illustrating the artwork, setting Abel Gray apart from a vast majority of artists in the world. He truly handles every creative aspect of his music, from top to bottom. It’s been awhile since we’ve heard something new from Abel Gray the musician, and there’s no official release date for the album as of yet but, after getting to know him differently, I expect this new project will be something to look for. In the future, I imagine more artists will be recognized for their ability to crossover careers of different art forms. For all the illustrating singers out there, competition’s right around the corner, and his name is Abel Gray.