Maserati E’s musical enlightenment

Culture

Culture

Maserati E’s musical enlightenment

9 min read

Eric “Maserati E” Abercrombie. grew up in Oakland when it was still a wild land of drug dealers, pimps and gunmen. But co-existing with this more violent side was a community full of culture and hope.

When he was sentenced in 2010, at 17 years-old, cannabis was still an illegal substance in California and Oakland was a largely ungentrified neighborhood. While in prison, Maserati E taught himself to play the guitar and music, which had always been a part of his life became a way to confront his old toxic habits, be vulnerable with himself and grow.

Coming out in August of 2019, Maserati E returned to a much-changed world. The legalization of cannabis, and the gentrification of Oakland had changed California. But institutionalized racism, the damaging impacts of poor policy on system-impacted communities was still there. Maserati E saw his new perspective and his music as a way to inspire people to create positive change by sharing his story.


Maserati E’s music has since been featured on Ear Hustle, an award-winning podcast focusing on bringing the realities of prison life and creativity behind bars to the outside world. He performs at high schools and colleges, sharing his melodic, conscious driven songs through acoustic guitar, singing and rap.

We spoke with Maserati E about going into the prison system as a youth, growing up in Oakland, the changes in cannabis culture since his release, his evolution both musically and mentally, how cannabis makes everyone an empath and his plans for the future.

Q

Tell me about you, your music and how you got here.

A

I was born and raised in Oakland, California. Did nine years in prison.


Q

You went in when you were 17?

A

17 years-old, yeah.


Q

Did they try you as an adult?

A

Yes, so at 17, almost in the same year, I went from juvenile hall to CYA to a state prison. Four days after my 18th birthday, they were like, happy birthday you’re going to prison.


Q

I’d love to hear about what growing up in Oakland was like.

A

The way I feel, in some ways, Oakland is like any other ghetto. I’ve been to quite a few hoods and it’s all the same stuff, just in different ways. But Oakland is unique in that the driving force is the culture. There are a lot of originators in the music world and in street culture. But for me, growing up I was in a very toxic environment. There was a lot of street stuff like drug dealers, pimps, gunmen, that was the life and that’s what I was surrounded by.


Q

What was it like to be away from Oakland for so long and then come back? It’s changed a lot, right?

A

Hell yeah. Oakland now is hella gentrified in certain areas, it’s very different. There’s a lot of people who have lost their lives or are in prison, so everything is very different. The generations coming up now have definitely shifted the culture a bit. There’s still guidance from the old heads and people who are trying to get their lives together, but it got out of control, it got bad. I think that’s one of the reasons Oakland became gentrified, unfortunately it did decrease the crime rate because it forced a lot of people out, so proximity was no longer an issue. Right before I went down, that was like the boiling point.


Q

I totally get just that feeling of change. That definitely happened in downtown New York where I grew up. It wasn’t like Oakland wild, but it was hood. I grew up waving hi to crackheads and hookers on my way to kindergarten. Then after 9/11 all that changed and got really gentrified. It’s a weird feeling.

A

It’s real. What goes on in our communities will impact the next communities and vice versa. So, we’re all impacted by gentrification.


Q

Do you feel like the good parts of the community you grew up in are still there? Or did they get erased by gentrification?

A

They’re definitely still there. I think the good will always outlast and out-survive the bad.


Q

I’ve heard a lot about housing in Oakland being ridiculous though.

A

Yeah, it’s nuts. And I live in the city now, I live in San Francisco where it’s even more expensive when it comes to cost of living.


Q

When you went into prison, what was the status of cannabis in California?

A

At that time, it still wasn’t legal. They didn’t really trip, but it wasn’t like what it is now with recreational use. I actually got pulled over not too long ago with my mom. They searched the car, since I was on parole, they put me in cuffs, put me in the back seat and asked if I had anything on me. I said I had little marijuana and they gave me my weed back and everything, they weren’t interested in that. They pulled us over because my mom had her phone on one of those little racks on the dashboard. I was trying to show her something on it and they pulled us over supposedly because of that. Really, I think it was because we had dealer plates because my mom is at a dealership and they saw two black people in a white area in a cool little car with dealer plates.


Q

Since you’ve been out, have you experienced cops following you, checking up on you, or being aggressive?

A

Since I’ve been out, I haven’t had a bad run in with law enforcement. I’ve seen some bullshit for sure, like direct engagement. But I’m not even going to put myself in a position to have police contact like that. After what I’ve experienced and having a new belief system in life, it opens more options and a different perspective. The way I navigate life now is way different. That’s a prime example of what we were saying before about the good stuff that goes on in community, there is an actual human support system, but those weren’t things I was aware of for a long time. I was very limited and had a very distorted belief system and obscure vision. Now, I do see the good in a lot of things.


Q

What changed for you? How do you think you were able to open up?

A

For me, it’s definitely been the music. Music is extremely cathartic for me. When I’m going through something, that’s the only thing that can really allow me to get in a better mood. But in order to get that out, you have to put it down on paper to look at it and it’s staring you back in the face. You got to get to a state of vulnerability to even be comfortable being vulnerable with yourself. Through music, I was able to find myself and get myself right. So now, I feel like that music can help somebody else and I can help somebody else by being open, by being an example of that and a display of that.


Q

Was music always a part of your life?

A

Yeah always, for sure.


Q

When you were inside, is that when you actually started playing and writing more?

A

Yeah, on the inside is when I actually learned how to play guitar. I had the guitar before going to prison, but I did not know how to play it. Music is in my genes, in my blood, in every fiber of me, that was the gift bestowed upon me. I realize now music wasn’t my purpose, but it’s the tool for me to serve my purpose. Prior to prison I could play some nice little bassline-type picking. But in prison, I started playing every day, literally till my fingers bled. No exaggeration, we used to play in the yard. I don’t like playing with a pick because I can’t feel the strings. Now I can play with a pick comfortably, but I still prefer not to. I was playing in the yard with my fingers no matter the conditions, weather, till my first three fingers were bleeding.


Q

That’s amazing. So, when you really started being vulnerable with yourself through music, that’s also when you had a perspective change on life?

A

Definitely.


Q

You also talked about being an example through art and I’m curious what example that is, what do you want to convey people?

A

What I really want to convey to people is how powerful we are. One of the things that led to my distorted belief system of criminality was a sense of feeling powerless and defenseless to the powers that be. That had me feeling like the only way I could be seen as powerful were displays of toxic masculinity. Whenever I acted out, that’s how I was overcompensating for my own insecurities. So, I really want to encourage people to understand how powerful they are. Not only to have the power to influence another human being, because I do feel we are connected on an energetic basis, we also have the power to choose how to respond to everything that faces us in life. That’s a lot of power. People really need to understand that. I want to challenge them and give them some food for thought on how to use that. Once you get this knowledge, there are no longer excuses. You’re faced with a choice. We can all play a part in seeing a better tomorrow. So, knowing this, truly believing this, being exposed to this, I know I need to do my part.

Like I said, I used to feel like music was my purpose. But now I feel like it’s to touch the people, to give guidance. For example, right now I’m on tour doing high schools and colleges. Me and my boy Antwan Williams, the co-founder of Ear Hustle. There’s no doubt in my mind it’s not coincidence why we have all these fans, it’s a trip.


Q

Talking about energy and what we put out into the world, do you feel like cannabis makes you more open to people’s energy?

A

Definitely. I think it’s a blessing and a curse. I think cannabis makes anybody damn near susceptible to being an empath, if you will. That’s one way to open up these gateways on a whole new dimension, realm, astral plane, I do think cannabis makes that easier. But if a person isn’t strong enough to understand these types of things, they can become confused. As we know one of the scariest things is the unknown. So that confusion, not knowing what is going on, that could drive somebody practically insane.


Q

How do you want to take all this knowledge and move forward in life?

A

I feel like the ultimate goal is to make an impact on the global level. That’s the beginning of this awakening of thought and consciousness. I want to contribute anything to the betterment of the world. That’s the movement, now what that looks like, I don’t know. At the end of the day, I guess you could say I’m following directions from something greater than myself. Who the hell knows what tomorrow holds? So, I try to live life in the present moment. So far, things are looking good, looking bright enough to blind if you look at them too long. But I try not to get caught up in that. I think if we focus on things that are outside of what’s right in front of us, we can appreciate that more.

They say when you know better, you do better. But my understanding of universal law is when you know better, you don’t do better and the consequences of the past become more severe.


Q

What’s the message, is it about being vulnerable and open and how that echoes out and lifts everyone up? Is it about listening harder to yourself? Is it about knowing better and doing better?

A

Right, I think it’s about a lot of things. We can’t pinpoint it, but all these things are under one umbrella and that could be, be the best you that you can be as a whole. At the end of the day, each and every last one of us play a role in society and how the world looks. If individually we can come together collectively, we will see a better tomorrow. We have shaped this world to be the way it is now. Everybody needs to put in the work to get to an understanding of what they believe is right. You have to deconstruct and reconstruct your own belief system. So, I’m really putting in that work to either make people want to attempt to better themselves or be open to more options instead of being narrow-minded. I feel like internalized limitations is one of the biggest plagues upon people from system-impacted communities.

That was true of myself. That was one of the things that had me limited, because I internalized these self-imposed limitations due to my conditioning. Having a job, being able to work for myself, that didn’t seem like real life. I could have fixed that on my own, but I was struggling with my own insecurities and traumatic experiences.


Q

But here you are, and you were able to take all those experiences and let them make you better.

A

Right. That’s one thing I say all the time, when we take losses, we learn lessons. One thing I never forgot that Antwan told me was, the way you change the world is about changing how people view the world. That stuck with me. People treat you the way they see you. Dehumanizing or depreciating the value of a human life, that’s what’s lethal.