Who is AB Icee? The mysterious Southeast DC rapper, a large, bespectacled figure from the Condon Terrace housing project, tends to loom in the background when local legends like Wale or Shy Glizzy appear. He is always dressed in designer clothing oddities, a cup of lean in his hand, blowing smoke, eyes hidden behind expensive shades. Icee has a fairly loyal following despite rare live performances, no released mixtapes and a low social media profile. He has multiple Twitter accounts but rarely tweets. He keeps his Instagram private and does little to promote his music, despite dropping regular songs and videos on Youtube. He is so elusive that producers who have worked with him have difficulties reaching him. AB first caught some national attention in 2013 when he freestyled over Lil Durk’s “Dis Ain’t What U Want” with Shy Glizzy (the original video, now down, had over 200,000 views), although Icee’s music career began at least two years prior. Yesterday, he was thrust into the spotlight again when Wale included an Icee solo track featuring himself and Big Wax on his Festivus mixtape.
Icee’s moniker comes from his neighborhood and (presumably) his infatuation with lean. AB stands for Alley Boy (as in Alley Boy Empire or Entertainment.) Condon Terrace (also known as “Da Alley”) has one entrance, a thin back street leading to the housing units. Icee refers to the codeine cough syrup that has risen to national popularity. He has a variety of other nicknames: Sosa, Remo Luciano, Ready, Dr. Icee, etc. Aside from Icee’s constant stream of songs, he also regularly records with others in DC’s growing rap scene. He is affiliated with some of the city’s brightest rappers, including Glizzy Gang and Major Independent, Slim Tristan, Yung Gleesh, Fat Trel, the Slutty Boyz, Wale’s Every Blue Moon label and countless other artists.
There is something indescribably appealing about Icee’s music, the same “it factor” behind Young Thug, Future, Lil B, and a number of other rap oddities (Makonnen, Lil Wayne etc.) Some of these same artists (like Future) seem to be an influence on AB, using auto-tune not as a way to perfect vocals, but as an instrument, to distort the voice further and further from its natural sound. It’s not that he uses auto-tune all the time; his freestyle over “Move That Dope” showcases his lyrical ability. But when he does, it sounds unlike all other processed vocals. His songs are trap-influenced, with content about dope-slanging, lean-sipping and grinding to make a living. His guttural vocals are often ethereal, distorted crooning over stripped drums with plastic, synthetic melodies. When he raps unaided by auto-tune, it is often in repetitive, slurred boasts. But, it isn’t the distant, robotic singing, the mysterious background or the fast-paced staccato verses that give him this edge. Even over the most upbeat of production, Icee’s dissonant vocals can turn the mood dark, the reverse is also true.
In fact, aside from the dizzying number of Twitter pages, nicknames and unreleased projects (Puerto Rico, Bag Swag, Sosa Montana, the Prescription, Live from the Whitehouse, et al) Icee is like a number of less appealing trap-obsessed DMV rappers in a few ways. His videos (full disclosure-we’ve shot one) are typical low budget rap videos: a bunch of guys hanging around kitchens, apartment blocks, etc. Guns and finger-guns are pointed at the camera, jewelry is flashed and drugs are in abundance (in the background of one of Icee’s videos, an ABE member downs cough syrup straight out of the bottle.)
Maybe it is the simplicity and the authenticity of AB Icee’s music and image that makes him so appealing to listen to. He doesn’t have to beat you over the head with lyricism and he doesn’t need over-produced melodies and beats. Icee obsesses over lean but doesn’t shy away from its negative side effects; “Lean Lean Lean! Lean Lean Lean! All this fucking lean, you can lean on me” becomes “All this fucking lean, I can’t even breathe.” Icee compares his hood to the violent-riddled favelas depicted in Brazilian crime Movie City of God. His dissonant, boastful hooks can make (or take over) a song. And, like many artists who stray far from the norm, Icee’s music is polarizing. People seem taken aback by the off-kilter song structure, abuse of auto-tune and straight-forward rhymes. But people feel the same way about Young Thug, Makonnen, Shy Glizzy, and Chief Keef. This music isn’t for everybody, but for some of us, it’s out of this world.