Everybody wants to leave a legacy. Big Rasna wants to leave many.

The entrepreneur, whose real name is Ansar Abdullah, has his hand in a little bit of everything, from clothing to running an underground arts venue. Now, as he dips his toes into music, he’s proving that not much can stop him — even the deepest of tragedies.

Abdullah, 33, is a native of Atlantic City, New Jersey, but has adopted Baltimore as his second home. His desire to make a mark here started young. While attending Morgan State University — from which he graduated in 2013 with a major in print journalism — he started the Pipe Dreamz clothing brand with fellow fraternity member Christian Chase.

Pipe Dreamz was created to “bridge street and college culture” since Abdullah is a product of both. Shortly after developing the brand, Abdullah decided to expand his reach in 2015 by opening a shop on North Howard Street (which later moved to North Charles Street) so he could be even more entrenched in the community.

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That community connection happened very quickly. Abdullah was already familiar with artists like the late Baltimore legend Lor Scoota and Washington, D.C., natives Shy Glizzy and Fat Trel from going to college with their managers. Seeing the talent the region possessed inspired Abdullah to provide a space for other local artists to showcase their abilities.

Originating as a clothing storefront and local hangout, Pipe Dreamz became a staple in the city as a hub for creatives — a place where visual artists could display their work and musicians could perform.

Flacco, who was a frequent collaborator of Abdullah’s brand, said Abdullah would often put making money for the store on the back burner in favor of helping local artists.

“That’s just the type of stand-up guy that Abdullah is,” Flacco said. “He wanted it to be an environment where artists could gain support. If we know you’re an artist and you don’t share your art, he wouldn’t even let you spend money in there. He would say, ‘This stuff will sell itself, but there’s not always going to be an opportunity for you to showcase who you are.’”

Even though Abdullah had cemented himself as a key contributor to Baltimore’s art scene, his Pipe Dreamz space would be one of the local businesses forced to close during the pandemic.

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He didn’t let that stop him.

“Everybody used to say that I should rap,” he said. “They would say that because of my story, the way that I live and things like that, but I was hesitant because I’m naturally a private person. So the idea of rapping never really crossed my mind.”

That would also change during the pandemic. Stuck in the house, Abdullah and his friends would pass the time by talking about hip-hop and trying out some rhymes. Although the idea of rapping was new to him at the time, the soon-to-be-artist found familiarity in the concept because of his history performing poetry at places like Busboys and Poets.

Deciding to fully dive into this new aspiration, the newly named Big Rasna — his first name Ansar spelled backward — flew to Dubai with his friend and fellow artist Avon to film their first song together. The track, “Lyin,” calls out rappers who are fabricating the stories in their lyrics.

“In our real lives we were doing all of these things that rappers rap about,” Abdullah said. “I’m owning stores, I drive certain type of cars, I’ve done street things. I’ve really lived that life, so why not turn it into getting a free section in the club at the bare minimum,” he added, laughing.

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Big Rasna performs a live set. (Nile Williams)

Though Abdullah’s original goal was simply to sponsor a night out, he wanted to make an even bigger impact after the passing of his daughter. Yara Shahada Abdullah died in July 2022, a week after her first birthday, due to what Abdullah cites as hospital negligence.

While grieving the loss of his daughter, Abdullah made an impromptu escape from the country in 2023. “I was going through a really rough time and I still am, so I made the decision to leave where I was because I didn’t know if I would make it if I stayed,” he said. “I didn’t know where I was going to stay or what I was going to do, but something just told me that I needed to get up and go.”

The artist spent 2 1/2 months backpacking through Europe, but spent most of his time in London, which, along with the television series “Top Boy,” is what inspired his latest body of work. “Summer House V1,″ which came out in late February, is a six-track EP filled with emotion that Abdullah “needed to release.”

The project is dark, raw and gritty. It reflects exactly how Abdullah was feeling at the time and also how he views the English capital.

“Looks-wise, London is a depressing place. It’s always dark, cloudy and raining. That’s exactly what the tape represents,” he said. “It’s an everyday struggle dealing with this rage, this anger and all of these feelings, but to be able to get rid of some of that on this album took a big weight off of my shoulders.”

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With a single dropping Friday, several upcoming tour dates and multiple albums on the docket for 2024, Abdullah has no plans of slowing down. And it’s no longer just his legacy he’s focusing on.

“I told you why I started rapping, but the reason I continue to rap is to keep my daughter’s name alive and for her name to live forever,” he said. “I mention her in every single song I do because my biggest goal is for my daughter’s legacy to live on through me and my music, even when I’m gone.”

Taji Burris has covered the Baltimore music scene since 2015 for outlets such as The Working Title and The 4th Quarter, and now at the Baltimore Banner.

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