If Rhymesayers were having any issues regarding women on their label, they made up for it perfectly with the signing of Sa-Roc this past May. Those who have followed the unassuming yet aggressive mic controller for the past several years knows she has been steadily evolving with every release. Just last year, she dropped two projects in mixtape The Legend of Black Moses and album Gift of the Magi. Both displayed her fiery vocal delivery and serious rhyming ability, Sa-Roc delivers serious social commentary like a young Angela Davis. From her point of view, Hip Hop is an outlet to uplift the oppressed on record and within the community. Hell, her first performance was for a benefit helping out Mutulu Shakur. After speaking with the Nebuchadnezzar MC, the reality of her joining the ranks of Brother Ali and Aesop Rock makes absolute sense.
Giving some phone time with HipHopDX, Sa-Roc explains the journey from poet to artists on the Minneapolis-based label, the responsibility of her music, meeting Afeni Shakur and much more.
Sa-Roc Explains How & Why She Signed To Rhymesayers
HipHopDX: Congratulations on the union with Rhymesayers. How did that come together and what led you to finalize the deal with them?
Sa-Roc: Thank you. Well, they’ve known me for a little bit. They saw me at Soundset Festival last year. The CEO was familiar with my work and then he had his camp come see me live a couple of time. From then on, we started courting each other and the rest was history. I thought it would be a good fit because they’re a fairly large independent label and they allow their artist to express creativity and originality. They don’t fall into the mainstream formula and I appreciate that. It’s a good fit for my music and it worked out perfectly.
DX: Earlier this year, Siddiq apologized for the lack of females represented on Rhymesayers after former Rhymesayers artist Psalm One made comments about the label’s lack of support of her. Was there any caution in signing with them regarding that?
Sa-Roc: I take everything with a grain of salt and I understand that everyone’s experience isn’t going to be my own. I’ve only been welcomed with open arms from not only Siddiq, but other artists on the label as well including Brother Ali and Slug from Atmosphere. It’s only been a positive experience from me. This signing is Rhymesayers and Hip Hop moving in the right direction toward embracing women in Hip Hop and wanted to work and develop creative artists.
DX: The thought of you collaborating with Brother Ali sounds insane. Have you started working with anyone in the camp yet in regards to your next project?
Sa-Roc: I did a rhyme for Slug more recently and I did a little hook for Aesop Rock, but a full song? Not yet, but I foresee that happening for sure.
DX: When should we expect your Rhymesayers debut?
Sa-Roc: I’m working on finishing the album by early fall and I expect a release of early 2017.
DX: Nice! Let’s go back for a bit. I first heard you several years back on the Nebuchadnezzar album on a track with David Banner called “The Who?” However, you’d been on the radar for many. Talk about your rise for a moment. Was there a breaking point that you noticed?
Sa-Roc: I don’t know if there was a set breaking point. The years of me working has expanded my profile more and more. When you be grindin’, you try to always hop on a show, hop on a festival or something like A3C. Then, I worked with Sol Messiah, my producer and DJ, who has worked in the industry for years. He was actually the link for me and David Banner. He has worked David Banner on music and has been friends with him for a while. They were actually collaborating on a track, heard the track that I did and Banner wanted to hop on it. That happened pretty organically. Once that song got buzz, I started getting booked for more shows. Another turning point was performing with Black Thought at the A3C festival a couple of years ago. That opened up a lot of opportunities for me. Since then, I’ve performed with The Roots a couple of times and Black Thought another time. It’s like that. You never know that exact thing, but once that one person hears about your music, it sort of spirals into another person hearing your music. It’s been a beautiful ride for sure.
DX: Last year you dropped a mixtape and an album. What was the gameplan when it comes to dropping music?
Sa-Roc: For that with The Legend of Black Moses, I wanted to revisit some classic Hip Hop beats and show the world what I could do. A lot of the time, people are used to a specific formula and sound, mixtape projects become more acceptable and are a way of getting exposure. I was in between projects and wanted to do something fun and I decided to rhyme on other artists’ beats. Then, that would open up my visibility to an audience not familiar with me or the producer I was working with. You’ll listen to someone spit over a Jay track or ScHoolboy Q track because you’re familiar with the tone. That’s why we did that and that was the lead up to Gift of the Magi. My goal is to produce a full-length project every year. I kinda have ADHD as an artist. I don’t like to not write or produce content. I know that’s pretty much life or death for artistry. People nowadays are content junkies. You constantly have to be putting out music, imagery and things like that. We kinda plan out the year with what we want to do. Things like what kind of issues we want to address this year or music and then we work it like that.
DX: It’s already difficult being a female rapper. It’s even harder being one who isn’t overtly sexualized or commercial. How do you navigate past that?
Sa-Roc: First and foremost, I focus on the content. I don’t focus on the politics so much. I understand that they exist and I understand that there are a lot of opportunities for growth within Hip Hop. There is a lot that needs to be done when it comes to the acceptance of women in Hip Hop. It’s about changing the narrative and perception that’s expected of women in Hip Hop. I understand that and tend to focus on my work first. For me, that speaks for itself. As long as you’re focused and sticking to your message; some people tend to change directions or switch up their look, sound or content because they know that that’s what works. I feel like if you maintain artistic integrity, keep working and be good at what you do, you’ll get there. It may not be overnight, but I rather have prolonged success than a fly by night success.
DX: Years ago, you made some interesting comments about Nicki Minaj in which you called her part of a self-hating racist agenda. Has that opinion changed or evolved in any type of way?
Sa-Roc: I think is problematic imagery that some artists project in Hip Hop. I don’t think that artists should be singled out. I think I was acting off of emotion at the time. I wanted to express my truth, but we have enough going on as people of color that I don’t think we need to be singled out regardless of whether we agree with how one person projects their image or what one person talks about or whatever. I think we should talk about what’s problematic as a whole. If I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have singled her out specifically, but I do feel we have a responsibility as artists when we think about who is listening to our music and what kind of content we’re putting out there. I think that it’s important to not compromise integrity for financial gain or popularity. I’m not saying that anybody is doing that, but I think for me, that’s what I stick to.
DX: Describe the average Sa-Roc fan. Some of the people I know who are fans of you are hard Hip Hop heads who really appreciate your approach.
Sa-Roc: It’s really weird. I have people who will tell me that they don’t listen to Hip Hop, but listen to me. It ranges from the hardcore Hip Hop fans to the Erykah Badu fan who is into spirituality, social political issues and cultural issues. I have a lot of young people who listen to my music and even folks in middle America. My fan base is broad and I love it.
Blending Music With Activism & Meeting Afeni Shakur At A Young Age
DX: What was your introduction to making music? Do you remember the first time hitting the stage?
Sa-Roc: I do actually. It happened accidentally, to be honest. I’m not one of those people who say that they’ve been rhyming since age nine or anything. I’ve always loved Hip Hop obviously. I met my producer and DJ Sol Messiah roughly twelve years ago. Eight years ago, I wanted to see what it was like to be recorded. I’m a poet and writer so I just wanted to see what it sounds like. I recorded something over his beats and surprisingly, he said that it didn’t sound bad. After that semi-positive co-sign, I decided to try it again. After the first five attempts, we released an EP called Astral Chronicles. Early on as an MC, my rhyme skills were more basic and were developing, but they were more about metaphysical beings. It wasn’t until I developed as an artist that I was able to incorporate wordplay, switching up my flows and cadences and just become more seasoned as an MC. Right now, when I go back to the earlier stuff, I cringe a little bit. I feel like I’ve come so far and found my voice. The first time I performed, it was totally by accident. It was actually for a benefit for Mutulu Shakur. I rocked it and from then on, I caught the bug.
DX: Speaking of Mutulu, there was another huge push for his release this year. How have you blended your music with your social activism? I know you’re really cool with Jasiri X who has really done a good job of blending both.
“If I had to do it all over again, I probably wouldn’t have singled her[Nicki Minaj] out specifically, but I do feel we have a responsibility as artists when we think about who is listening to our music and what kind of content we’re putting out there.” – Sa-Roc
Sa-Roc: I think a big part of it is just discussing those themes and making people aware by incorporating that into my lyrics. A lot of things that people aren’t aware of that may be under the radar, I have been very vocal about. From the song I did about Troy Davis and the several songs I’ve done about police brutality. I’ve done numerous benefit concerts in and around Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Jersey and other locations supporting organizations. I’ve performed for benefits helping independent private schools in Atlanta because I came from that. I came from that community and try to stay true to that and to make sure I’m giving back. There were people who did it before I did. One of the most powerful vehicles is music and I’ve tried to use it to keep people socially and politically aware.
DX: Any thoughts on the recent death of Afeni Shakur?
Sa-Roc: That was hard. I was blessed to actually meet her when the movie Panther came out. They had a panel with Afeni and several other members of the Black Panther Party. I met her then and her energy was so beautiful. To be so active in the struggle and produce such an artist like Tupac, I understand how difficult it was for activists to maintain some sense of normalcy and sanity being attacked from the government like that. I really felt connected to her as a real woman. I know she’s sitting well with her son.
DX: Meeting Afeni at such a young age during a panel in regards to the Mario Van Peebles Panther movie during the 90s must have been something to witness. You’ve been with the activists too, I assume.
Sa-Roc: I actually went to a school that focused on Pan African-centered education. We were meeting people like Stokely Carmichael and historians like John Henry Clark. That’s who we were meeting in junior high school and stuff like that. We were learning about African history and culture. I was born and bred with that kind of education. That’s definitely going to be a blueprint in my music and how I roll with the community.
DX: Interesting you mention that with the study that was released saying that black students who are taught racial pride actually perform better in school.
Sa-Roc: I feel like they’re very important because the statistics that you cited makes total sense. As black people in America, we’re taught that slavery is where we started. After that, there’s Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights era. All we’ve been taught about is being victims of oppression and the struggle. That’s all we’re seeing. No student is going to be motivated if that’s all they’re learning about themselves. That can create disappointment, self-esteem issues and those things. Then there’s the school to prison pipeline where they’re not providing the resources. They’re basing prison space and juvenile institution space from children’s test scores and grades. The system is not set up for the success of black and brown children. So, it’s important to have schools that focus on children who grow up in these environments that may not have access like other walks of life, but traditionally miseducated. They can focus on their culture and heritage to show them that they’re worthy. I have friends who are everything from assistant principal to the CDC. The people I know who come from those schools are doing well and paying it forward within their community.
Sa-Roc latest release, MetaMorpheus is currently available for stream and download on Audiomack.