On the eve of the release of her Rhymesayers Entertainment debut, Sa-Roc joined Hxppy Thxxghts to discuss The Sharecropper’s Daughter. In addition to revealing insight into the album, the poignant lyricist offers a glimpse of her healing process, the impact of carrying generational trauma and more.
Enjoy the full interview below and be sure to sit with The Sharecropper’s Daughter, which is available now on all your favorite streaming platforms.
Let’s start things off with The Sharecropper’s Daughter, your new album. It’s out on October 2nd – how’s that feel?
It’s exciting, you know? A lot of nervous excitement. It’s relieving as well, to finally get the music out there, but I’m excited. It’s a long time coming.
I was just about to say that exact thing. How long have you been working on this particular body of music?
I started working on it at the beginning of last year.
And “Forever” came out in 2018, correct?
Yup, it came out in February 2018…so maybe I started working on this two years ago. My math is off (laughs).
But that just goes to show you really have been putting in work on this project…
Yeah, you know, this is the first album I’ve released with Rhymesayers so you’re a little bit more self-critical when you’re working with another entity or being introduced to a larger platform. I really wanted something that truly represented all I am as an emcee while also telling the story well. It’s been a lot of editing until I got it right…or until I thought I got it right.
Ever since the advanced copy was sent to me, it’s been a true pleasure sitting with the album. And it’s f**king – I apologize for swearing – but it’s honestly incredible. This is a potent 15 tracks you’ve put together.
Thank you so much.
Oh, absolutely. Let’s start with the title – The Sharecropper’s Daughter. Do you want to go into the significance of that?
The album is a sonic journey of my development and my growth into who I am as both a person and an artist. When I started thinking about who I am, one of the biggest things that stood out to me as one of my major influences was my father – who was literally born and partially raised on a sharecropping farm in the Jim Crow era South. Since I was little, I was told these stories of his family and what they went through and they really played a huge role in shaping my emotional outlook. And all that sort of couples with my birth and my upbringing and it shaped me into how I viewed the world and how I interacted with the world. A lot of that – a lot of that history and those stories – came with a lot of trauma, a lot of hardship and a lot of pain. Bearing that weight along with navigating through my own journey of finding who I am was a challenge trying to figure that out.
So that’s what I wanted to explore – how we reconcile with the things we inherit from our experiences, from our history, from our families. And how we reconcile that with the person that we are, uninfluenced by the world, just the face value of who we are – exposed and vulnerable. [The Sharecropper’s Daugther] just really tells that journey.
I think it’s beautiful that you took yourself on that journey, aside from making the music. I think a lot of people unintentionally bypass generational trauma simply because they’re not really aware of it. They don’t factor in how that impacts who they are and how they live their life. So I think it’s awesome you took it upon yourself to step into that realm and go on that journey.
It really is an important part of the healing process. And one of the things that, with me, I love to create art, I love to interact with supporters and perform on stage but one of the biggest motivators for me to do music is that it’s somewhat of a cathartic experience. That may sound like the contrite thing for the introspective artist to say but music is healing and that’s really true. You’re able to explore parts of yourself that stay hidden, that you don’t feel comfortable revealing to the world, or parts of yourself that are powerful but in daily life you don’t utilize or you don’t access. It’s important for me to really talk about that because a lot of time we’re either unaware of how generational trauma impacts us or we are aware but we don’t have the tools or we’re afraid to examine that and shed some of that.
It’s interesting you say that – I had the opportunity to interview Slug earlier this year and he said something very similar in regards to the healing nature of actually creating music. What has your healing process been like?
You know, I always laugh when people ask me that. The second verse of “Forever” really is accurate – “I ain’t get here overnight / I was in that mirror like four-five times a week, with my mala beads reciting affirmations like holy rites.” That is a huge part of what it looked like – meditating, yoga, journaling, exploring different spiritual methods of tapping in and releasing, doing a lot of creative exploration. When I began – in my late teens – exploring drama and creating in that way, that was one of the first ways I began getting in touch with my body and myself and began to access a part of myself that was more compassionate with the imperfect parts of me, the painful parts of me and the darker parts of me. That was the first key that gave me a clue like, OK, this creative journey is going to be very helpful in you healing some of those hurt parts of yourself. So, yeah…a lot of spiritual meditation, a lot of breath work, a lot of Eastern spirituality. A lot of stuff (laughs).
That’s cool, I really think it’s beautiful you have those practices. A lot of people, I think, overlook – and I’m not suggesting it’s easy – we have things that you don’t have to invest money in, but if you’re willing to put the time in then the impact it can have on your physical, spiritual, emotional and mental body is wild. And it’s all right there in front of us if you’re willing to…it’s really just putting the work in.
The only thing you have to invest is your time.
And it can be scary.
It can be because habits are difficult to form, especially when you have years and years and years of negative conditioning that keeps you cemented in a certain way of thinking or in certain patterns of action. You’re left feeling disengaged and disempowered from being able to take the reigns on your own life journey. A lot of fear comes into play, not knowing what will happen or what will come out during these deep internal explorations. But it’s a really beautiful thing when you’re able to get into it and get to the other side.
Yup. You have to go into the darkness to get into your light.
Your flow and your delivery…I wish I had a word to truly describe it. There’s this confidence emanating from your voice and this real, raw power that you can feel through what you’re saying and how you’re saying it. What do you – I don’t know if you even feel that way, but when I listen that’s my takeaway – what do you credit that to?
Man, honestly, I feel like I have a whole bunch of really powerful people in my life. But as an artist, there were so many women – just powerful writers and artists – that I looked to for strength and inspiration. And also my female ancestors, so I always think about how much they endured and how much they’ve gone through, and I make a conscious effort to bring them with me into the space and honor them whenever I’m performing. I feel like I owe it to them to be present in the moment and to give as much of myself as possible and share as much of my inner power and strength and my gifts to the world. So them, but I have so many writers, from Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler, Alice Walker, Billie Holiday…so many powerful women.
Plus, the Goddess Gang energy is real! Just in my exploration of spirituality, channeling these Goddesses who are so fiercely powerful and who represent so many beautiful aspects of humanity – like truth and justice and restoring balance. Like Kali Ma and Oya and all these different Goddesses I’ve read about – they’re really archetypes to characterize traits that we all aspire to as human beings. That powerful, ferocious energy that some of my favorite Goddesses embody, that’s what I come with when I get on stage. Outside of me being Sa-Roc, I’m naturally kind of shy and reserved. I’m very quiet so when I get on stage it’s like, boom, we’re going to do this! We’re going to bring out something else because this is real work here.
And you can feel that. I love good music in general, you know? If I can bop my head to it, that’s cool. But when you feel it deep down – when music transcends music and it becomes something like a spiritual experience, that’s an otherworldly high. Speaking of Goddesses, and this makes for a good segue, you had the opportunity to hit the road with Rapsody. How was that experience?
It was really dope. It offered me the chance to gain more exposure but I think our supporter base is very similar in many ways. A lot of people bring their daughters to shows and people were showing up for Rapsody in the same way because they love the way she presents herself and what she talks about. It was a beautiful thing to see how people responded to her and how they engaged with her. And it felt like family, not only with her but with the other supporting acts in the crew. From Heather Victoria, who was also on tour with us and in Jamla as well, to like stage managers and tour managers, it was all love. But I’ve always gotten that vibe from the Jamla crew anyway.
It felt good because, in my mind, I’m like, see? Told ya’ll. Because there’s this idea that women, especially women emcees, always got to be beefin’ and there’s all this competition. Like, if one person is shining or excelling then we feel threatened by them and that’s so not the case. And I didn’t expect it to be the case because, you know, I’ve been familiar with Rap for quite some time. We’ve done shows together before and I didn’t know her well but I knew enough to feel the vibe. So I expected nothing less and it was just confirmed ’cause it was all love and supportive. We both were watching each other’s shows night after night saying, “Yo! You looked dope!” or “You looked so cute,” “You looked fly!” So it was a slap in the face to anyone who thinks all women are beefin’ or who thinks we don’t lift each other up. It was just really dope. Yeah, it was dope.
What about linking with Rhymesayers? How did that come about?
So I’ve heard – I actually heard this story after the fact – apparently there is a guy who works in the office who has been with Rhymesayers forever. He’s an avid hip-hop head, a DJ, honestly like a hip-hop historian. He loves digging up and finding rare stuff from artists and unknown artists – he loves searching and dusting that stuff off. He found my music and he dug it, so he was listening to it in the office. One of the times he was playing my music in the office, the CEO of the company heard it and was like, “Who is that? I’ve heard you playing this all the time, so who is it?” And he told him who I was and the CEO had a listen and was like, OK, she’s dope.
That next year, in 2015, they reached out and booked me for Soundset, which was one of the biggest hip-hop festivals in America. They really wanted to meet me and see how I engaged with the crowd and what my performance was like. All this is stuff I’m finding out about later (laughs). I performed and it was crazy, it was amazing…it was my first festival of that size and of that caliber. It was incredible. I had the chance to meet with the team and chat with them, do the whole Sway thing ’cause they had Sway do a special Sway in the Morning broadcast during Soundset. I did an interview with Sway and performed there. It was a good way for me to get familiar with them and for them to get familiar with me. Shortly after that, a couple months later, we started talking about doing something together. And that year we made the commitment to sign.
I love so many of the artists on that label and I think you’re a good fit, too. Like, the uniqueness of the music you make and, I used the word earlier, but the potency of your prose really finds a good home on Rhymesayers.
I think they really let artists do their thing. Of course, they give guidance in terms of how to release stuff and when to release stuff in regards to how to make the biggest impact but as far as creating the art, we get full reigns to do that. There’s no company guys or A&Rs trying to tell you how to make your art. And that’s a beautiful thing and you can tell that’s reflected through the other artists they have and who they work with.
Let’s talk about production on The Sharecropper’s Daughter. You worked alongside Sol Messiah throughout the project?
Yes! And then Evidence did one track.
Yeah, Evidence has “Deliverance.” That’s right. What’s the relationship like with Sol Messiah?
We have been creating music together since 2008, which is when I started rhyming. He’s my life partner as well, so we are constantly vibing off one another. He knows my sound, he knows what BPMs I like, he knows what style beats I usually like. And if he doesn’t, I’ll tell him and he’ll create something specifically to what I want and then I’ll add or tweak it. Because we’ve worked together for so long, he generally knows what I’m looking for or I can tell him the vibe I’m after and he can create something off of that. It’s really dope because it’s in-house so there’s not a whole lot of pressure. I can record at 3 o’clock in the morning in my pajamas, you know? When inspiration strikes or when I finish writing something and want to lay it down real quick. We’ve worked together so long so he’s equally invested and he understands about my life but also the stories I want to tell, the vibes and the energy I want to create. I think it was kind of seamless between the music and the flow or progression of the album.
So you guys have been working together for 12 years? That’s awesome. And you can hear that in the music – there’s an authentic connection on display within the music you’re creating together. Talk to me a little bit about that Tiny Desk you did – how did that come to life?
Oh, that was dope. Well, Abby O’Neil – I don’t know her exact title – but Tiny Desk is kind of like her baby. She reached out to me under the suggestion of Black Thought. Once she explored my music, she was like, OK. Of course, if Black Thought recommends somebody, you’re going to check them out. That word is going to be very valuable. She checked me out, loved the music and thought it would be perfect. It was a pretty quick turnaround because they were just launching the Tiny Desk At Home series and, at that time, she really wanted to grow the hip-hop aspect of Tiny Desk. She really wanted to expose the listeners of NPR to hip-hop and, as you can see, more and more of these hip-hop artists are doing Tiny Desk even though they don’t typically use live instruments. She reached out, asked if we wanted to do it and the timing was interesting because we had the protests that had started to happen in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I had this song called “r(E)volution” off the album I wanted to do and it was a perfect platform to premiere the song because it was very salient at the time. We did the Tiny Desk, got it edited and sent it back. And it was very well received. I can’t wait to do the live Tiny Desk, at the studio in DC. ‘Cause DC is home to me, too, so that will be extra special.
Now is that something that’s being discussed or…
Oh, yeah. Yeah. Soon as things open back up, we’ll get the opportunity to do that as well.
Oh, perfect. That’s awesome. You mentioned Black Thought. Did you decide who was going to be featured on the album?
I did. A lot of the features happened kind of organically. It wasn’t like going in I wanted these particular people. Thought – he was the only one I had in mind like, we have to do something with him. With everybody else, the song was created and then I heard that person on it. For the Saul Williams, he’s on the intro and I was like, the gravity this song needs to open the album, Saul Williams can definitely convey that. A lot of the features happened like that.
With Thought, I just knew I wanted to do something crazy lyrically, bar for bar, just go back and forth with him. With Styles P, we actually work with an organization called Hip-Hop is Green that uses hip-hop as a vehicle to create more awareness around plant-based eating and the effect it has on health, on the environment and all that. We ended up meeting in Seattle where we were doing a panel for young people, and we did a show and we were chopping it up and we hit it off. It came to me that the song he’s on is like a street tale about experiencing and navigating through all of this crazy poverty, violence, the police and all that around you and still kind of emerging triumphant. It’s like a love song to anyone who endured that. So Styles was perfect for that, he’s like the voice of the streets, these are the kinds of stories he tells, so he’ll be great on this. A lot of them happened like that – when I finished my verse and heard the song back, it was like, this person will be great on this track.
And to have the likes of Black Thought and Styles P, those are obviously great features to have on your album. And they work, so it’s not just for a namedrop or anything. They fit beautifully, like puzzle pieces, into the greater whole that is The Sharecropper’s Daughter. Alright, so that’s what I have for you. Is there anything you would like to add or leave the Hxppy Thxxghts audience with?
This album is about the ongoing journey we’re taking into growing into and evolving into the person we are meant to be. It’s really about doing the work, about loving on yourself – and that’s the foundation of it. Loving yourself through what are perceived to be flaws and imperfections, things that make you less valuable or less worthy. The album is about emerging triumphant from any sort of trauma or pain or expectations from the world. All those impossible standards they want us to measure up to or live up to. Just discovering who you are on your own terms. I encourage anybody who has felt like there is something missing or there is something they need to hide, I encourage them to go through that exploration if they can or when they feel ready. And listen to the album as a little nudge of encouragement. At the end, I come out on the other side, just more powerful and having more compassion for myself and with more of an understanding. That’s my hope for all of humanity.
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