The Most Interesting Rapper on Earth: Sole

Posted: August 6, 2012 in Music, Politics
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I haven’t taken much time to write about music recently (or, on this blog, at all).  There are various reasons for this, including: A. my interest in strange, often noisy, and overtly politically-oriented styles of music, and B. my somewhat narrow topic focus here.  But when I heard about the ridiculously prolific, smart, and politically-relevant rapper Sole doing a new studio record (and seeking crowdfunding to get it done right), I figured I should write something up about him and why people should check him out.

Sole was one of the founding members of the collective/label anticon., who I discovered in the early 2000s while living in Oakland/Berkeley.  During that time, around 2001-06, a lot of interesting and great stuff was happening with DIY/indy/underground/whatever hip hop in the Bay Area and elsewhere, and the anticon. collective’s work was one of the several ongoing projects I latched on to.  All of their work, and a lot of underground hip-hop of the time, deviates greatly in style and content from the kind of mainstream crap that most think of when you talk about hip-hop or rap.

Sadly, as with many such things, I kind of let my attention slide when I moved north and started all the things that I’m now occupied with.  Distance from a locale where these things actually happened, plus new priorities led me to let a lot of less-pressing interests wither.  So, I missed out on the news of Sole leaving anticon. or his recent work; until a few months back when someone linked something on some forum or page and I (re-)discovered him via this video:

There are a number of things about this video that may verge into the ridiculous and puzzling for some, and obviously Sole doesn’t look the part of a stereotypical rapper, but the overall impact of the very in-your-face politics, and the apocalyptic hook, work for me.  I can rock out to this.  That said, I certainly get that it could be confusing (“WTF does he mean by ‘I think I’m Noam Chomsky?'”) , if you aren’t into this style of hip-hop.   But, to me, Sole’s on some abstract-to-concrete-and-back, playful, situationist-inspired trip here (and elsewhere) that places demands on the listener/viewer.  The guy is smart, well-read, and experienced in writing and performing, so count on the seeming misdirections in content/narrative voice being deliberate.  And he’s also intentionally provoking viewers to think more about and remember the concepts he’s touching on and pick at any disagreements they may have with what is said.

Even more interesting to me than that track was this one, which doesn’t just allude to Žižek (as the above one does), but samples and name-checks him:

This is a much mellower and more “accessible” track than the Chomsky one (or this Ben Bernanke one that takes up the same style as the Chomsky piece).  It still goes with the impeding apocalypse theme, and this is a recurring element of Sole’s recent work.  The variability of his styles (and those of his guest contributors) leads to a lot of variation, even unevenness, in the body of work, especially if you are someone like me who grew up listening to albums rather than tracks/singles.  So the songs that work for me might not work for another listener.  That’s just the nature of the experimental, risk-taking style and regular output of detournement and mixtape-style tracks.  But, and this may be somewhat superficial, I’m most lured in by his engagement with philosophy.  He’s not just name-dropping philosophers to get overly-educated folks to check him out or sound smart or esoteric; he rightly believes that philosophy and critical theory matter to what is messed up in our world today.  He recently did an excellent, extensive interview where he talks about his interest in philosophy/critical theory (among other things).  If you have an interest in political rap or the Occupy movement, you should read it.  In it he says:

I always hated political rap and felt it trivialized what it talked about by reducing important shit to bumper stickers. After 9/11, I made it my goal to become an “expert” and to try to understand history, economics, and philosophy and have a critical grasp on current events. All my favorite writers/thinkers are anarchists and Marxists.

This hits home for me.  As someone who grew up into 80s-90s hip-hop, the simplicity of much of the politics and sloganeering always bugged me.  And even in the 2000s, too many groups with a political agenda I could mostly get into seemed to have some overly simplified, under-developed critiques and “platforms” that seemed to merely point a finger at “the man” and continue to talk about “fighting the power.”  This isn’t to say there weren’t/aren’t those who go beyond this; the bulk of work by, say, The Coup is an exception.  But to me, Sole deserves credit for trying to work in more nuanced political critiques while still having fun with what he’s doing.

Assuming wordpress isn’t dropping the links again, here’s a couple more Sole videos worth your time and thought.

A detournement of a Mac Miller track, “Donald Trump In A Gilded Age”:

“So the Rich Can Sleep Tonight”:

Regardless of whether one likes his style(s) or politics, Sole’s embrace of critical theory and attempts to bring what is usually reserved for ivory tower intellectual vanguardists to a diverse audience make him one of the most intriguing people putting out hip-hop today.

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Comments
  1. nightwork says:

    Somehow I managed to leave this out of the original post, and every time I edit right now wordpress messes up the youtube links and I have to redo them all in html. So I’ll drop it here instead. The first single off of Sole’s forthcoming album (“A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing”) is available online. It’s a “a shit talking summer anthem that lays the sonic and ideological foundation for the album” titled “Young Sole”:

  2. Josh M says:

    This is a new one for me; I’ve largely been out of the loop re: rap / hip-hop of any kind since moving to the West Coast and putting some distance between myself and the Atmosphere homeboy crowd (did catch them in concert here a few years back). The closest thing to Sole that I’ve encountered over the last few years has been American Sasquatch; some interesting material there via sampling self-help tapes, communist / anarchist activism speeches, etc., and looping them over basic beats. Nothing as high-profile as Chomsky / Zizek, though; Allan Watts makes an appearance, as does Samuel L. Jackson, ala “Pulp Fiction.” I’m definitely going to look into more of Sole’s work, though.

    • nightwork says:

      Never heard American Sasquatch. Will take a look. My hip-hop listening, as I alluded to, has been stuck in the early to mid 2000s. Which is better, I suppose, than my hardcore and punk tastes, which are still mostly mired in the 90s. I am, however, pretty current with Disneypop thanks to having a 5 y/o daughter!

  3. Thanks for the linkback to our interview. Hard to disagree, he’s definitely one of the most interesting and exciting rappers around at the moment, just because he’s doing something completely different.

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