A new artist signing to Rhymesayers Entertainment is always news. But last week, when the hometown indie-rap label announced that it'd inked Atlanta-based metaphysical rapper Sa-Roc to a deal, it felt major.
Sa-Roc has more than 10 albums to her name, making her one of the most established acts to be brought into the RSE fold. Her style is hard-edged and lyrical (she'd probably fit just as well in Carnage the Executioner's crew Hecatomb), making her something of a throwback to the label's tape-trading days.
And after the firestorm raised by former Rhymesayer Psalm One — the only female solo act in the label's 20-year history — Sa-Roc's presence as an unflinching female iconoclast on the roster rights a historical wrong in The House that Slug Built.
Sa-Roc has been in with Rhymesayers for long since before that dust-up, though. You may have seen her conjuring fits on the Soundset stage in either of the festival's last two editions or opening for Brother Ali at First Ave. You may've given the mixtape she just dropped, MetaMorpheus, a spin when the announcement went out.
But now that she's made her affiliation with the hometown hip-hop crew official, it's time to get to know the acrobatic rhymer on a more personal level.
City Pages: Congrats on the signing. How does it feel?
Sa-Roc: It feels amazing. I feel like it's the perfect fit. The artists on their roster have a lot of artistic integrity, and they're able to express themselves authentically, and that's what I am as an MC. I've been welcomed with open arms, and everybody's on board to create some great music, so I'm happy.
CP: You've known the Rhymesayers folks for a while, right? What's your history with them, and how did it lead to you eventually signing a deal?
SR: I was first contacted by them last year around Soundset. We had a lot of mutual acquaintances. I have affiliations with Brother Ali, and it's a very small world when it comes to hip-hop, so we're friends.
They asked me to come perform at Soundset, so we started talking from there and developing a relationship. They'd expressed interest in doing something with me, and it blossomed into this.
CP: You've had a pretty lengthy career to this point with over 10 albums. How is your career gonna change now that you're working with Rhymesayers?
SR: With the album or albums that I'm gonna do with them, I would like to focus on more personal, intimate themes. In the past, I've just been trying to assert myself as an MC and prove that I can be in the same arena with the big boys.
As a woman who is a rapper, you have to work extra hard to prove yourself. My past 10 or so albums was doing that while also speaking on things that are important to me — social justice themes and metaphysics.
I have so much support behind me now, and all these resources I've never had before, and to have that is incredible. I've been doing it all in-house for eight years. There's a certain glass ceiling you hit without a cosign from the industry. Now, I think we'll break down those barriers.
CP: Signing to Rhymesayers also means that you'll be more or less adopted into the Twin Cities music scene. What's your familiarity with the rap scene here? Are you excited to be working with a label that's based here?
SR: I'm very excited. This is a whole new territory to me. I'm familiar with a lot of the artists that are already on Rhymesayers, like Brother Ali and Slug from Atmosphere, but I'm not really familiar with the scene. I only have Soundset to go on, but it seems like there is a really great appreciation for real rap.
I'm sure there's an influx of all types of music going there, but what I've seen from Soundset and performing at First Ave is a real appreciation for authentic, real rappers. So, I'm excited to show Minneapolis what I can do and to share my perspective, because I think the scene and the city will appreciate it.
CP: When you signed, you also dropped this huge, 20-song mixtape called MetaMorpheus. What was the message there?
SR: The title itself is obviously a play on the word "metamorphosis," tying in the character Morpheus from The Matrix. Morpheus questioned whether he was The One, and because of his self-doubt, he never became The One.
The idea of metamorphosizing as an MC and becoming the rapper, artist, or person that you wish to be, you have to rid yourself of doubt and fear and be able to convey your message to the people so that they can see your true self.
I feel like, in signing with Rhymesayers, I'm able to flourish from this relatively obscure MC to a larger platform, and the world at large will be able to see what I can do with a crew behind me. I just wanted people to see what lied at the heart of Sa-Roc.
CP: It's a very determined mixtape. It's a great introduction for an audience that may not have heard you before to hear you come out and rapping with so much purpose from the get go.
SR: I wanted people to hear the range of what I can do. From the ferocious MC who can just spit from 24 bars to the more reflective side — the entirety of who I am as an MC.
CP: One thing that's really prominent in your music is the metaphysical element and the allusions to ancient Egyptian imagery and religion. What is about those motifs that attract you?
SR: Since I was young, my parents exposed me to many different kinds of spiritualities. Learning the teachings of everything from transcendental meditation to Islam to African spiritual traditions, I grew up with all of that. And then I have a strong affinity to my cultural heritage as an African, so I find it really important to inject those themes into my music, because they make up an important part of who I am.
As far as the metaphysical part, in order to be complete holistically, you have to develop yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually. So much of our time is stuck mired in the physical real, and we don't explore those other aspects of our being. And it's important for me to elevate consciousness, so I try to do that as acceptably as possible through my music.
CP: Last year, Rhymesayers caught some criticism for the lack of inclusion of female artists. As the second female artist ever signed to the label, how does that feel?
SR: I feel like it's a step in the right direction. We have a long way to go in hip-hop and society in general in terms of our relationship with women. We need to allow women to speak their truth without influence from society and without fetters controlling the narrative.
I feel like it's an important step that I'm signing to Rhymesayers. The more images we get of women in hip-hop, the more young girls can see that it's possible to do it. The more powerful a voice you get from a woman who's proud of who she is and able to compare her male and female peers, the more society and the genre will have to respect that.
I don't fault anyone, I don't have any criticisms of the label, I just think it's a step in the right direction.