Jazz Café 24/08/18
Sa-Roc is the anti-thesis to some of the lame-ass hip hop I’m hearing these days. She comes with fire and she comes with passion, and doesn’t look anything like the carbon copies that roll through the charts on their factory line conveyer belts. If you’re not so familiar with the mainstream music industry please understand that from my experience, it’s not the most pleasant space. If you can imagine the artist as being a wounded gazelle in the middle of the Serengeti, then every predator, vulture and scavenger that feasts of its flesh would be the surrounding people who all want a piece without any thought to the talent of the individual. Our general music industry is broken for the want of money, fame and temporary validation which frequently comes in the form of sex.
On the other hand, Rhymesayers Entertainment is a US Indie label which supports independent artists such as MF Doom, Brother Ali, and Evidence. Having signed the Washington DC native Sa-Roc in 2016, Rhymesayers have accumulated an impressive roster and has helped enable Sa-Roc to perform alongside HipHop heavyweights such as Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, and The Roots. But make no mistake, her label may be opening doors but it is her presence, talent and unwavering lyrical flow that is seeing her propel herself into the international market.
Sa-Roc came on stage at the Jazz Café in Camden on a cloudy Friday. The venue is warm for sound and a good size for an intimate show. It has hosted artists such as Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) and Seun Kuti, not to mention Ben E. King and Amy Winehouse. The Jazz Café is known for its hip-hop, neo-soul, reggae, and blues performances, while also providing a space for new and established jazz artists. As Sa-Roc came on, she came with the intention to clear the stage for her presence. It’s the first time I’ve seen a performer do this and it made me wonder about what performers must leave on stage after a show; their love, their laughter, their heartbreak and their pain.
One of the first things about Sa-Roc that struck me is her enunciation and her power. She doesn’t mumble her way through words nor does she try to eat the microphone while she raps which means we can actually hear what she’s spitting. Black Lives Matter… and so do lyrics. Emcees; please stop cupping the grill of the microphone and pressing it to your lips, we can’t hear your shit when you do that. A good hip hop song without decent lyrics is like eating pasta without any sauce or seasoning; you can do it for a bit but it gets boring real quick. Her musical ability is beyond most emcees of today. And I don’t say that lightly. She’s one of the first hip hop artists I’ve heard in a long time who has the ability to combine lyrics and flow seamlessly. Her words weave back and forth into interlocking joints that create a picture and feeling at the same time. I would put her up against almost any emcee; male or female, and be confident that her battle style and quite fierceness would see her coming out on top. Especially with what her latest music is showing us she’s capable of.
“They’d rather see the death of me before they support an emcee with lyrical integrity” Sa-Roc rhymes in “The Reckoning” about the lack of recognition for emcees like her. She performed this song beautifully while getting the audience to chant “If rap was a game, I’d be MVP”. The audience was so responsive to her; people was dancing and swaying to her beats. Time seemed to lose shape and four-minute songs seemed to evaporate into seconds. The next song was “Fire Squad”; an interesting J.Cole re-shift. This particular song isn’t my favourite but I like the audacity she has in it. The lyrics are still fire and she doesn’t tip-toe around or try to stay meek, she claims who she is and in true old skool rap style, she claims the title of the best.
“Metamorpheus” has slowly become one of my Sa-Roc favourites. I’m not even gonna try to make up some deep reason as to why. I just like it, especially the hook and lyrics. It has a rhythm to it that feels slow but it’s really not a slow song; the bass just puts me in a bit of a trance. Something inside me likes this song and my brain hasn’t yet fully caught up with the reasons why. Both “Metamorpheus” and “Lord of the Forest” demonstrate Sa-Roc’s ability as a rapper and a singer. She does both exceptionally well.
For reasons I’m still unclear on, we then had a visit from the sounds of Queen. The set took a break for a drop in of a piece of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It’s a good song and everyone seemed to enjoy the slightly schizophrenic change of pace; myself included.
We then went into a song called “I Am Her” and the song following that was entitled “Goddess Gang”. Now without getting too preachy about this I’m gonna go ahead and say there’s a reason songs like this are needed right now. There’s a reason Sa-Roc’s crowd was filled with sisters who are HipHop heads. And there’s a reason why brothers are starting to seek alignment with the message. We’re all fostering a broader understanding of what feeds and heals us as individuals, and then also within the realms of gender, race, class etc. It is at this point that I feel we’re able to heal each other and create understanding. I want to empower my sister not hurt her. I want to give her love and blessings not take her love-of-self or her man. I want to learn from her and help her build, not tear her down and humiliate her. This is the era we’re moving in to.
“True Mastery” was one of the last few songs Sa-Roc and Sol Messiah performed. And the title manages to encapsulate her growing ability. I don’t want to go as far as to say that she’s at the peak but she’s certainly making her way up there with a steady and confident pace. “I came from a jungle made of concrete and conflict, liars and them tigers and them bears held us hostage where I learned the difference tween authentic and imposters.” Sa-Roc is relatable. Maybe not for everyone but for some of us, she’s telling our story with the aggression that only comes from growing up in a hostile environment.
The final song of the night was “Forever”. For a lot of us this was the first song we heard from Sa-Roc and is without a doubt my favourite song. The beat, the pace, the lyrics, the bass line, the flow, and the number of times she switches flow. It’s a masterpiece of a song and it was the perfect song to end her set on. “Forever” is the song that is the perfect introduction of Sa-Roc to the world. So if there’s only one song of hers that you wanna hear, it ought to be this one.
Ten years into a blossoming career and Sa-Roc is gradually securing her legendary status. When I hear her music, I don’t feel the weight that comes with mainstream music. She sounds both light and aggressive, both playful and yet extremely serious. The music is composed beautifully. Her lyrics are truth and power crafted masterfully, and her flow is insane. I want to hear her on a track with Kendrick or SZA. I want to hear her on a track with Tech N9ne or Immortal Technique. She’s like the seasoning that has the ability to enhance a meal. The way saffron changes the entire taste and colour of a dish, Sa-Roc is changing the flavours of my playlists.
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