We asked a few questions to Sol Patches, a transgender rap artist from Chicago. The opportunity to talk about their excellent album AsWaters Hurricanes, their other musical projects, their conception of gender, and their life in Chicago, a musicaly dynamic city involved in gentrification.
For the French version, it’s here !
First of all, we’re going to talk about your career, for those who will discover you through this interview. How did you come to rap? And why? Are there any rappers who have envied you to rap?
Once, when I was in kindergarten, an older kid made fun of me, so I challenged him in the only way I knew how-a rap battle. In that battle, I was terrible- the older kids made fun of me. So at that moment, I promised myself I’d become be a better rapper. I started listening to MC Lyte, NWA, and Queen while learning the oppressions these artist encountered throughout their lives.
You said that you grew up with queer latinx and black femme culture. I quickly read this interesting study about Latina Queer Women in Chicago. Did you feel this problem of visibility while you were growing up? Do you think that things have changed?
Chicago is not an easy place, and Visibility alone is divisive. It is important, but its the complexities and nuances that lie beyond the identity, that truly make up the spheres I feel most proud to be a part of.
I am always combining modes of expression and experimenting. Often times when I’m working on a new music project, I’m also in school studying acting, merging all that I know into live performance art.
Now we’re going to talk about your album As2Waters Hurricanes. This album is quite eclectic with ballads (White Out) and energetic songs (Race for Liberation). Is it something that you research?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it research. I believe that as a writer we know what we know and are experts at our own lives. At the same time, in order to survive as a black trans person in Chicago, I had to be radicalized. This included studying critical theory from the likes of Michel Foucault, Frantz Fanon, and Audre Lorde. I apply my own knowledge to other’s, and create from there, applying it into performance.
The first « As2Waters Hurricanes »’s song sampled Sail »s Awolnation: why did you make this choice? Has this song a symbolic importance to you?
It’s amazing that you traced down that song, I’m really flattered. I actually sampled on the first track Son Lux’s easy. There was no actual reason behind that choice, other than the fact it awoken certain emotions I was feeling at the time.
There are a lot of featuring in this album, you made this EP with Alé, … Is it important for you to work with other artists?
It’s always important for me to work with others, especially within the communities I’m a part of. I believe in bringing family to the table, and amplifying other people’s voices. Surely I could’ve just had myself on As2Water Hurricanes or Ale and Sol’s Day Off but that would be a disservice towards the communities that have supported me time after time. When ever I’m able to uplift other people’s voices and passions, I’m able to further experience myself in ways I would never have imagined.
On « Problematic Masc. » there is a drill aspect, as in « Ravioli » in your last project. Are you influenced by all this Chicago drill‘s scene?
Chicago’s music scene, is comprised of many distinct sounds due to the city being historically segregated. I think that the expressions and stories that come outta drill can be very much useful and nuanced when we talk about the systemic violence such as class, lack of school resources, school to prison pipeline, and lack of health centers. These situations and life styles people are born into, and that influences people’s survival in the city whether that be through creating drill music or the polar opposite of that.
The use of trumpets in the eponym song of the album makes me think of Chance The Rapper and all this renewing of Chicago’s rap in 2016. Are you stimulated by all this new Chicago scene (Chance, Saba, NoName, Jean Daux, …) ? From France, it seems as if Chicago may be the most dynamic city toward rap in 2016. Do you feel that way as a rapper?
Chicago could be called dynamic. It is also full of erasure and output-based focus that results in a lack of community due to popularity being a factor. It is in popularity and whats broadcasted to the masses, that we could potentially be cut off from discovering the various other artist creating.
Despite that, I am influenced by a lot of what is going on in Chicago, especially the less mainstream and commercialized artist. Some people who inspire me ceaselessly are Mykele Deville, Bea Cordelia, Tweak Harris, Pidgeon Pagonis, Bella Bahhs, Eiigo Groove, and Ricardo Gamboa.
This new scene is famous for being committed and optimistic. Some of your songs are quite melancholic as White out whereas some others are rather optimistic (Know your worth). So are you optimistic like the « positive » Chicago’s rappers? Or « Is it hopeless to resist » as you say ?
I wouldn’t say I’m an optimistic rapper, at the same time I would not say it’s simply hopeless to resist.
Let’s continue to talk about your lyrics. From the beginning, your album is radically committed and political about trans and black rights. Why did you want to make a committed first project? Was it a natural choice for you?
I can’t make or present work that is not true to my feelings. This was how I felt, and I wanted to explore these emotions without policing my imagination. As2Water Hurricanes took 3 years to make, and it came from a natural genuine place but also included tons of rewrites.
On the other hand, some of your songs have introspective aspects. I think about Liberation will dance (I want someone to love me / Make me a kisskiss / We can talk in the morning). Why did you choose to mix introspection with universal political messages?
I want my songs to be gatherings, I believe as humans, we can’t be free till we all are free. The idea or feeling of liberation can take on so many forms and I wanted to convey that in an intimate manner that was honest and consent positive.
« Liberation will dance », « everybody’s gonna dance to the beat »: Do you think that dancing is the key for being free ?
I believe dancing to be a key element in liberation, though I’d like to add it is more liberating to step to a tune that is outside of what you know.
To conclude, I wanted to talk about your other musical projects. Your last project is more spontaneous. Was it your will to make a more « fun » project?
My last project was a lot of fun to do, but it was also about disrupting how one is categorized. Ale and I wanted to create something that was subversive in its critiques of pop culture. This fetishization of geographical and cultural intersections blanket and suffocate existing art, music, and movement among the marginalized of Chicago. These constant shifts are known as gentrification and are dictated by the powers that be.
Ale and I come from neighborhoods where black and brown people have settled at for generations only to be forced out due to the large white american population buying property, moving in, raising property taxes, which also closes community based restaurants and business that employ the community. It is within this systemic friction that Ale and I consciously and unconsciously engage in, that A Day Off was born. The piece is inseparable from the reality of work or free labor that is to come, and offers no true vacations.
You took part in Trans Tenderz mixtape. Was it important for you?
Being apart of the Trans Trenderz tape was of extreme importance to me. It gave me a deep sense of happiness and honor to collaborate with other trans artist.
Do you think as Lucas Charlie Rose said that « If anybody belongs in hip hop, it’s us: black trans people »?
I strongly agree with Lucas, black trans people belong in hiphop without a question.
Do you think that rappers as Cakes da Killa or Big Freedia have allowed a better visibility of queer rappers? Are you listening to their music ?
I’d say so, I’ve listen to some of their music and really vibe with it. Unfortunately I don’t think visibility is always good, its more complicated than that and we should question it whenever we can. The truth is, if the world wasn’t so queer-phobic, black queer rappers would just be known as rappers.
Do you have projects that are coming soon ?
I do have an upcoming mixtape this summer, titled Evaporate The Sun. I also have visuals in the works, along with a brand entitled “Yob Culture.”
Our opinion about As2Waters Hurricanes
« Who am I ? I do exist. » From the first song of their album “As2Water Hurricanes”, Sol Patches proves it : they’re here to affirm their identity but also to question it. For them, no “he” or “she”. The transgender artist describes themselves as “pronoun abolitionnist” and recognizes themselves in the mix of both genders : their gender is plural. That’s why they decided to use the pronoun “they”.
On the ballad “White it out”, one of the most striking song of the album, they take stock of their violent childhood in Chicago. « Chicago be so apocalyptic if you wanna be specific » says the artist. That’s all this intimate pain, that pours in this piece lead by Sol Patches’ production, a melancholic guitar, and Sasha Tasko’s singing.
But this intimate pain meets an universal political claim, and that’s what makes the beauty of the album. On the album’s first track, Sol Patches decides to document Black Live Matters through queer perspectives. “When Black Live matter”. Then “ When a black transwoman is human, when a black transman is human.”. And then : « When a black transwoman is human, when a black transman is human. ». Finally : « Make every live matters ». Intimacy and politics mingle amongst each other in Sol Patches’ work, in a touching alternative between incisive affirmations and doubt, and this alternativity delivers a deeply sincere truth.
« Do you feel alive when you live like you ain’t got the choice ? » Sol Patches’ call for the liberation of the body in its intimacy and of humanity in its universality (inseparable in their mind) is a call for the choice to do what we want to do, to not give up the struggle towards dominant structures. And that’s what seems to be the aim of the artist, by all kinds of artistic expressions. Indeed, they acted in movies and in theater plays. We feel the influences of those different experiences on tracks like 16 At 17 which is closer to the poetic expression of the spoken word than to rap.
Merging everything. The diverse musical influences of the album follow the same direction ; with the influences of spoken word and jazz but also of old-school rap – on the eponym title, of electro – on Liberation will dance – and of folk music on Kno your Worth and its violin. All in all, Sol’s work in its entirety follows the same aim. Merging everything, bluring borders, refusing categories without denying their community and, thanks to those principles, thinking liberation.