Mama Sol: Inside Out

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Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

Photo courtesy of Rynelle Walker

Mama Sol is a poet, teacher, motivational speaker, and an emcee. Her music and her life is filled with messages of not only the struggle, but also hope – hope for a better future. Sol doesn’t waste time solely pointing out the negative, she also shines light on the positive — it’s in her nature.

The Flint, Michigan native is also a breast cancer survivor – something you don’t “survive” without a positive mental attitude. Sol doesn’t mind telling her story to others in hopes that she can educate and inspire – it’s in her nature.

Mama Sol’s latest musical release with her band Tha N.U.T.S., ‘Inside Out’ is another dope display of her music with a message. The full-length album features appearances by B. Pace, Johnny Manuel, Arubus, Mumu Fresh, and Stic.Man of Dead Prez.

The Real Hip-Hop spoke to Mama Sol about her fight with cancer, forming her band Tha N.U.T.S., and her new album, Inside Out.

TRHH: How’d you get into emceeing?

Mama Sol: My brother. My brother rest his soul inspired me to learn. I’d write poetry somewhat. I’d write down my thoughts and share them with him. He said, “Sis you need to start putting this on a beat and letting other people hear it.” As a kid I was always a writer and he inspired me to start putting it to music.

TRHH: Where’d the name “Mama Sol” come from?

Mama Sol: Well “Sol” is a name that my family has always called me because I’m a Leo and it’s a sun sign. Sun is my ruling planet and my sign. When I started teaching at an African centered school in Detroit all the kids addressed the adults as “Mama” and “Baba” because they were taught Swahili. They attached Mama to Sol. When I decided to leave the school to pursue music full-time I promised my students that I would keep that name for them.

TRHH: I discovered you from the song ‘Manhood’. I really love it. What inspired you to make that song?

Mama Sol: Thank you. I was having a conversation with a friend. They were discussing the whole child support issue and I told them I don’t get child support. They were surprised and I told them I hate court. I hate the way the system is designed. It dawned on me that I don’t know any deadbeat fathers. I don’t know any except my son’s father. As adults sometimes we have to realize that we made the decision to be parents. We can’t rely on the system to determine how children are raised or who sees who according to who has what. I felt like I owed that to all the brothers that helped me raise my son and all the brothers that are active and effective fathers. It came from my heart. It’s kind of more of a love song than anything else. Maybe I just have good friends but I don’t know any deadbeat fathers. We shine too much light on negativity and hate instead of love and positivity. So I wanted to write the song in tribute to these men because they deserve it.

TRHH: That’s interesting because in listening to you I realized I don’t know any deadbeat dads either. For some reason it’s the label we get as black men but I don’t know a single person that doesn’t take care of their children.

Mama Sol: Yeah. Think about the circle that you keep if you’re surrounded by a bunch of people that don’t take care of their kids and everybody is on child support and in and out of court. Come on, don’t nobody have time for that! I don’t. I don’t want them couple pennies. If you haven’t taken the initiative to help your child physically, mentally or, financially you going to court and being forced to do this is not going to necessarily light a fire under you. Having a child creates an unconditional love that I don’t think you’ve ever felt before until you have a child. If that light didn’t go off when you saw that child, held them, and said, “This is mine, I have to protect and nurture this child,” best believe the court system is not going to set that off. And now we got another brother in prison because of a lack of love. Where is the balance? It’s messed up how it’s set up. It’s some good guys out here and they deserve a little more recognition than they get.

TRHH: Your music is hard to put in a box. It has so many different elements in it. How would you describe your sound?

Mama Sol: It’s pure and it’s honest. A lot of times we don’t get a lot of honesty from artists. I’ve been through a lot so I give you every aspect of me. My music is like a diary of my life. My new CD Inside Out is not a Friday night “let’s go kick it” CD, it’s a Saturday morning “let’s clean the house” CD. It’s a CD you don’t have to take out if your boss came to the door or if your kids or your mother are in the house. The space that I’m in right now is where Inside Out was written. It is soul music because it comes from my soul. It comes from this inner space, but at the end of the day I’m a poet and I have a way with words. I don’t have a label for it. I don’t like to label myself as anything other than pure and honest. I’m just seeking enlightenment and as I grow the music will grow and the message will. You’ve got to refine yourself.

TRHH: There was a time in Hip-Hop where honesty was the norm. I’m 38 so I’ve seen Hip-Hop change a lot. When I was a kid there was Chuck D and Public Enemy, and that was okay. There was Ice Cube, and that was okay. There was Fresh Prince, and that was okay. Today mainstream Hip-Hop is very cookie cutter and you have to be a certain way. It seems a lot less honest. Why do you think that change happened?

Mama Sol: Partially I think videos played a large part in that – the imagery. I have older brothers and they put Chuck D and all of that into our heads as little kids. I’m familiar with all of those artists. I can recall a time where there weren’t million dollar emcees. I was watching Wild Style with my older brothers and they rapped for pizza, pop, and a couple dollars or whatever. They weren’t doing it for the money. It was a way to release. It was almost like an artist being able to write down their prayers. I think with the videos all the focus went on the money, cars, jewelry, champagne, and all of that. The videos kind of shifted everything. I don’t remember seeing videos of Rakim and Chuck D.

Me and my son went on Youtube and pulled up older artists and was just looking at the differences in the videos. They weren’t based on what you have. I think the imagery of Hip-Hop changed. People aren’t comfortable with themselves – the majority of people. It’s very difficult to find people that are comfortable with who they are and where they are and want to tell that story because somebody else is going through it. That’s tough to find. It’s at a point right now if you turn on videos you’re not going to see a video where people are telling a story and the video actually goes with the song. What we see we internalize and we want to become that. I think we kind of lost our sense of self along our way. It’s sad to say.

TRHH: When I think of Flint, I think of MC Breed. That’s all I know about Flint, Michigan. What’s the Hip-Hop scene like in Flint?

Mama Sol: There are a lot of good artists in Flint, actually. There is so much more than Hip-Hop. Jon Connor just signed to Aftermath with Dr. Dre last year. He’s out in L.A. doing a lot and he took Justin Daye with him. 1000 Bars is a very profound artist. They have The Art of Hip Hop, which is something they have at the Greater Flint Art Council. They have shows and everything but it’s a small city. There is a lack of love as far as self-love dealing with young African Americans. Flint is small and the mentality of the people here is trying to outshine each other. I was telling someone the other day, “If you compete with the person down the street you’ll never leave the block.” I really don’t focus on it. I’m not really involved in a lot of things that go on in the Hip-Hop scene here unless they hire me to come in and speak or do something. I try to do things on a scale where I can inspire instead of compete. I’m not here to compete with anyone. There is only one me and one you so there is no need for us to compete with each other. They try to compete with each other and being the best artist in Flint is like being the smartest person in special ed. It’s a small city and the mentality of the people is kinda small.

TRHH: Tell me about Tha N.U.T.S.

Mama Sol: [Laughs] New Under The Sun. They’re my brothers. I love them like family. My drummer Famada, he played with me from the inception of me deciding to do music full-time. He plays any drum that you put in front of him. He can play congas, djembe, or a set. His dad is a master drummer and he and I grew up together. My bass player Twain, and my keyboard player were in band together in high school. My DJ, he and I were doing music together in high school. When I came home I bumped into my DJ, Juice and he and I hadn’t seen each other in a while. He was like, “Yo, you still rapping?” and I actually wanted to get heavily back into it. I had breast cancer and was grazed by a bullet and I really had to take a hiatus from music for a long time. He and I just started recording.

I always wanted to play with a band. I never wanted to do the CD/rap thing. I’m really moved by live music so I started forming the band. Me and Famada were in Atlanta and I was doing some  stuff with the  Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation. They had a poetry set and I would fly down there and host it. Tha N.U.T.S. are kind of like The Roots, it’s just that the names are separated. I don’t even perform without them. I’m not going to show up with a CD or I’m just not going to take the gig – I’ll do poetry. I love those guys. We are one unit. We operate as one; I’m just the vocalist for the group. I’m the voice of the group but everybody is instrumental in making the whole movement move. I hold them in a very high regard in my success. I owe a lot to them. They’re like my brothers. We cry together, laugh together, eat together, we do everything together outside of rehearsal and shows. They’re like my family.

TRHH: You mentioned having breast cancer. Talk about the discovery, how you got through it, and what you learned about yourself through the whole ordeal.

Mama Sol: When I discovered I had breast cancer I was living in New York working with FUBU, the clothing line. I was writing commercials for them. I was going back and forth from New York and Columbus, Ohio involved in some negative activity. I ended up being grazed with a bullet and I was kind of ashamed at how the whole ordeal went down so I never told anybody. It was just a graze so I thought I could nurse it back to good health and keep it to myself. So I came back home for Christmas and New Year’s and my mother caught me feeling the side of my chest. She was like, “You all right? You got a lump or something?” I’m thinking it’s cartilage from the graze because it healed up pretty good. I just felt like I was blessed and should leave the streets alone. My mom had a sister who died of breast cancer. She was very adamant about me going to the doctor to get a biopsy and have them look at it. I’m thinking, “Alright ma, there’s nothing wrong.” So we made an appointment, went to the doctor, they scheduled a biopsy. They did the biopsy and it came back cancerous. It shocked the shit outta me. At the same time I looked at it like the ancestors, the most high, and the universe talking to me like, “Yo, you know better. We gave you these opportunities to go out there and write these commercials and you went out there and tried to make extra money that you didn’t need.” I felt like it was a time for me to back away from all of that — all of the hype and celebrity events that I was attending in New York.  It just killed me from the inside out. When I discovered I had breast cancer it was alarming but I never thought that I was gonna die. I tell people that when I go to speak on breast cancer. Your mind frame has a lot to do with you healing.

I never thought I was gonna die through five surgeries, radiation every day for three months. I refused chemotherapy and went with a holistic approach to healing and I’ve been fine ever since. I’ve maintained being a vegetarian, not drinking, not smoking, and keeping good company. I thank the cancer, I thank the bullet graze, and I thank the universe for handing those things to me. I accept everything that comes to me. I don’t hate anything about my life, even at this point, even the bad things. That taught me to love more and take better care of myself, my mind, and my energy and protect that. I do that on a daily basis. I spend a lot of time alone with my son or one or two friends but my focus is the world. How can I assist the world to become a better place? That’s what cancer taught me. You can heal yourself of anything. Everybody has cancer in their body. Some people have cancer of the mind. Disease is “dis-ease”, not being at ease. I healed and I’m still healing in many ways, not just from cancer. My brother passed away during that whole process. He got shot in Flint. It’s a lot of things you have to heal from and just keep moving forward. Cancer and that whole experience helped me to get to where I am now and being able to take care of myself and seek enlightenment in every situation because everything happens for a reason.

TRHH: What’s your goal in this music business? What do you want your legacy to be?

Mama Sol: I just want to be remembered in a positive light. I look up to Malcolm X, Assata Skaur, Maya Angelou, and Bob Marley. I wanna make my ancestors proud. Before I make any physical thing proud I want to make the spirit, the energy, and things that you can’t see happy and in harmony with me first and foremost. I don’t want the fruits of my labor to ever be more important than my labor. I don’t wanna be known as an artist that was able to obtain all these material possessions and rub ‘em in the face of the community. I’m an activist, a mother, a lover, and a liberator before I am a Hip-Hop artist. I hold those things in high regard – being a good mother, daughter, and friend. At the end of the day I need my mother to be happy. I need the people that I encounter in the community to say, “I like Sol’s spirit,” which makes it easy to accept my music.

I’m more of a historian than a Hip-Hop artist. I’m constantly studying and trying to regurgitate these lessons in my music, my speaking, and in my daily living. I want people to remember that aspect of me. That’s what’s going to come through in my music – the genuine and pure search of enlightenment. I want people to say, “That’s somebody that helped me at some point,” or “That’s somebody that encouraged me at some point,” not somebody that took from me or, “I start listening to Sol and was ready to shoot a nigga.” I just want to leave that type of legacy for those that listen to my music. Where music takes me as far as labels and all that business, I don’t know. I know this is something I’m going to do regardless of who pays attention. In saying that, I just want people to know that it came from my heart and I worked in the spirit of my ancestors and getting their approval. In return, people that are living now think I’m a good person, and my soul is at peace with that.

Purchase: Mama Sol & Tha N.U.T.S. – Inside Out

About Sherron Shabazz

Sherron Shabazz is a freelance writer with an intense passion for Hip-Hop culture. Sherron is your quintessential Hip-Hop snob, seeking to advance the future of the culture while fondly remembering its past.
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