Ursula Rucker

2001 wurde ihr Debütalbum "Supa Sista" nicht nur von Kritikern abgefeiert. Die einzigartige Art von Ursula Rucker aus Philadelphia, auf den Wurzeln Hip Hop und Soul aufbauend einen Stil zu entwickeln, der Poesie mit verschiedensten musikalischen Einflüssen (Soul, Jazz, Hip Hop, Clubsounds - to name a few) verbindet, wurde und wird von der Welt gebraucht. Ihre Intelligenz und ihr Engagement, ohne ein Blatt vor dem Mund selbstbewusst die Übel der Welt in ihren Alltäglichkeiten anzuprangern, taten ihr Übriges. In der leider viel zu klischeebehafteten Musik-Welt der Massen-Radio- und Fernsehstationen bewegt sie sich abseits der Kisten - und bekämpft diese zugleich. Dabei scheint es so, als ob ihre Spoken Word-Lyrics immer dann an Wucht zunehmen, wenn ihre Stimme leiser wird. Vergleichbar ist ihr Talkin'-Soul mit Gil Scott-Heron oder, um bei den Frauen zu bleiben, mit der Dub Poetin Ranking Ann und MC Soom T (Monkeytribe). Mit "Silver Or Lead" liegt nun ihr neues Album bei !K7 vor. Mit dabei sind Jazzanova (Berlin), The Mysterium, The Roots, King Britt und andere Projekte aus Philadelphia sowie 4Hero (London) und Lil Louie Vega (New York). Ein Kaleidoskop also mit verschiedenen musikalischen Facetten, deren Klammer Ursula Rucker mit ihren Beobachtungen und Botschaften ist. Stephan Oettel sprach mit ihr am 19.8.2003...

When did you start to work on the album "Silver Or Lead"?

Actually just a few months ago. (laughs) we recorded the brand new tracks that are on there in a relatively short period of time.

Being a mother to three sons, where did you find time to record another album?

This album it was different because there are some previously recorded tracks on here that were never released and some tracks that have been released on other people´s projects, and then the brand new songs. It is a nice mixture of brand new, kind of new and old. That kinda afforded me time because there were tracks that were already finished. So that was cool.

Which tracks were already finished?

"Q&A" was a song that was recorded for The Society's album which was never released. "Lonely Can Be Sweet" and "Damned If I Do" was for the Mysterium- project and that was never released. "Soon" was on a compilation that I don't think maybe three people heard. (laughs) No more people than that but not many. It's a kind of obscure compilation. "What A Woman Must Do" was supposed to be on my first album and it didn't make it. So now I have it on this one. It's interesting everything has a, some of the things have a former life and now they have a new life. So, it's kinda cool.

The main differences between "Supa Sista" and "Silver Or Lead"?

Well, I think it's a big difference. Just in so far that it wasn't done in the same way. With "Supa Sista" everything was recorded new. "Supa Sista" is a theme whereas "Silver Or Lead" is a philosophy or a concept, so all of these poems don't necessarily, there's not a theme, there's not an overall theme. And there's more music. I think it's more music than the first one. I think the first album was very minimal. It was more sound than music. And I think this is more musical than the first one.

What comes first: lyrics or music? Do you already have the music in mind when you write a poem or do you leave that up to your producers?

It's always different. Sometimes the poem has existed for ten years. It's a poem that I had. And I want to put some music to it and see what happens. Sometimes it's just a concept. And I ask for a particular sound or a feeling and I get the track and then the track helps me to get the words out. It happens all different ways.

With some of the producers on "Silver Or Lead", you have worked with before. Who's new?

Yeah - Louie Vega is the only person, isn't he? (laughs) Yeah Louie Vega, and The Society. No, I had just met them when I did that track with them. They are great people. Louie Vega is the brand spanking new person that I worked with.

Are you going to be on Louie Vega's upcoming new album?

His album is already…. I did the intro to his album first and then we did this one.

"Release" is not a typical Ursula Rucker song in terms of the music. How did it come about?

I let Louie do his thing. He didn't even really tell me like what kinda music it was gonna be. I kept asking him, what kinda music are you doing, because you know I'm a virgo and I'm really particular, I need to know (laughs). I didn't hear it until I went up there that day to record it. It was like a real big surprise. And it's all live music and it's great.

How do you pick your producers?

They have to have heart, you know, have a commitment to what they are doing. Have respect for what I do. Really that is ultimately important that they understand that I do poetry. That is the most important thing here. Not that it's all about me, that's not what I'm saying but it has to be about the poetry because the words are so vital to what I do. I mean that is what I do.

Do you think that people pay more attention to the music and producers than to your poems?

I think people forget that. When you do an album of poetry I think people forget that this is poetry because you have the music and there's a lot of stuff going on. You have to remind people.

You are a graduate of Temple University's journalism department. What impact does that have on your poetry?

Nothing, because (laughs) I was studying advertising in school. I thought I wanted to write ads. I thought that's how I was gonna be creative with my writing. And I soon found out I was not interested in that (laughs). So I'm happy for the experience. But I don't wanna do that.

The softer your voice gets the sharper your lyrics become. Take "Return To Innocence Lost" as an example. Where is the line between fiction and autobiographic stories?

I would like to say it's fictional but it's not (laughs) because that saves me from having to be so personal. But no, it's about my brother.

How do your poems come about?

You know, they just do. It's hard to explain. It's hard to explain something that you just do. Something that is so natural for you. It's hard to analyze it and explain to people how you do it and why you do it.

The topics of your poems are everywhere around you, is it your own experiences or stories that you are told by others?

You know, everything. It's kinda like channelling, that's what I say it is. It's like channelling other people's experiences, their lives, my life, my experiences: things that make me angry, injustices, all kinds of things. It could be anything. But ultimately they become very personal.

You are from Philadelphia. What impact does Philly have on your music?

That's always a hard question for me because I'm sure it does have an impact on my music but it's not something that I give much slot to. Because that's where I live, where I grew up, where I was born, I don't really think about it too much. I love my city and I wouldn't want to live any place else. So, I don't really think about what effect it's had on my work or personhood. I'm sure that it has but maybe someone on the outside could answer that question better than me.

What do you think about the Philly music scene?

I mean, you know what, it's hard for me to answer that because I'm not always in that scene. I am a mother, I'm at home with my kids, I don't see those peoples as often as they see each other. I'm not down at the studio hanging out. When I get to see those people it's a happy occasion because it's not that often. I have this other life, this real life that I live. I don't ever really consider myself as part of a scene. I don't think that way.

But you get along with being associated with the Philly music scene?

Yeah, because I like most of those people and I know most of them. And they are really cool. They are really good people to know, to work with, to have conversations with. So, I don't have any problem being associated with people like that. (laughs) We're from Philly. Philly is like one of the coolest places on the planet. I'm sure I am biased but this is from other people who come from other places and come there and say the same thing. I feel that way about Berlin actually. I love Berlin, it has that nice vibe, too.

What gives you strength when times get rough?

Well the poetry is what helps me in great deal, actually in getting the thoughts and feelings out into the open for myself. If I didn't write poetry, I would probably be beyond some serious medication right now. (laughs) Probably be taking some kind of anti-depresses or something like that, really honestly. So, that is like my ultimate way of dealing with life; and spirituality, prayer, faith. When it wavers though, which is often, the poetry helps to snap me back.

What about family?

Yeah, my kids really remind me of what it is like to be innocent, to be happy, to really enjoy life, to be whimsical and capricious. It's nice to watch them and it's also extremely challenging to raise them. So, it's a lot of things going on there. But definitely, yeah, how could I forget that? Thank you. (laughs)

Please describe yourself in three words.

Dramatic, intense and really funny. (laughs)

What artists do inspire you?

Well, Frida Kahlo for one. Sonja Sanchez as a poet who lives in Philadelphia, she is my favourite. Zora Neale Hurston, Giorgio Keef, Prince. There's a few there.

Tell us about the title of the album "Silver Or Lead".

"Plata o plomo" - just a Mexican philosophy for life. It's just about choice. What do you want out of life: silver or lead? Just that simple! It struck me because it takes me so hard to make a decision, so hard to make a choice, and to hear that was kind of heavy for me, it hit me really hard, like yeah, what do I want out of life? Do I want silver or lead? Why do I make these choices and settle for the lead when I can have silver? It's just that.

Do you have a favourite song on the new album?

It's hard to pick a favourite. I would say "Time" because it's a prayer that I wrote. When I hear it, it feels like it's not me speaking. I think that I really was somewhere else when I wrote that. I mean, I go to other places all the time when I write but this place that I was in when I wrote "Time" was like, I don't know. I think that's one of my favourites. And the music is like spectacular.

What do you want to give your audience with your poems and music?

I want to give the gift of art and all its possibilities for making you think, making you travel in your mind, making you kind of stimulating your imagination. All the ways that you can really merge different arts together like the words with the music and just how wonderful it is. Art is so important. And it's not just beautiful to look at or listen to, it's really applicable to a lot of things in life.

Your albums should wear a sticker warning "Explicit Lyrics". Your lyrics are so open and honest, more than many of the so-called "explicit lyrics" in hip hop.

I agree with you, I don't know why it hasn't have them on there. (laughs) Because whenever I would give "Supa Sista" to someone who wasn't familiar with what I did I always have to tell them, now listen, if you have children, I think you should listen to this first and see how you feel about it. If you want your children to listen to it, that's your decision but I wouldn't just play it. Or if you are hypersensitive to certain words and certain issues then don't listen to this album at all.

You criticise the clichés and stereotypes in hip hop, the way women are objectified…

And I will continue to do so. (laughs)

… because it is getting worse?

Oh yeah, it's getting worse, still. I get a lot of criticism for talking about that, for some reason. I don't know why.

Who criticises you?

Journalists. It's covert criticism, like they ask me a certain question and I hear it as a kind of like, I don't know, like an attack on talking about these things. Sometimes it feels like I'm not allowed to say this stuff or something. But yeah, these people who make this terrible rap music are allowed to continue doing that, but I'm not allowed to say what I feel about it. That's kinda strange to me. It feels an uncomfortable feeling. But I'm still gonna do it. If I have at least one poem on every album that I do will be about that as long as it exists. I feel very strongly about this. I'm a child of the hip hop movement. It hits very close to home.

What can be done when kids are so susceptible to the "bling-bling"-stereotypes in hip hop?

Introduce them to something else. Give them other options, other choices. That's what "Silver or Lead" is: choice. I think that's the main problem here is that people don't know what else is out there. All they know is the mainstream. Mainstream is so much of a monster that people don't even look any place else because everything is given to them. They get everything from this mega-monster mainstream thing. So, you have to introduce people to other things. If they don't know about it then why would they choose it? I find that people who have come to my performances or been given my album and didn't know anything about me, didn't care about poetry or anything like this. Many have been turned on to it and really appreciate it and really get into it. And they never had any interest in it at all. They come and say to me, wow, I'm glad that somebody introduced me to this, because I would have never known. And that right there tells me that it would work if we gave people more options. But that's an individual process like me, you, we have to go out and tell people about alternative music, art, poetry, film. They have to know that they can go to their little art-houses to see a film with sub-titles and that could be just as cool as seeing Hollywood mega blockbuster, probably cooler. They may have to work a little harder, read the subtitles, but it's ok. (laughs) It's have people keep doing different things. Break them out of their ritual.

How do you raise your kids?

Yeah, mhm (laughs), my oldest son is eight, and we listen to things together. I actually have some guilty pleasures and Snoop Dog happens to be one of them (laughs). I do like Snoop Dog. I like a lot of his stuff. I like his poetry, I like audacity. I do not like his objectification of women and his nastiness. I'm always between a rock and hard place with him. And I explain to my son, look, this is cool but that's not. And this is why. You have to like balance things out. I let him listen to things. And then I will tell him he's not allowed to listen to it anymore because I want him to know. I want him to listen to it and we talk about it, ok, why is this not cool. I don't want you singing this around the house, because you know nothing about it. Say for instance, like the 50 Cent-lyric: "Gonna drink Bacardi, like it's your birthday". When my son would say this, I'd be like "You are not drinking Bacardi". You are not drinking Bacardi. You don't even know what it is. You haven't tasted it yet. You know nothing about it. And I don't want you singing it. It doesn't sound right. The picture is wrong for an eight-year-old to say. And that's tame, drinking Bacardi in the videos. We don't even watch videos anymore, really, every once in a while. Cause it's just too much for me. I remember when videos first started they used to be so exciting cause everybody was being creative and you were like, wow, what are they going to do next. They were like little short films. Now it's just sex everywhere and everybody's acting crazy, they are always on a beach somewhere, by a pool, it's just insane. I saw this video in Paris, I'm sorry I'm being long-winding, saw this video in Paris, this American artist called Chingy. I had never heard of him, never saw this video. My mouth dropped open. I couldn't believe it. I was like, this is a soft-porn video, what the hell is this. I couldn't believe all the ass in that video, it was insane. Then somebody was coming to pick me up down in the lobby of the hotel. And I had just seen that video. I was like in shock. I came down on the elevator, like what the hell has just happened. Really it threw me for a loop, I couldn't believe it. I was like, they not gonna show this in America first of all and if they do…. This was an uncensored video. And I was like, wow, you know what it really hit me because this is in Paris and these people are watching this and they are judging black people in America based on this video. And that pissed me off. See that is why I talk about this stuff. So don't tell me I can't talk about this shit. When I watch videos like that, Chingy doesn't realize what he has done with that video. He's like, oh, cool, I have all these bitches up in here with their asses hanging out and it's just cool. He doesn't realize the impact that that has and how people who don't know about us and our experience use things like that for their reference. And how young people look at that and want that and how women… (shakes her head)

Is it a matter of knowledge?

Well, in America anyway there's a trend towards dumbing down. Not many people read books. They look towards the television for all their information. They don't have to go find it on their own. The funding for art is been taken away in schools. There is a miseducation going on, on a mass scale. People are turning to these outlets like videos and TV shows and CNN for all their information. They don't know anything else. That's dangerous, black people in America being told who they are from these videos and how to act and how to be and what to want out of life. It's ridiculous.

Is Hip Hop still "black man's CNN" as Chuck D from Public Enemy once said?

Man, CNN is fucked up enough. So if Hip Hop is the CNN of black community (laughs) then it's messed up (laughs). It's messed up. We have to do something about it. I don't care if people get mad at me for saying it. We have to do something. I know a lot of people who do, you know, who fight to make changes and care about this, activists. A lot of people who are on the front line are really trying to save our community, our young people. Give them some pride because shaking your ass around in videos is really nothing to be proud of.

You wear a T-Shirt with a photo of Angela Davis on it…

Yeah, I don't think she would do that. (laughs) I would love to talk to her about what she thinks about all of this. It's so complicated, it's so complex. I would love to sit down and talk to her, somebody who really made it possible actually for… She's one of the major voices that made it possible for black people to even be able to do hip hop. If it wasn't for people like her we wouldn't even be able to do that. People who were brave and came forward and fought for rights and were fearless. It's not just young people, these are adults who are making this music, too. They don't give any thought to that. They don't give any thought to the forebears and the sacrifices that were made for them to be able to do what they do. They just throw the responsibility right out of the window. And just cash their cheques. Buy their fat rides. That's it.

But that's only one part of hip hop. What about people like Common and The Roots?

Yeah, but unfortunately they are exceptions now. Common and The Roots, Talib Kweli they are all in this little special category over here. The major attention is given to the glamour, the rap not hip hop. Rap music which is not hip hop! People like The Roots and Common, Bahamadia they all live hip hop. They are part of the movement. They are dedicated to this way of life. Not just for the art of it but for the politics of it, for the culture of it, the changes that you can make via this movement. A movement is pretty big stuff. A music category is just a little tiny thing. And that's what these people are. They are part of a music-category, they are not part of a movement. I just don't get it. Really don't. And I won't.

Who do you bring with for your concerts in Germany in November?

I'm going to bring my guitarist Tim Motzer that I always perform with. Usually it's just me and him. But with this album since it's more musical I need some more musicians, so I'm looking for a percussionist now. That's what it will be: me, a guitarist and a percussionist and some couple of little machines there.

Interview: Stephan Oettel (8/03)

Einleitung: Karsten Frehe

Lyrics: "What A Woman Must Do"