Hip-hop music has always been a socially-, politically- and culturally-driven art form, from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message” to Public Enemy and Kendrick Lamar. Sol, a Seattle-born rapper, has taken the substance of his predecessors and blended it with his influences, including His Royal Badness, Prince. “Prince’s unapologetic identity helped form me even simply as a biracial kid growing up in America,” he told us. Sol’s unique Seattle upbringing has helped him create uplifting, thought-provoking music for the better part of the last seven years. He has collaborated with the likes of Macklemore and Blue Scholars; he’s opened and toured with everyone from Zion I to Lauryn Hill.

You mentioned in your 2014 interview with us that Prince was your favorite artist of all time. His passing was hard for those close to him, and I’m sure it was also hard for all the people he touched through his art. How did Prince have an impact on the artist you are today?

I think Prince’s unapologetic identity helped form me, even simply as a biracial kid growing up in America. That I am gonna be myself and I am not gonna let myself be defined by your perception of me. He did that with his sexuality. He did that with the sound of his music and the path he took for his career. I’ve followed that in every decision I’ve made. Whether that be to step out and travel abroad instead of touring or to make the type of songs that are about what I want, and not what I think people need to hear. He did that, and he found an audience by doing that. It inspired me to not apologize for being who I am, even if I’m not your version of cool or I don’t look like “this.”

You openly supported Nikkita Oliver in her campaign for Seattle Mayor in 2017. You talk about her progressive views on the housing crisis, education and student loan forgiveness, as well as your personal family history—your parents being able to make a living wage as teachers in Seattle, and the reality that that increasingly harder to do here now. Where do you see the city going, and can the current trend of erasure and gentrification be stopped?

I don’t see it going in a good place at all right now. Things are not slowing down. For another year, Seattle is the fastest growing city in the country. Highest-raising rent—12% annually right now—and it’s not slowing down. People are not actively creating plans to help low-income and simply working class people, local people. The type of people that are coming in are unfortunately not aware of the pre-existing environment [in Seattle], and that is one of the biggest problems of gentrification. You are physically and figuratively landing on top of people [when you move], without looking down. You’re flailing your arms around and not thinking about what you’re knocking down. I think that’s one of the biggest issues, and it affects the culture of Seattle.

Unfortunately, I don’t know what the solution is. I think that one important thing for us to do as a community is to connect. I think that old Seattle and new Seattle are becoming very different things, and the communities here need to be connected to the new transplants that are coming here so that we can communicate and try to build solutions together. I think that that will be just as important as any type of legislation that happens. I’m not in the world of city building or housing development. I am not in the world of politics, so I don’t know what the solution is from a bureaucratic and political standpoint, but from a social standpoint I know that there is a divide, and it’s growing, and it’s not just economic. There is a social divide. I try to counteract that just by the way that I interact with people and the stuff that I talk about.

You’ve made it your business to use your platform to speak up for issues that matter to you. In our current political climate, the EPA is being attacked, public education is being attacked, POC are being attacked, net neutrality…the list just goes on. In your opinion, how can people remain advocates without getting burnt out?

I’m trying to figure that answer our for myself right now. I think it’s important not to tune out and really focus on self-care as well. James Baldwin says something to the effect of, “To be black and socially conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” I would say that that is still true, and it’s not limited to just people in the black community. In order to survive—because I think to a certain degree survival is victory—when you think about some of these issues, we have to really take care of ourselves.

Seattle's Prince: Rapper Sol on Gentrification, Advocacy and His New Music

That could be anything from really looking after our mental health and physical health. What we eat. Meditation gets me through a lot of stresses and anxiety of life. And I’m not just talking about my life, because daily life is hard enough. Just life in the world. The things that are happening around us. A lot of what we do in the world is not just limited to what happens and how we do [things], but how we process it. It starts with that.

You posted a link to the gofundme for 32-year-old Charleena Lyles, who was 15 weeks pregnant and left behind four children after she was shot by the police seven times in her own home. Her and her unborn child were killed by Seattle police. Unfortunately, the outrage surrounding this case faded from the media by August of last year. How can we do better?

I think an important thing is community oversight. Right now the police police themselves, and that has to change. There has been some legislation that is moving in that direction, but I think people being held accountable is important, and there hasn’t been an example that has been made. Police continue to walk free after murder. I think that police would act much differently if there are going to be repercussions for their actions. I also think that community training is important. I don’t see enough police in the community. I’m talking about even things like off-duty [officers] spending time in the communities that [they] police. Being from the communities that you police, recruiting people from the community. I also think that spending time in the community without your weapon and doing community work. I don’t know how that works from a payment standpoint, but there needs to be officers on the clock that have incentive to be at that community BBQ, show up to those community basketball games, do those things—without their guns. Even if there are situations that escalate, how to police without [their] weapon.

Seattle's Prince: Rapper Sol on Gentrification, Advocacy and His New Music

In most of the world, often police are in the community. These are not necessarily the people that are responding to the 911 calls—they are the ones that are around the community. For example, in Europe they don’t have guns. I never see a cop without a gun. Shit, I don’t even see a rent-a-cop without a gun. That would teach people not to shoot first if they know the people in the communities they’re policing, and they feel a connection to it and have had to be in those situations without their gun and had to be comfortable. I think most of these cops are scared shitless most of the time. They’re not trained well enough. They’re afraid of the people they are supposed to be protecting. If you get to know the people in your community, I think that a lot of those nerves would go away.

You’ve been working on a new album and released a single, “If You Don’t Call,” in a really clever way last fall. Can you tell me about that?

I think, right now, there is so much happening and there are so many artists and musicians out there that are making dope music that we have to go above and beyond to get our music heard, frankly. The way that we release our music and the artwork around our music is an opportunity to separate yourself from the pack. The way that you release you music is an extension of your creativity and it’s an opportunity to do something different so with the whole concept around the record being “If You Don’t Call” being about those people in your life who no longer call you. I thought that it would be super spot on and funny to have people actually have to call me in order to hear the song.

There is a service for everything. I bought a phone number and set it up so that when you call, and you would hear the recording of the song. There’s a woman who answers the phone, and it plays the song and then it hangs up on you. It created a unique listening experience. I thought it was received really well. For people who were passively paying attention or were familiar but maybe wouldn’t have listened otherwise, I think it reached a lot of people who maybe weren’t already engaged. And for the people who do already pay attention to what I do, they appreciated the thoughtfulness and the uniqueness of the experience.

For more of Sol, Check out: solsays.com | Facebook: @solsays | Instagram: @solzilla | Twitter: @solzilla

Luna Reyna

Luna Reyna (she/ella) is the founder of RIZE Entertainment. She is deeply invested in shifting power structures and centering and amplifying the work and voices of systematically excluded within the arts. She believes that art is vital for revolutionary practice and movements and hopes that RIZE can be an instrument for amplifying art that expresses the conditions of an unjust society and facilitates healing.