Sa-Roc: “I fought tooth and nail for years just to finally be brought up in the same conversation as some male rappers that I was lyrically superior to.”
The full interview from the listicle, “6 Indie Rappers Dispel Myths About Being Independent And Explain Why They Wouldn’t Have Their Careers Any Other Way,” published on Blavity, June 2021.
Washington, D.C. native Sa-Roc has been actively performing as an independent artist for 13 years. She is signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment, an independent hip-hop label, under which she released her latest and widely-acclaimed project, The Sharecropper’s Daughter, and the deluxe version which features six additional tracks. She sat down with me for an interview that was used to create a listicle of six indie artists you need to know, but her complete interview was so compelling that I knew I had to release the full Q&A. This Q&A was originally published in The Living Room.
LR: What is one of your personal career highlights?
Sa-Roc: I’m constantly in awe that I get to do what I love as a career, so almost everything is a highlight, lol! Needless to say, there are many. But one that stands out is when I got handpicked to co-honor (along with the brilliant multimedia artist Carrie Mae Weems) Black Thought of The Roots at Sotheby’s in New York. I performed original verses and covers of his songs while backed by a live band. It’s still very surreal that I got a chance to show Black Thought how much his creative example and mentorship means to me.
LR: Aside from having complete ownership of your work, what other benefits are there to staying indie?
Sa-Roc: Freedom of creative expression. From music to art direction, I have the final say on what and how I create. I’m not beholden to anyone else’s vision but my own.
LR: Based on your experience, what advice do you have for artists on the rise?
Sa-Roc: Figure out who you are and what you want to give through your art as early as possible. There are many people in the industry, from critics, peers, media outlets, and some labels that are just waiting to prey on your uncertainty, morph you into something more marketable or more palatable. Grounding yourself into your artistic and personal point of view before they have a chance to is how you protect your integrity.
LR: What platform, outlet, or resource has given you the best ability to showcase your work and earn money?
Sa-Roc: My own website for sure. It’s the best way for supporters to connect with me directly. It’s the most comprehensive hub for merch, the latest videos, music, and any other content. On top of all that, I don’t have to worry about any weird algorithms.
LR: What are some indie artist myths that you want to bust?
Sa-Roc: That it’s impossible to achieve the same level of visibility or popularity as a mainstream artist. Because of social media and other platforms like YouTube where everyone is afforded the same level of access and have the same tools to promote their work, we’re seeing that artists are no longer completely reliant upon these industry machines to be successful. You can certainly have a thriving career without major label backing.
LR: Any myths about women rappers you want to bust?
Sa-Roc: That we aren’t as good as our male counterparts. That we don’t have a place within the larger hip-hop conversation, and instead we deserve to be relegated to the “female MC” category. I fought tooth and nail for years just to finally be brought up in the same conversation as some male rappers that I was lyrically superior to. To have the same access. We’re constantly being overlooked because of this falsehood that we don’t measure up. It’s a dated and frustrating myth that so many women rappers are dispelling on the daily.
LR: How valuable is it to you in artistry to have the late MF DOOM on your project?
Sa-Roc: It’s invaluable. I mean, DOOM was a maverick in hip-hop. A legend, whose very distinct individuality was what many of us artists were seeking to define for ourselves. The fearless way in which he approached forging a very anomalous path was aspirational and one of the many reasons people both loved the mystery of him while simultaneously wanting to know more. I’m grateful we were able to peel back the layers a little more on the track and that I was able to share a moment of history with him.
LR: The features on the project are incredible, however, what stood out to me most was the inclusion of Saul Williams — how did that come about and why did you see fit to include him?
Sa-Roc: Thank you! I’m so honored that I had the privilege of working with each and every one of these amazing artists. As far as Saul, I’ve long admired his work. I think he’s just an incredible thinker and writer. He actually has known my producer Sol Messiah for years, so that’s how we initially connected. We did a remix of one of his songs, Roach Eggs, a few years back. When I was looking for a voice to convey the gravity and emotional weight of my album’s intro and premise, I immediately thought of him. I think he was the perfect fit.
LR: In what ways do you believe you’ve grown as an artist — from your lyrics to your performances; what has shaped you into the emcee you are today?
Sa-Roc: Whew! So many. I mean my pen game has absolutely strengthened over the years. I’ve figured out song structure, melodies, and hooks. Whereas in the early days, I could write a rap without hesitation but was intimidated by fleshing out a complete song. I’m also so much freer on stage than I was before. Practice and cultivating a regular habit of creating has played a crucial role in my creative growth. And also, taking notes and constructive criticism from artists that I admire. Being willing to listen without ego and use the advice to my advantage.