The Long and Storied Career of Sole, The Sweaty Volcano
March 20, 2013 10:49 PM   Subscribe

Rapper Sole, originally from the Northeast, but now more associated with the West Coast, has had an interesting career in hip hop.

Recording his first demo in 1992, Sole released his first music in 1994 as part of the group Northern Exposure. After forming Live Poets in the later 1990s, Sole would go on to be a regular feature in the indie rap/battle circuits, eventually helping to form Anticon Records, a collective known for their oddball releases that pushed the limits of hip hop (previously on The Blue: 1 2 3 4).

In the early days of Anticon, Sole recorded and released Dear Elpee, a dis song aimed at NY rapper El-P (previously) of legendary 90s underground group Company Flow. A noble effort, the song mostly backfired when El-P released Linda Tripp, one of the most harsh dis songs of the era.

Sole, of course, was also involved in many of the recorded projects from Anticon, including Deep Puddle Dynamics, a "supergroup" of sorts made up of Sole, Doseone, Alias, and Slug of Atmosphere. The label also released several solo Sole efforts, a string of releases that saw his style go through many changes.

More recently, Sole has left Anticon records, choosing instead to self-release music through his website while working occasionally with Connecticut label Fake 4. Since then, Sole has worked with his Skyrider Band and mefi favorite Lil B.

Nowadays, Sole has left behind some of the more esoteric and abstract sound of his earlier work in favor of a highly politicized(My President Is Black featuring Jared Paul of Prayers For Atheists, a song that caused a minor race-related kerfuffle on rap blogs world-web-wide) and direct style that he calls "rap as journalism." Releasing a flurry of music since 2008, Sole now seems to be entirely focused on music as political work. Highlights of his recent output include I Think I'm Emma Goldman, I Think I'm Noam Chomsky, and I Think I'm Ben Bernanke. Topics up for discussion in Sole's newest releases are veganism (with Busdriver), the grind of an indie rapper (with Bleubird and K tha I), eco-terrorism (with Time), and everyone's favorite here at metafilter, the Israel/Palestine conflict.
posted by broadway bill (13 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
(Most of the links in the last paragraph are to recent work, and so they have actual videos accompanying the songs, while many of the earlier links are simply youtube audio with no real video. So, if video is your thing, or if you just have an interest in explicitly anarchist hip hop, you might just want to look at the last few links! Plus, the "I Think I'm..." videos are pretty fun.)
posted by broadway bill at 10:53 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just clicked into the "I Think I'm Noam Chomsky" video, and while it's completely unlike what I expected, I dig it. A lot to digest here; thanks for bring this all to our attention!
posted by barnacles at 11:49 PM on March 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Funny, I had just dug out Deep Puddle Dynamics earlier. Anticon was interesting when new, but they had a pretty serious issue with pretense that kinda wore out its welcome. When "Music for the Advancement of Hip-hop" came out, my description of it was "Sounds like the first white college kids to play the blues, who think they will be better because they have a better education."

Also surprised you left out "Savior" from Advancement. Debut of a 17-year old Eyedea (RIP), with Sole and Slug. (Not to mention the truly fucking awful "Bright Moments" by someone else, which nicely shows some of the problems with their crew).

I fizzled on most of that stuff when I got the "so-called artists" EP. Actually a vinyl picture disk. It had an interview with them that made me not want to listen to them anymore.

That being said, I _love_ Dear El-P, my friends still joke about it, and we still use the phrase "Sitars, pots and pans" when talking about El-P's more ... grating work. (Fun fact, El-P and Blockhead produced the intro to one of Aesop Rock's albums specifically with Pots and Pans. I think it was Bazooka Tooth).

That late-90's / early-00's era was a serious sea-change in hip-hop. The reigning eras had just kind of fizzled: Wu wasn't putting out much good after Wu-Tang Forever, Pharcyde disappeared after labcabincalifornia, A Tribe Called Quest had broken up after some lackluster albums, Nastradamus happened, Ice Cube started on his path to family movies, and Southern Crunk was rapidly chewing into the mainstream.

Indy stuff was blowing up, though. In a few short years, we got Third-Eye Vision, A Book of Human Language, Black Star, Deltron 3030, The Cold Vein, Overcast, Music por tu Madre, Violent by Design, and really quite a bit more. LA, the Bay Area, New York and suddenly the Midwest were churning out new Artists to a burgeoning new audience.

It was a weird culmination of factors: mp3s, raves and music festivals were becoming much more hip-hop friendly, equipment had become cheap enough for home studios to make stuff that actually sounded good, and there were a lot of groups of people (like me), who lived outside of the main cultural centers, but were more interested in Public Enemy than Pearl Jam. Actually Sage Francis describes this in Mullet.

In hindsight now, 10-15 years later seeing the guys who are still making it work (El-P and Killer Mike's album last year was fantastic), and some who have changed, or quit. I left the country for a few years and never really got back in to that side of the scene, but I still throw on some old anticon stuff, and I'm glad that Sole is one of those guys who has kept at it.

I've seen some of his newer stuff (like Bernanke), but haven't really kept up on it.
Anyway, thanks for all the links. Like I said, he's popped in my head a couple times recently.

posted by lkc at 12:19 AM on March 21, 2013 [8 favorites]

Can't say I ever really listened to Anticon, but Funcrusher Plus? Man. What the fuck was El-P smoking back then. What a massively creative album. Thanks for reminding me of it.

For the uninitiated, you can start with "Definitive." Or better yet, "8 Steps to Perfection." It's like, do young kids even know this music existed? I get chills listening to it after all these years. I remember staring at the label as the vinyl turned on my turntable, in high school, and being like, this is the shit, and I can't mix it into anything.
posted by phaedon at 12:44 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Phaedon, the linked Co Flow song in the post is 8 Steps.
posted by broadway bill at 7:23 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Man, I wish there was a way to make a youtube playlist out of all these links . . . lots of great stuff!
posted by ianhattwick at 10:24 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's like, do young kids even know this music existed?

If they did, I wouldn't keep hearing stupid shit about how "Macklemore is the greatest white MC since Eminem".
posted by lkc at 10:41 AM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Bottle Of Humans was pretty damn incredible, I still pull it out on occassion.
posted by Theta States at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh awesome, you made the Sole post you mentioned in the comments to your post about El-P. I'll be digging through this for the rest of the afternoon.
posted by ndfine at 11:42 AM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Great post. I had never heard any of Sole's Northern Exposure work. Damn near everything is on youtube these days, isn't it?
posted by joedan at 1:10 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is an amazing post, b.
posted by box at 1:39 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Selling Live Water is one of the few Anticon releases that still gets a complete play through on the $mp3_player now and then. Every time i find myself wishing that Sole would let the music take the stage some more, in parts it feels like it's the mouth versus the music. Sole can string some mighty prose together but the *production* on SLW is incredible.

Every now and then i do a quick search to see if an instrumental version has been released. Ten year anniversary edition pretty please?
posted by lawrencium at 1:14 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

lawrencium: I totally agree about Sole's tendency to happily let the beats play second fiddle when they're so often such great beats (especially, as you said, on SLW, but also on Bottle of Humans). That very thing makes some of his new stuff really interesting to me, because nowadays Sole so often jacks a radio ready beat that I already like and then makes it into a song I can listen to without falling asleep.

When Anticon was on, they were on, Sole especially. Sadly though, as mentioned earlier, there was no way to hold up under the weight of all that pretense. Ultimately, I think Sole at least emerged from that era as a much more compelling artist. Even when I am really bothered by his stylistic choices (which is pretty often), I find myself genuinely interested in what he's got to say.
posted by broadway bill at 4:57 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

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