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Ursula Rucker: Hip-Hop Librettist

Hip-Hop has many roots. The genre gets its soul from the blues, its edge from the streets and its rhythm from the Motherland – but the artistic side comes from poetry. Anyone who is a fan of both Hip-Hop and poetry holds the name Ursula Rucker in reverence. Her haunting and poignant rhymes closed out three of The Roots’ CDs, which catapulted her into the burgeoning spoken word movement of the ‘90s.

Since her first single “Supernatural” was released in 1994, Ursula released two albums; SupaSista in 2001 and Silver Or Lead in 2003. More than just a wordsmith, Ursula balances worldwide activism, being a mother of four and her poetry career with tours, speaking engagements and performances. She wears many hats, but according to her, one of them isn’t being a spoken word artist.

The Philadelphia native is preparing the release of her third studio album, Ma’at Mama, which promises to be as sensual and soulful as it is revolutionary. Rucker kicks a verse with AllHipHop.com Alternatives about the state of poetry, the state of Hip-Hop and the state of the struggle.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Do you remember your first poem?

Ursula Rucker: No. I was young when I started writing poems. It was probably some sweet little love note to my mom.

AHHA: What first inspired you to read your poetry in front of an audience?

Ursula: I’m not sure if it was inspiration or the white zinfandel. No, I guess it was just the right time in my life, right place, right moment.

AHHA: How did the idea of making albums that are very musical come about?

Ursula: Well, I started recording poetry with music some 12 years ago, at King Britt’s invitation to do something for this house track he was producing. That’s how the whole marriage of sound and word came about for me.

AHHA: Is Spoken Word [the same as] Hip-Hop? Or are they different genres?

Ursula: Spoken Word is just that to me: a genre, a trend. Poetry is my art, not Spoken Word. Hip-Hop, in the true sense, is so much bigger than a mere genre or trend…so much bigger.

AHHA: The Roots brought you into the national spotlight, and at the time it was very different for a Rap album to end with poetry. Do you think Hip-Hop would take a risk like that now?

Ursula: Sure. Common had The Last Poets on that joint last year. It ain’t gonna be happening on a grand scale, but it will happen again.

AHHA: Any Hip-Hop artists you want to work with now?

Ursula: RZA, Bahamadia, Grand Agent, Nas…to name a few.

AHHA: What is your take on the misogyny debate in Hip-Hop?

Ursula: The misogyny debate? What is the debate about? It exists and it’s bigger and worse than ever, period.

AHHA: What have you learned as an artist from the time you first began to now?

Ursula: To be more fearless in my writing. I’ve learned a great deal about recording and performing with music and the intricacies and beauty of language…the language of words and music.

AHHA: What can your followers expect from your new release?

Ursula: A not-so-electronic-music driven album. Ma’at Mama is organic; lots of live instrumentation, more Hip-Hop and Soul centered and more mature. And as always, the poetry is the main focus.

AHHA: What does a poet need in order to make a career out of poetry?

Ursula: That’s always a difficult question, ‘cause I never set out to do this shit. It called me, you know? It truly is my calling. So, all I can say to a poet is be true, honest, real to the art. Don’t do it for the three minutes of fame or the thrill of being behind the mic. A poet has to love poetry or it ain’t gonna work.

AHHA: Black poets in the ‘60s and ‘70s spoke a lot about war, racism, sexism and social ills. With similar problems occurring now, do you think today’s generation has taken up the torch?

Ursula: Not sure if you’re referring to today’s generation of poets or all folk. If it’s all folk then hells no. There are always a handful of those who plug away on the artist, political or whatever front, striving for positive viable change. But it ain’t enough. We need all the help we can get. It’s some heavy sh*t goin’ down. Folks have to wake up, for real.

AHHA: Who is your favorite Spoken Word artist and why?

Ursula: My very favorite poet is Sonia Sanchez. I also like many others though: Ted Joans, Jean Toomer, Anne Sexton. Contemporary-wise, [I like] Rich Medina and Saul Williams.

AHHA: Anybody up and coming we should be checking for?

Ursula: Yeah. Malene Younglao, she sings on the cut “Rant” on my album. She has a band called Younglao, Punk, Hip-Hop, Rock. Great lyrics, dope music, amazing presence.

AHHA: Who is your favorite Hip-Hop artist and why?

Ursula: Wow, tough one. I’ll just go off the dome and say Bahamadia, for obvious reasons. She’s the dopest emcee ever. [She] keeps her shit real, don’t change for nobody. Which is why she’s not more well known and plus, she’s Philly to the core.

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