Silver or Lead

Artist: Ursula RuckerTitle: Silver or LeadRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Ashiya Smith

The world got its first glimpse of Ursula Rucker when The Roots commissioned her to close their first LP (Do You Want More) with “The Unlocking”, a vivid piece that narrated the real-time sexual exploitation of a woman poised to regain her power. Rucker soon established herself as The Roots’ poet-in-chief, appearing on the group’s next two studio LPs. After creating a buzz with her solo debut, Supa Sista, the Philly-born poet returns with Silver or Lead, a collection of thought-provoking spoken word poetry infused with musically rich production (song-poems if you will) that could easily stand alone.

Rucker sets the tone for Silver or Lead with the opening piece “Soon”, an evocative poem that waxes nostalgic and revolutionary about the socioeconomic realities of slavery. Ironically, the disturbing nature of the piece is amplified by her tranquil voice and hypnotic delivery of its opening lines, “Seen children come and go/ Lead some out themselves/See infanticide was love (for a slave woman)/Slave pussy was gold for capture/Sold for gold/Felt like gold/Yielded gold/ And more gold.”

Though Rucker clearly has a penchant for writing pieces with socially conscious undertones, she manages to do so without coming off as preachy or self-righteous (a skill that many artists have yet to master). On the Mysterium-produced “Lonely Can Be Sweet,” she unabashedly reveals a softer, more sensual side, asserting, “I’ve taken up hedonism as a hobby/Making it harder for the next man/To step into my life/Without a plan for how to please me/Better than I please myself.”

Musically, the LP offers an array of tracks ranging from the Afro-Latin inspired “Release,” produced by Little Louie Vega, to the deeply melodic “Return to Innocence Lost,” produced by The Roots. Both tracks seem to be tailor made to compliment Rucker’s unique voice and provocative lyrics. The latter piece, which documents the life and violent death of the poet’s brother, brilliantly illustrates Rucker’s gift for weaving words and emotions together so masterfully that it seems effortless.

With the release of Silver or Lead, Ursula Rucker is taking spoken word to the next level; proving once and for all that the genre has more to offer than head wraps, backpacks and neo-revolutionary dogma. Whether she is losing, gaining or redefining it, the theme of ‘power’ is a common thread woven throughout her body of work. As a result, much like her trailblazing predecessors Zora Neal Hurston and Sonia Sanchez, Rucker is redefining the depths, boundaries and power of poetry.