by Jessie NelsonUrsula Ruckers' socially/politically aimed spoken word work churns like a rapid fire release over the live jazz and hip hop beats that swerve through her latest release Ma'at Mama. Rucker bloomed like a flower through the cracks in the sidewalk in Philadelphia getting started in the poetry scene that blossomed there. "There was an open space in my life where I didn't really have a job at the time, and I had plenty of time to think about other things I wanted to do. I had been writing for years, and decided to put it in that form just to see how it felt for me."
Her first two albums Supa Sista and Silver or Lead were stepping-stones to her current release. Ahmir Thompson (aka drummer ?uestlove) from the legendary hip-hop band The Roots helped her get her music into the studio and she also worked with house music guru Josh Wink. "(For Supa Sista), I had had years of collaboration, I probably wouldn't have had the opportunity to do it without having those under my belt. I had the desire to do my own project, and I signed with King Britt's label and that fell through. Some one at k7 was interested, so I did my research about them."
Silver or Lead was a vibrant blend of jazz, hip-hop, house and Latin music with contributions from major players in those areas such as Louie Vega of Masters at Work and Jazzanova. While Rucker enjoyed it, she found it to be more of a business move than a full artistic release. "I know I was pregnant when that came out. That record was kind of what I consider an interim record, I was kind of being pushed to have somewhat of a retrospective. I only got to do four tracks fresh, and it actually did leave me very very unfulfilled. I didn't get to actually create; it was really a business move with that record label shit, something I agreed to. It was nice to have all of those things on one project, but it wasn't enough for me, since I didn't get to really write. It was a stretch for me. When I got to work with Louie Vega that really opened things up to me- I had never done a track like that with this Afro Cuban music, really vibrant and electric. That was a big lesson for me. The first thing I ever did with music was recite poetry with a jazz ensemble."
Which brings us now to the smoky jazz, deep hip-hop 12-track album with an agenda, entitled Ma'at Mama. The "Ma'at" in the title means universal truth, which Rucker translates to making really good art. "I really wanted to make good art. You want to do something that's good for you, which you can be happy with, that you can live with. Then when you do something you can only hope others dig it too. I was going through another interesting, very challenging time personally, with the recording of the album. I had to learn to not have whatever negative thing I was going through… let it be in the art but not be the art. I wanted to have it reflect what I was going through, that glimpse of hope/human child error."
Ma'at Mama is filled with live musicians, as on her previous albums. Rucker marveled at the musicians abilities to record perfectly inspired tracks behind her after she was done recording her poetry. "A lot of the tracks that Anthony Kidd did, he got musicians that he knew. He's not only a producer but working musician as well. He called a lot of his friends that he's worked with before. People I really didn't know before this, I was introduced to them. There's a lot of live music on (the album), there are some machine made sounds but on every piece there's a live instrument. With (the last track) "l.o.v.e," it's all live. I was so happy to see that happen cause that was the first time I ever recorded the poem acapella and then the music happened around the poem. I came a few nights later and all the musicians are there and they were all playing the music around the poem, it was amazing to see everything happen (that way)."
On the track "Church Party," Rucker questions where the true artistry behind hip-hop has gone. She agrees, as does Thompson from the Roots, that the current hip-hop artists need to take responsibility for the roots of the genre slipping away. "It's a shame but it's kind of consistent the way I've felt about it over the past 6 seven years/I always say that what I'm referring to is not what I consider hip hop, it's rap, style of performance. Hip hop is so much larger and grander than this shit on the radio, in the videos, so far surpasses that or they've forgotten that or just don't give a shit- they maintain carrying the torch, (but it's) just a bunch of garbage, it's all nonsense."
Rucker happened to catch a documentary on Hip Hop three years ago and found that it was extremely prophetic, specifically what the underground hip hop stars had to say about the future of the genre. "They talked to Onyx, Wu-Tang, Ahmir. They said that there has to be a self examination which isn't happening, they're just strokin' their own ego, why look inward and look at this thing they say their doing is hip hop and really figure out, ‘are they contributing to this art form this culture'? How can you move people into self examination is the question? (How can you) move people into having a sense of responsibility whether that is to retain creativity, have message in their music, etc.. There has to be some sense of responsibility. I don't expect everyone to be on a social/political trip like I am. Their main focus is entertaining, that's like what is so amazing to me right now- it has become pure entertainment. There was a time when you said the word 'art,' and it encompassed all of the disciplines. With this current pop music (anything from Brittney to Ying Yang, Maroon 5), all this stuff right now that's mainstream, really really mainstream, the artistry of this thing is diminishing all the time."
After listening to Ruckers previous work and her newest release, it's obvious that Rucker is one of the women keeping the artistry in hip hop, reminding the masses at large just where all the b-boys went and hip hop will be triumphant in the long run for it.
See Ursula's website
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