Local rapper delivers a fresh new sound
Published Thursday, 09-Oct-2008 in issue 1085
There are big things in store for hip-hop artist Solomon. The 21-year-old native San Diegan is planning to release his debut EP, Shades of Black, on Jan. 6 on the heels of a freestyle performance on Shade45, Eminem’s New York City-based Sirius Satellite radio station.
Solomon is generating buzz – more for his freestyle abilities and show-stopping talent than his sexual orientation (for the record, he’s gay). The young, out rapper has been writing lyrics since his early teens, when he idolized The Notorious B.I.G. and some of rap’s greats. He’s built a following on the Web and sold nearly 10,000 copies of his mix tapes online, and now, he’s building his own record company to market and sell his music on his own, and he has started writing and producing songs for other artists.
Despite the grassroots success, he’s been asked more than once to “play it straight,” which begs the question: how far can a gay hip-hop artist make it in an industry that, until now, has been typecast for its homophobia?
For now, Solomon doesn’t concern himself with whether his sexuality will stop him from cracking Total Request Live’s Top 10 (it won’t). He’s more concerned with targeting his demographics, growing his fan base, and becoming known as Solomon the artist, not Solomon the gay artist.
Solomon took time between photo shoots and studio time to talk with the Gay & Lesbian Times about his early influences, the hottest name in rap today, and why he won’t be relegated to an underground rap scene.
Gay & Lesbian Times: Who was the first rap artist, or what was the first rap album, that really impacted you? And, how did you begin writing rap lyrics?
S: The epitome of it all was the 1995-96 era of hip-hop in NY. I listened to Biggie Smalls non stop. It was all I would listen to. My mom would say, “Don’t listen to that,” and I’d say “But I have to.” And Junior Mafia, Jay Z, Nas – I listened to a lot of Nas – [Lil’] Kim, LL Cool J, Salt N’ Pepa. All of those people had an impact on me.
I heard so much of my life in some of those lyrics. They were raw and edgy and I could relate to it. I went to elementary school in Clairemont, but I didn’t live in Clairemont. I grew up in South San Diego. All of the kids in my school were well off, and my biological dad was in jail, my mom was a drug addict, I was adopted. I couldn’t relate to those kids, and I heard myself in hip-hop music.
I started writing a lot to deal with some of the shitty things from my childhood. I just started writing, not necessarily rap music or lyrics of 16s [bars]. I wrote stories and letter and poems, and when I started writing, I started paying more attention to music, and I’d listen to how Biggie formed his music and how he’d write in 16s, so I started writing 16s and didn’t think much about it.
Really I just accidentally recorded my first mix tape. I was 19 or something and I rapped over a beat. I was itching to get into a studio and make music, and the next thing you know, I had 27 tracks and I had my first mix tape. I released it. I put it on a big mix tape Web site where people in hip-hop can go and download your music, and suddenly I have people asking me, “When’s the next mix tape coming out?”
Now I’m producing my own stuff and I’m more hands on from start to finish. I haven’t really gotten a grasp of mixing and mastering yet, but I’m starting to get into producing a bit more. I have my EP out in October, and I’m mixing genres of hip-hop and rock n’ roll. It’s a little bit of a different direction, but it’s a good direction.
GLT: Who is the most fresh, innovative voice in rap music today and why?
S: I love Nicki Minaj. She’s so dope. She’s Lil’ Wayne’s protégé, so to speak. Me and her have the same mentality. We work from the bottom up. She’s not using Lil’ Wayne’s music to make a name for herself. She’s making her own music. She’s taking it from the street and going up. She’s ill. I love her.
GLT: The stereotype of rap culture includes violence, sexism, misogyny and homophobia. From your perspective, how much of that is accurate?
S: I think it’s changing. But, that’s why I’d love to own my own record label. Record labels push for that stuff because it’s what sells. No one is going to buy a rapper’s album if it’s all about love from above and sunshine and picking daisies. Some of the stereotypes are true. I don’t think it’s so much homophobic. I mean, in the music industry, you’re working with stylists and artists and extras and assistants, and if you’re about making money, you can’t be homophobic. I don’t think all stereotypes are true, but some are used to sell records and push a façade and keep a fan base. I think that certainly influences record labels. If it didn’t, I’d probably be further in my career because the music would be easier to market. I have noticed hip-hop culture can influence peoples’ views of gay people and violence, and you see people start reenacting what they hear in lyrics or behaving the way they think a rapper would; when, in reality, the rapper is living in the suburbs and watching, like, television sitcoms at home with his family. He’s not out shooting people.
I think when people think of rap and hip-hop they think of bitches and hos and shooting guns, but if you really, really listen, you hear so much honesty about so many life experiences you can relate to.
GLT: What is the primary challenge of being an out rap artist?
S: There are times I hate the label, but, if not for it, I wouldn’t be where I am in my music career. Otherwise, I’d be just another rapper. But when you’re female or white or gay, I don’t know what it is, you get more press, but you also have to work a little bit harder. It’s always like your first day on the job. There are definitely times I hate the label, and hopefully someday it won’t be in front of my name in headlines; I won’t be Solomon the gay musician, I’ll just be Solomon the musician.
Sometimes I say, “Fuck it, I don’t want to do this anymore,” and I get to the point where I wonder if I should stop or I could stop. But I always feel like I can’t. On three occasions, with two major record labels and one independent label and distribution company, I’ve had someone say I need to represent myself as straight. I can’t do that. There are those times when people say you need to act straight or you need to be this, or you need to be that, and those the are moments I feel like I can’t. But, it always rekindles the flame when I get a message from someone who hears my music and says, “I love what you’re doing and I support what you’re doing.” That pushes me even harder.
I think about female rappers and think they have trouble even selling their albums. So many of them barely go gold and they’re on major labels. Female rap is dying. And that’s when I think, “Fuck, where do I fit in?” I just want to make good music and have fun. If I wasn’t having fun, I would be working some 9-to-5 job. But, I actually really love music. I love it. I can’t sleep at night sometimes because I have to write, or I have to listen to music, or I have to drive to the studio. And, it drives me when I see some of the other openly-gay rappers who are so whack and goofy. They’re not even about the business or about music. I’ve sold 5,000 copies of my mix tape. There’s no reason why you can’t sell your music. Start reading demographics, get your music out there and get it done. Don’t be a lazy ass. There’s no time to sleep or watch TV or go to the movies. I’d rather figure out how to target my audience or send more e-mails or respond to more of my fans messages. Some of these other openly gay rappers are just whack, whack, whack, whack, whack. That drives me even more.
GLT: How do you express sex and sexuality in your lyrics without alienating fans of rap music? Or do you choose not to worry about it?
S: No. Well, yes and no. My first mix tape, I started talking about life, and being real. I listen to hip-hop and I’ve learned from gathering information and doing surveys. Even most gay people don’t want to hear about sucking dick and blowjobs. There are more important things. Sometimes people don’t have amazing childhoods. Everyone goes through breakups. I just write about life, and if I happen to talk about sex, I talk about sex, but I’m not going to force it.
GLT: Will popular rap culture ever change, or will voices like yours be relegated to the underground scene?
S: It is changing. There are a number of veterans and major rappers who are reaching out and who are more accepting. It’s going to change. I may not be on MTV or TRL or BET right away; my video might be played at 2 a.m. on Vh1. But it is changing, and I’m going to change it.