re/issue-ursula rucker

Mama’s Always On Stage-Angelica LeMinh interviewed Ursula Rucker once upon a time… 

pre/sent intro: this remains the most important innerview i’ve ever conducted-as a poet, as a roots fan, and as a woman. it’s probably the only one that i’ve ever squealed (at least twice) audibly like i had the bieber fever and knew it wouldn’t even be an issue. it’s just that proof of purpose and reflection that comes from doing the right work that i hope to keep experiencing. ironically enough, she commended my “perfect persistence” (aka stalking) and this innerview led to a couple people stalking me. game recognize game.

>>Vancouver was great, but I never have a bad show in Canada. Like Europe, the audiences tend to be more open and progressive and their awareness of culture and art is more acute. I haven’t performed extensively in the States, but I don’t think the current climate is too encouraging. I still don’t have a booking agent, and women doing poetry are always going to be under the radar. I was excited last summer to perform in Atlanta, a city renowned for being musically progressive, but the crowd was so unresponsive that I was almost bored. I’ve played in Ohio and Chicago, and it was like performing on a spaceship.

>> War is no secret, and people would do better if they refused to accept attempts to keep it secret. I remember I was in Vienna on tour for Supa Sista, and my existing fear of flying was exacerbated as it was just after 9/11. I was pregnant with my third child, had left the other two at home and when I saw that night vision shot, I just started crying and wanted to come home. When people heard us speaking English and knew that we were American, the reactions of how they perceived us were completely different. Now, it’s only getting worse and worse for peace. I’m not a punk, but I’m for peace. I realize that as a superpower, a first world country (if we’re going to rank), we can’t just sit back and do nothing in the face of such an attack, but what we’re doing right now is not protecting our country, we’re trying to oppress and control another one to fully participate in capitalism. But I appreciate the opportunity to travel and get the truth, because our media here is totally skewed. I think that people have lost that instinctual feeling to see something and react as aware folks and question further. I want to throw something every time I see our president on the television. There is nothing elegant or eloquent about anything that ever comes out of his mouth, and I am ashamed.

>>I don’t know if I’m going to vote for Obama. You’re never actually voting for anyone, it’s just the lesser of evils. It’s like the police officers, you can’t be that good of a person if you are a cop. At least not in Philly, with all of the corruption that’s involved in the job.

>> Slept-on Philly Talent? Like Bahamadia? (laughs). We’re still unsung, man. We did a track together (“Path to Rhythm”) and my jaw still drops every time I hear her flow. I love her- she can freestyle, she can do it all, and never gets her dues. We were both in a local documentary done here in Philly called Scene Not Heard, and I cry every time I hear her words in that one, about how she’s been doing this for 20 years while being a mother, and she still doesn’t get recognized. I can’t believe that people in our own city have never even heard of her- it blows my mind.

>> There’s something special about Philly, it’s a rough town. Musically, there’s something going on, but I like the fact that people don’t talk to you, you have to confront them. They make you work for their acceptance.

>> I guess The Roots are moving in different directions, and that’s good. The three albums I did participate on were blessings. I love Dave Chapelle’s crazy ass. Ahmir asked me to go and have lunch, and it’s just crazy to think of where they are, and how much they deserve it. I always love working with Ahmir, he’s got so much love and knowledge for music. I am working on an epic poem about New Orleans, so I was there just being with people, and the Roots were playing at the House of Blues. Now, I’ve seen them play many times, many, but that night was special- it was like they had just captured the exact spirit of what the people of New Orleans were fighting for at the time. The band was tight and Tariq’s flow was amazing, though he’s another one to just freestyle for hours on end and not even be a little bit breathless. Black Lily’s having a reunion next week and I’m playing the finale. The Roots’ band is backing, Jill Scott and Jaguar Wright are amongst the performers. It’s going to be three days non-stop of workshops and shows, a film and music festival.

>> Unless he really fucks up and goes bonkers and does some P.Diddy shit that’s completely empty, I’m fine with what Kanye does. It’s cool when you can make music that doesn’t completely alienate people but can get them thinking about something in a different way. When he made that (Katrina) statement though, he forever won my favorite. He stood out on a plank- to have an album coming out and say what he said from his heart- I don’t think it was a publicity stunt at all. I wish it wasn’t a standout thing, that everyone would do that, but it doesn’t happen often enough. People don’t take that kind of visibility to express truths. Jay-Z is just starting to, and I’m so glad. Everything you do doesn’t need to be political, but every now and again, say something, because people are listening.

>> Billie Holiday, please. Anyone who has the audacity to stand up in front of a mostly white audience and sing “Strange Fruit” is a star. Please.

>> Mos and Kweli don’t have to turn down the money. As long as they’re still saying what they’re saying which is still not mainstream. They don’t have to feel guilty about getting paid, but I am a bit tired of them being the only ones. There is so much happening on the grassroots level, but a lot of artists never get heard. Can somebody else get some?! Or what?

>> Sign o’ the Times is one of the best albums, ever.

>> I ain’t no holla-black girl. (Laughs). I’d like to meet Gwen Stefani, and not just “know” her in some entertainment interview. I’ve got respect for her as a woman, but there comes a point where we have to talk about cultural mis/appropriation, right? Is it ok? Is it not, and if not, when? I see what she’s doing, pushing the envelope and all. But every time I see her, I’m irritated, the Harajiku girls? They seem like her personal posse of millennium geishas and it just makes me feel not good. That’s just me though, I always seem to have a problem with something, maybe there’s something wrong with me.

>> I’ve got four boys, a stepson, and a husband. (laughs)

>> My uncles grew up hunting, and they didn’t do anything but hunt with their guns, but considering how easy it is to even get a gun, it’s pretty sick. Speaking from the city with the highest murder rate in the country, and we already have about 200 murders this year, the violence is out of control. The music videos, the gun culture, the video games, the neighborhood dynamics, it all contributes.

That’s why I don’t allow my kids to play with guns, sing songs about guns, rock t-shirts advocating gun play, I try to keep them away from video games, but their dad plays so that’s harder.

>> My 8-year old got into a fight the other day with a kid who lives around the corner- this kid called mine “gay”, which is another one of my pet peeves. If he woulda called him “muthafucka”, I would’ve accepted it over “gay”, but he’s a tough kid, you know? So I take my son outside to solve this problem, and he lunges at this kid, Shawn, who has the audacity to punch my child in front of me. I tell you I could’ve gone to jail that day, I kept thinking to myself “whatever you do, do not put your hands on this child”. I grabbed both of them and marched them directly to his mama’s house. I feel pretty bad about this, but I actually said to him, “If there was a pill I could take that could shrink me down to your size, I’d kick your ass”. His mama wasn’t home, but his older sister was there and she was very respectful and listened to me. I wanted to teach both of them, because there was a time when people cared about that, teaching all the children, not only their own. I want to teach them peace, but my husband would’ve just let them fight. Their grandfather (my dad) told him that he should’ve hit him back and not stopped hitting. I understand, because little black boys need to learn how to get themselves out of a jam, but I’m just thinking that if it gets to a point when they’re hitting and calling each other names, they should just separate. I actually saw Shawn today, his older brother plays with one of my older sons, so he seemed surprised that I said “hi”, but I told him, “Look, I apologize for losing my cool with you, but you hit my son in front of me and you can’t do that, it’s disrespectful!”

pre/sent outro-here’s to remembering that for every saul williams out there, there are at least three ursula ruckers. it’s all of our responsibility to find (or be) the aforementioned-in poetry and in life. this is also for all of us who have experienced punkass kids, and have figured out a way to love them in a way that benefits the whole lot of us. motherhood by any means necessary.



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