Hip-hop artist Sol takes the stage at the Flat Tail Music Festival
“Rap is what I do/
But not who I am/
If you ever been judged by someone for something you understand/
I’m a simple man”
— Sol, “Yours Truly”
As he says in his song, “Yours Truly,” Sol (sometimes known as Solzilla) isn’t just a rapper. But he’s also not just a simple man.
The Seattle-based artist performs in a hip-hop-heavy lineup for Saturday’s Flat Tail Music Festival on the OSU campus in Corvallis. It will be Sol’s genre-blending of hip-hop, pop and soul that distinguishes him from fellow performers Hoodie Allen and MOsley WOtta.
“I rap and I make hip-hop, but I try not to limit my influences,” Sol said. “Since I was young I’ve always listened to all sorts of types of music. ... When I’m creating I try not to be confined by some preconception of what hip-hop should be about or what it should sound like. In doing that, I hope to create something that’s unique.”
By opening himself up to outside musical influences, Sol has found a flow that lets him express himself as an artist. It begins with the beat — Sol said he works closely with all of his producers as well as plays with a live band.
“The first thing that comes is the music and that kind of opens the floodgates, and when I’m writing it just kind of pours out,” he said. “The catalyst is the emotion that’s brought about by the textures and the melodies and the sounds that are coming from the music — that’s what pulls the content out of me, like it was already there, you know?”
Like his musical influences, Sol’s creative inspiration isn’t limited to the parameters of hip-hop. Instead, it’s people, places, relationships — you know, real life.
“My number one influence is actually outside of music,” he said. “It’s just life experience, whether it is the music I hear or the books that I read, or something that somebody might tell me or an experience that I have — that’s what really feeds into my music.”
Sol said he grew up listening to hip-hop, especially artists such as Tupac, Snoop Dog, Outkast.
“Hip-hop was kind of the base line; it was always around,” Sol said. “So when I started to feel the need to express myself creatively, writing a rap and making songs just happened naturally for me.”
He knew right from the beginning that this was right for him. Early on he had a humbling experience when he said he was exposed to the “game,” to the business side of being a music artist and what would be expected of him if he pursued hip-hop as a career. And even at age 11, he was in thrall.
Sol released his first full-length album, “The Ride” in 2009, which he said was influenced by what any 19-year-old experiences: beginning college and going out into the world. He followed up with “Dear Friends” volumes one through three, released in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and his latest, “Yours Truly,” in January 2012.
In just four years, Sol noted that both his music and his artistry have evolved. “(With ‘The Ride,’) I was finishing high school and going to college and I was more anxious, just about the world and my own life and I had more raw, angry emotion bottled up, so my music was a little more politicized and kind of dark,” he said. “As I got a little bit older, I started to become more comfortable with who I am as a person, and in doing so was able to navigate social spaces in my own life in a different way.
“I would say that my music now has a much more balanced content, just covering the range of daily life experience.”
Sol recently returned from a 10-month trip around the globe as part of the Bonderman Honors Travel Fellowship awarded to him by the University of Washington. He visited 10 countries: India, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Brazil, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and his maternal homeland, Haiti. (Sol is part Haitian on his mother’s side.)
Sol said he was drawn to these particular countries because of the vibrancy of their cultures. “I’ve always wanted to go to Ethiopia, I’ve always wanted to go to India,” he said. “These are places that have some of the longest histories in the world and some of the most vibrant cultures and interesting forms of art and music.
“I went to Jamaica, and for such a small island, to be able to go there and feel the culture that has influenced music and culture all around the world — to go to a place like that and to be able to soak that in was extremely profound and had a huge impact on me. I just wanted to be a sponge and soak up as much as possible.”
Sol said his experiences have already influenced his music.
“I jumped straight into the studio,” he said. He has been working on his next record since his return, creating new music nonstop for the last three weeks.
“It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “I think that as far as content goes it’s very obvious that I’ve been traveling the world. As far as the music goes, I think it’s an interesting blend of my influences abroad as well as staying relevant with a lot of the rhythms and sounds that are happening in hip-hop right now.
“I still love hip-hop. I’m using the genre as a way to touch on some more wordly things that aren’t usually rapped about.”
The Flat Tail Music Festival runs from 6 to 11 p.m. Saturday, June 1, in the Memorial Union Quad on the OSU campus. Sol performs second-to-last, after DJ Vue and before headliner, Hoodie Allen. For more information about the festival and Friday night’s Battle of the Bands, see http://bit.ly/1a2MI7Z. For more about Sol, see http://solsays.com. •