Indie hip-hop legend Sole, also known as Tim Holland, has been making dense, politically-minded, avant-garde hip-hop for more than 22 years. It all started with a cassette tape release in 1993 and Sole’s unique brand of music has been blasting from the headphones of underground hip-hop heads for more than two decades. Almost inhumanly prolific, Sole seems to have a constant stream of mixtapes, proper albums as a solo MC or more recently with his band Sole And The Skyrider Band.
Although originally from Portland, ME, Sole moved to Denver in 2009 and has not looked back. Sole recently sat down with The Huffington Post to talk about music, what inspires him, and his deep involvement with the Occupy Denver branch of the larger Occupy Wall Street protest movement.
What brought you to Denver?
I have lived all over the place. I was born in Portland, ME, moved to Oakland, and lived there for 5 years, moved to Barcelona lived there for a while, then spent some time in the northern Arizona outback. I moved to Denver in 2009. I wanted to move somewhere that combined all of these experiences, the culture of a metropolis, the awe inspiring beauty of nature and mountains, the clean air, the ability to live affordablly and have a high quality of life -- Denver combines all of these things.
I love the food here (shouts out to Watercourse, City O' City, Jerusalem, and Sputnik), I love being able to go to the mountains whenever I want, I love being able to ride my bike anywhere I want. It's such a great place to live. I love the four seasons and how it effects my creative process. I also believe that in almost any apocalypse scenario this location, climate and elevation is the best place in the United States to be situated.
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What inspires you to make music?
I'm kind of all over the place. My obsessive compulsive nature kind of leads my interests in very specific directions. In the early 2000's I was reading mainly beat poets and Howard Zinn/Noam Chomksky kind of stuff. Come mid-2000's I read a lot of situationist/Marxist/anarchist literature. Then, 2005 and on I started getting more articulate on my ideas on post modernism/critical theory and reading stuff like Baudrillard, Foucault, Adorno, Zizek, etc. During the last three years or so I have mainly read epic poems and sci-fi novels from folks like Arthur C. Clark, Dan Simmons, Francois Villon, and random mythology. So what I am reading and what I am experiencing is what directly inspires my work more than anything, I pull on a thread of where my obsessions are going and it leads me in new directions. Because I have all the free time in the world to do whatever I want I'm able to see these things through. So that is my primary inspiration, pulling threads and seeing what falls.
Tell us about the new 'Dispatches From The American Fall' mixtape and "rap as journalism:"
Well as soon as I heard folks were occupying wall street I knew that this 99% meme would be very powerful and that conversation about class consciousness in America was about to change. I also knew that there probably aren't many other rappers out there who have made as many songs about the economy and the empire as I have. For a while I had wanted to make a "Sole index" -- a kind of sampler with tracks from each of my albums, but never found the time to do it. Because I had so many songs on this topic, it was easy for me to just go through and pick 20 or so of my favorite topical songs from different
points in my career and put 'Dispatches' together.
Over the past couple years I have really been fascinated with the idea of "rap as journalism" and different ways of taking popular rap format and using it to intervene immediately in current events. The rise of LIL B and his massive output of video content really inspired me as well, I thought that I could take my ideas of "rap as journalism" and take a few notes from LIL B on how to effectively use social media.
One method I have used a lot lately is the Situationist idea of "detournement," where I take a mainstream rap song and change its meaning (often reversing its meaning) to express critiques of empire, capitalism, misogyny, etc. Throughout my career I have always been inspired by how artists like Bob Dylan and Woodie Guthrie were able to make "popular songs" that articulated the frustrations of working people. Theorists like Guy Debord always implied that art that does not fight against the prevailing winds of dominant culture are worthless and although this is a harsh statement, I choose to err on what I consider to be the right side of history.
Tell us about your involvement with Occupy Denver:
I have never been around so many smart, passionate and dedicated people. It's crazy that I have been living in this city for two-plus years now and few of us have ever crossed paths. I've never met such a wide cross section of society that I relate to on so many levels. I sit there with liberal democrats, anarchists, socialists, conservatives, and nihilists -- and all are dedicated to seeing this movement succeed. Of course everyone has their differences and that plays out on many levels, in many ways that makes us stronger. But what is important is what unites everyone who falls under the umbrella of the 99%. Many people believe that this movement is our last chance before the whole world goes up in smoke. I had already seen the world going up in smoke as a foregone conclusion, but I'm down to pitch in just in case it can be prevented.
How is it on the ground since the tent city eviction?
With 'Hickenlooperville' gone it certainly was a blow to Occupy Denver, but I think Civic Center Park is much nicer. I love holding our general assemblies in that Greek amphitheatre. And the state's brutality has definitely strengthened our resolve. I can personally say that that might have been the most traumatic experience of my life, when the police raided Occupy Denver that Thursday night. But once I got hip to their tactics, they don't frighten me anymore. This last weekend (Oct. 29-30), they brought in over 300 riot police with gas masks over seven of our tents -- it's really unbelievable. People still think we can negotiate with the state and I disagree with that -- the police protect the 1% the state is propped up by mega-corporations and doesn't think it needs to respect the desires of its citizens. They think that protest has a curfew.
The mainstream news serves its corporate owners and will do everything it can to destroy the movement by painting us as reckless drug addicts, etc. There are people who think that we can still petition/picket our way out of this, but I'm afraid they are wrong. What we are witnessing through the general assemblies is a refined process of direct democracy, this direct democracy is better than the electoral college or the gerrymandering of districts to favor the few over the many -- this real kind of democracy should replace our current system. A few half-hearted bills and attempts at reform won't be enough, the system that is in place will need to be replaced. The government knows this and they know they have to fight us tooth and nails or they will lose their jobs. There are people who think that by not asking for handouts from the state that we would be burning bridges -- we have seen those bridges, they are the riot police.
How are the occupiers handling the winter weather?
On the real, folks need winter supplies. We just set up a treasury, so please donate money, donate tents, donate sleeping supplies, anything that can help the occupiers survive the winter. The Occupy Denver website has more information on donations. I am in favor of moving to a new location, so if anyone has any ideas please bring them to our General Assembly.
Man, I have really enjoyed NOT working on any music lately. That said, I'm dropping an instrumental mixtape project on cassette/digital probably in December. I've collected most of the music for my first official solo album in six years which I've got three songs recorded for and I'm currently working on. Not sure when it will be out, I think March/April. I'm touring Europe this month, so I'm pretty psyched about that. I'll be trying to visit an Occupy in every city I visit and keep it all on a videoblog on The Sole Reader. I finished a DVD documentary thing where I talk about philosophy and art a few months ago, but after what has happened in the past month I feel I need to revisit it because much of my pessimism about my generation has dissolved in the past month.
More information about Occupy Denver can be found at their website.
WATCH Sole and The Skyrider Band's new video "Napoleon:"