Plenty of "conscious" emcees are content to spot mop with soap and water, using elbow grease on a pet political peeve or a specific social sinkhole—education, violence, corruption, etc.
But Anticon co-founder Sole—who's "too Bakunin for your backpack rap," if you believe the best boast from his fourth and latest release, Sole & The Skyrider Band—takes the panoramic approach. He'd much rather scrub every inch with ammonia, count down the minutes until the apocalypse, and hope against hope for some sort of intervention.
So it's fitting that a chat with Sole, who now calls Arizona home, centers on a few hefty concepts from global warming to job migration. Just the sort of stuff you'd expect to plague a guy who spits psycho-fraught lines like "Up to my neck in confusion, or is it lava?"
But Sole, a 30-year-old bearded rapper named Tim Holland who was raised in Maine, believes he's doing more than spinning wheels and blowing smoke. On Skyrider, Sole aims to become a hip-hop Bakunin, the Russian radical he jokingly calls "the OG anarchist." It's a bit of a stretch, sure, but there are moments in conversation where the thought of the globetrotter landing in a Siberian work camp for, uh, picking the "wrong words" doesn't seem all that crazy: "People are poor, ignorant and disenfranchised in ways that would make George Bush jump for joy." That, followed by: "Nothing in our country is standing on solid ground. It's all teetering on the brink."
Not quite Bakunin, but the frame is crystal: Tim Holland is a no-bullshit realist, and he isn't that fond of our cultural trajectory. Which wouldn't be all that impressive (there are a few thousand protest songs, right?) if it wasn't for his vocal delivery, and the screaming-on-a-soapbox fervor it can conjure. From the opening smears of "Sad Day for Investors" to the hulking robotics of "Stupid Things Implode on Themselves," Sole sounds wily, unhinged and, most of all, scared shitless. It's in his rushed phrasing, his bedraggled tone, his crazed staccato. He blows his ideas past their own messages. Verses become felt. So even when he's not tackling the entire world—maybe when he's just taking a break to sprinkle ash on a strip mall or remind us that you can't kill God with a slingshot—the clatter still sounds like every single thing hangs in the balance. Because Sole considers it all—from the spread of McCulture to the rise of Fox News—connected like one massive, ratty tapestry.
"I've been around the country, outside of the big cities and college towns, where most Americans live," says Holland, who has called Maine, Barcelona, San Francisco and northern Arizona, where all of this record was recorded, home. "It's a lot of churches, strip malls, Ann Coulter, people learning about the outside world through watching TV that's completely removed from reality."
And don't even get him started on the music industry. Connected, remember?
"Before I did this record I was pretty dissatisfied with the industry, wishing I had way more money, doing the unhealthy thing of wondering why gimmicky acts like MIA are the biggest thing in the world and people like me still have to shovel shit," he says.
It's a tough question: Is Sole shoveling shit because it's no fun to hear what he considers the truth? Probably, but he's OK with that, he says: "I'm not interested in love songs or diary raps. I wanted to ... put my own frantic dialogue out there and use history and the present as the backdrop."
Sole & the Skyrider Band plays Downtown Event Center in Raleigh Monday, Feb. 4. The show starts at 9 p.m.
Sole has lived in quite a few places during his three decades. We asked him about the places he's called home.
FAVORITE: I didn't really appreciate Maine when I lived there. My favorite thing there is my family.
LEAST FAVORITE: The hyper-aggressive sort of depressed redneck vibe.
HOW IT AFFECTED HIS MUSIC: I was a complete outsider in Maine, so everything was speculation and a sort of left-field-obsessive take on art—I mean, rap.
FAVORITE: That Moroccan hash, oh how I miss it. That and everything being beautiful. Barcelona is how cities should be laid out.
LEAST FAVORITE: Laziness. Being an illegal immigrant. Not much good vegan food. Isolation.
HOW IT AFFECTED HIS MUSIC: I didn't produce a lot of music in the period I lived in Barcelona. I mostly read and tried to develop some new perspectives.
FAVORITE: The snow, mountain air, hikes. The isolation. I think I prefer living in the middle of nowhere.
LEAST FAVORITE: Worrying about my dogs getting eaten by mountain cougars and wolves when I let them out at night.
HOW IT AFFECTED HIS MUSIC: Arizona is basically an extension of Barcelona. I continued just reading a lot, until Skyrider came out and we formed a band and did the whole mountain men make a record thing.
FAVORITE: Anticon. I miss being around all those guys. And the food in the Bay is the best.
LEAST FAVORITE: High rent. And it got kind of boring.
HOW IT AFFECTED HIS MUSIC: Being around like minds I blossomed, but it got to a point where I wanted to separate and do my own thing.