Over the past few years, Seattle rapper, Sol, would visit New York City to see his brother, who lived in Brooklyn. Sol would stay with his brother, hang out with him and, generally, enjoy the city through the lens of their relationship. At the end of 2018, though, Sol traveled out to the east coast city, but his brother, who recently moved away, was no longer there. As a result, the emcee experienced the city alone, ridding subways and walking boulevards solo. This trip provided Sol with a fresh and unique experience when he eventually linked up with producer, David Ansari who professionally goes by Davey, on that vacation to finish their first-ever collaboration – the track, “Not Me,” which the two artists released today.
“In the past, my experiences in New York were so defined by the fact that my brother lived there,” Sol says. “This was the first time ever for me going to New York when he had moved away. I spent a lot more time alone in a city surrounded by so many people. I saw New York with less of a filter. Then, when I got into the studio, I brought what I saw to the song.”
Sol and Ansari, who is one-half of the electronic group, Vallis Alps, met through a mutual friend, the Emerald City producer, Budo, who famously produced much of the latest album from famed rapper, Macklemore, including hits like “Glorious.” Budo introduced the two and Ansari sent Sol a couple beats. The rapper gravitated to the one they’d use for “Not Me” and he began writing the first verse on the spot. Sol describes being in the zone while writing, enjoying not thinking too hard about the content.
“I try to make myself available to write as soon as I hear a beat,” Sol says. “If I don’t, it disrupts the creative flow. So, super quick, I had the first verse and hook.”
But it wasn’t until months later when the two met up again in New York that the song was finished, completed. The effort on both occasions was seamless. The beat, which sounds almost like a construction crew welding and raising a high-rise, reads, at times, as stressful, indeed. But that was the intent all along. Not only did Sol add his second verse about police brutality and violence against people of color, but Ansari’s original sonic intent was to mimic sirens and other jarring, cacophonous sounds from the city.
“I loved the industrial intensity of the beat,” says Sol. “The metallic sound of it was inspiring to me, visually. Even from the standpoint that it felt like I was Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, or some shit. Like maybe, too, I was involved in the Black Market. It felt underground in this futuristic way.”
Sol says that the beat brought out the “hustler” side and his “slick tongue.” The beat made him want to talk some shit, which is a staple side of any great lyricist – that ability to charm even the most seasoned on the streets. But in the song’s second verse, that’s where Sol’s songwriting talons took hold. Sol upped his lyric game and said what was on his heart. For the collaboration, the duo went by one specific, if not unspoken, rule. Do whatever the song needs.
“For me,” says Ansari, “it always comes down to addressing the needs of what I make. I didn’t make the beat originally thinking about wanting to have a rapper on it. It was more, like, I made something that inspired me and then thought, ‘What does it need to get to the next level?’”
In that sense, the measure of the work is creative authenticity. And that is achieved by listening as much – if not more – than by speaking or creating. For both Ansari and Sol, the measure of their art is its uniqueness – its, yes, authenticity. Without that, there is no individuality. No pure expression of self. And without a pure expression of self, what good is making art?
“Within the realm of me being a rapper,” says Sol, whose second album, Yours Truly, hit number-one on iTunes U.S. hip-hop charts in 2021, “there’s an integrity that I try to bring to my work that is influenced by a set of principles from the emcees who did it in a certain way. Like A Tribe Called Quest, Outkast, people who really valued the album.”
Ansari says he will release his new six-song EP, on which “Not Me” will be prominently featured, in the winter, likely around November. The album will mark his time in New York and stand as an expression of his life in the City That Never Sleeps. There, he saw a great deal of the world. He’d moved to New York City from Sydney, Australia and the worlds were drastically different. So different they spawned a new album altogether. Now, Ansari lives in Los Angeles. He’s making new music borne from his new surroundings. It’s all part of his sonic journey.
“I think music is a means of getting closer to truth,” Ansari says. “It’s a primal need of mine. This entire project has been me being reminded that this is how I interact with the world. This is what I do and this is what I need.”
Check out the track on your favorite digital service.