When you think ‘hard as f*ck’, you don’t always think of a stay-at-home mom. But, halfway into Sum-01’s intro track, you already get a feel for an artist whose hungry to spit after too long away from the mic.
The London rapper is back after an eight year haitus with her second album – 2 Dolla Holla 2.0.
It’s a re-entry into the rap scene for Sum-01 – AKA Trish Kiwanuka – and part of what she calls her third comeback.
This latest comeback was… more prolonged in the making, but having kids, family life and dwindling support networks meant less time to spend writing and recording.
Thankfully, that all changed about 18 months ago.
It was longtime London hip-hop pillar DJ Hullewud (Break North radio on CHRW and just about every rap show ever held in London) who convinced Sum-01 to get back into the rap game, after a 2016 show at the former Martini Bar.
At the time, she said she didn’t think she had any rhymes left in her. However, she started going to local shows again and the inspiration followed.
Sum-01 came to Canada in 1984, the daughter of Ugandan refugees. She was just two years old at the time, so she had no memories of the civil war or the struggles facing her family in Africa at the time.
“I grew up with rose coloured glasses,” she said. “I was lucky.”
But the luck didn’t last. Racism became a very real part of life for the artist.
Just a few lines from Life and Times puts you in the mindset of a refugee family caught in the system.
While her line, “the only black family in the east end,” is delivered tongue-in-cheek, it was a reality for Sum-01 and her family.
“There was racism in Old North, but it was different because people had more money,” she explained. “It was a different kind – there was more understanding. But in the East end it was different. It was really quote-unquote ‘redneck’.”
Thankfully, she used that for inspiration, and Life and Times is testament to that.
Unintentional role model
Sum-01’s music reinforces many positive social themes.
Firstly – it’s okay to be an artist and a mom. It takes a strong backbone – especially when you’re a female MC – but worth the effort, she said. It was a realization that took a long time to reach, however Sum-01 incorporates those experiences into her raps.
A recurring theme in her songs is female empowerment and having strong personal values. However, she said she doesn’t necessarily consider herself a feminist rapper. It’s a loaded term, she noted, and there are too many interpretations and ambiguities to sell herself as such. However, she said she is “150 per cent” supportive of feminism.
“I wouldn’t mind being called one,” she said of the feminist label. “But I don’t know if I own that because it’s a lot of responsibility.”
Bring it back, boom-bap
Where 2010’s Oh No She Didn’t was a mixed bag for beats, 2 Dolla Holla 2.0 is decidedly boom-bap.
The beats for the latter were selected by Hullewud, using popular samples from well-known artists.
In the early days, however, Sum-01 said they were all sourced online.
“Back then myspace was a thing so you could get beats for really cheap or for free,” she explained. “I don’t think it had a really cohesive sound at all.”
She’s completely frank about sourcing her music.
“I’m just jacking beats that they’ve already done,” she said. “But ones that really spoke to me.”
While some rappers who jack beats tend to leave in the hooks and write around them, Sum-01’s lyrics are all her own from start to finish. And even though the transition to boom-bap is apparent on 2 Dolla Holla 2.0, her style from back in the day compared to now is not all that different.
“It’s really just me being me.”
The latest album was released at the annual X-Mas Wrap at Call the Office, but digital copies were released on bandcamp January 1. True to the album title – 2 Dolla Holla 2.0 costs a lean $2.
“Everyone has a toonie in their pocket,” she said. “The whole point is getting it out.”
She is currently applying for a Factor grant to fund a full-length album in 2019, and looking for any opportunity to play in the meantime.
Her top three albums are:
Lauren Hill – The Miseducation of Lauren Hill
Nas – God’s Son
Kanye West – College Dropout (an admittedly guilty pleasure)
Meanwhile, fans waiting for the next Sum-01 show can listen on bandcamp, and for low price of a toonie, take advantage of a real two-dolla holla.
Feature photo courtesy of Sum-01