From her start as a Temple University journalism grad and her time in the pre-Black Lily/Zanzibar Blues poetry scene, up through her explosion as a spoken word, Afro-house music queen (King Britt’s 1994 club hit “Supernatural,” anyone?!) into her present role as the regal and righteous mistress of dramatic performance prose, Ursula Rucker has used words like a sabre stuck with feathers. She can stab. She can tickle. She can provoke and draw blood. She can titillate.
While albums such as Supa Sista, Silver Or Lead, Ma’at Mama album art Ma’at Mama, Ruckus Soundsysdom and She Said have been full-blown meals, EPs and singles like her newest record, “Or Stay Alive,” have been equally tasty, filing and focused on portraying the now (“strife or strive, survive or thrive/live it narrow or live it wide/sneak around in the shadows or never hide”) with social-politicized prowess and poignancy, as well as communal self-love and hope.
For the sake of prescience, “Or Stay Alive” has nothing to do with COVID-19 as it was written and recorded with Dusseldorf, Germany DJ-producer Daniel Rateuke months before the pandemic’s strike.
“Okay, so at the end of January, someone from Foliage Records hit me up with a recording request,” said Rucker. “The producer’s name is Daniel Rateuke. I listened to the track. I dug it. I felt it. If I don’t. I don’t do it. Even if I’m dirt fucking broke. Jussayin’. So yeah, I’ve been putting out so many high energy/good vibe dance/house/techno type jawns over the past couple of years. I noticed I had a nice flow going with it. And I’d like to keep that nice flow flowing. I want to spread this poetry with music love and power and hopefully put some strong fly authentically good energy out into the atmosphere! I want to keep doing that. Hence, the newest joint.”
And yes, Ursula Rucker is amazed at her hitting upon a theme that plays into the currency of a pandemic and a need to survive.
“I just can’t stop trippin’ on how ‘Or Stay Alive’ was written a month and a half ago, when I wasn’t paying attention to Corona at all, still traveling, just a glimmer of a thought off in the distance. But it’s somehow so timely and apropos. Wild, right?”
Rucker finished this most recent missive to me with the exclamation, “Artists are often prophets!”
I do, however, want to mention that my last conversation with Rucker focused on her one-time Germantown neighbor and old family friend, pen-and-ink artist Leroy Butler who passed away over the weekend.
The 94-year old artist created Afro-conscious, space-sailing covers for Sun Ra with 1973’s “Discipline 27-II,” 1976’s “Sun Ra And His Arkestra/Featuring Pharoah Sanders/Featuring Black Harold” and 1983’s “A Fireside Chat With Lucifer.” Butler also crafted elegant drawings for neighbors Khan Jamal, Monette Sudler and the rest of their Sounds of Liberation ensemble whose once-lost recordings were recently released by Brewerytown Records.
Rucker hailed Butler as “King Leroy” and called him a gentle soul.