Getting in touch with RootWords

My Identity
RootWords is an independent rap artist born in the United States to Zambian parents. He lives in Switzerland from where he reaches out to an audience of listeners with his rap music. In 2016, RootWords released the EP "Inappropriate Behaviour" featuring the track, 'My Identity' which got a review on the UbuntuFM Hip-Hop website. UbuntuFM's Ikenna Okeh reached out to RootWords for this exclusive.

‘My Identity’ is a song that addresses systematic oppression with its resultant psychological damage. It says quite a lot lyrically. My question is: did the song set out to inform? Or is it a rendering of music in protest of social injustice?

The song is a reflection of my identity as a black man, and more particularly, a black American. That being said, the song is paradoxical in the sense that I was born in New Haven, Connecticut, lived in the USA till I was 5 years old, and then left to Zambia; which means that my experience as a black American was minimal (to say the least). The same goes for LarynX, who spent some young years in New York. So no, the song was not set to inform or protest but is more of a quick analysis of the condition of the black American resulting from years of oppression that continues today. If you read 'Native Son' by Richard Wright, you could consider this a story of Bigger Thomas.

In your opinion, how did the American society get to this stage where one population group suffers the unequal opportunities you address in your song? What is the underlying factor behind this unpleasant situation?

It is the result of years of oppression, conditioning, and acceptance. If only twenty Negroes had been put into slavery, the greater society might have called the situation unjust and unfair, but there were over hundreds of thousands throughout America. If this enslavement had lasted only a few years, we would call it injustice; but it lasted for over three hundred years. And when something bad happens over such a widespread area for a prolonged period of time, society no longer looks at it as unjust, but more like an accomplished fact. It becomes the status quo.

The oppressed accept their condition, and the oppressors feel no guilt or discomfort in their actions. Both oppressor and oppressed become ignorant by ignoring the weight of history on their shoulders which contributes to the unpleasant economic and sociological environment in which they live.

You go by the name ‘Rootwords’. What is the philosophy behind the name?

One of my favorite Hip Hop groups is The Roots, and one of my favorite rappers is Wordsworth. I simply took Root out of The Roots, and Words out of Wordsworth, and put them together. Thankfully it made sense. Once upon a time, I went by the name T-Al (Time Alternator), and even H2O (Hard to Organise). But by the time I recorded my first song in 1999, I was already calling myself Rootwords.

You have made other outstanding deliveries of Hip-Hop music besides ‘My Identity’. What really inspires your music?

I draw inspiration from life. It can be anything. I am a very pensive sort of guy, so I listen and observe a lot. Subconsciously all that information turns into inspiration for songs. I never know what I am writing about until the song is finished and the music is based on the emotions I feel.

Can we then say that your music champions social causes?

Since I am part of this human experience on earth, have empathy, and get emotionally charged concerning issues of human rights; but I wouldn't say that my music champions social causes. It takes time, research, and reflection to come up with valid opinions, statements, and conclusions on different social matters, and so I refrain from being the loud voice for everyone to turn to.

The days of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr are long gone now, and even they changed their opinions on certain matters as they grew older and wiser. I am learning all the time. I am discovering new truths every day, and so I am reluctant to stand behind a cause that I myself did not experience, nor initiate. And since my music is directed to a wide audience, my message is one of the universal emotions which we all will feel at one point or another in our lives.

From the onset, did you set out to become a rap artist? Or would you say that the art found you?

I would say the art of rap found me. I wanted to be a Dj, but I couldn’t afford the equipment. Then I discovered I could freestyle and was encouraged to write it down. That was the much cheaper option, and it is how I found my voice.

‘Inappropriate Behaviour’ was released in 2016. How would you rate its public acceptance so far?

It is a project that was for giving out to the public for free, and it is Hip-Hop. At the moment, few people have heard it, so I cannot answer your question. I’m sure that it is an EP people will appreciate in the future when they discover my universe through my other projects. On the EP I dealt with subjects I may never touch on again, and it is also a part of my personality I may never share with my listeners again.

The song is called “A Matter Of Time” ... It describes the moment in our lives when we finally decide to face reality ...

Do you have any projects currently in the works?

I am about to release the first single for my new upcoming album “Warning Signs”. The song is called “A Matter Of Time”. It describes the moment in our lives when we finally decide to face reality. It is the "moment of clarity" that arrives when the illusion of your greater society is stripped away. It is a return to that moment when you were born naked before your innocence was lost. It is a song of admission and courage. It is my confession.

Evidently, you have experience in both the American and European Hip-Hop industries. In your opinion, how does one compare to the other?

The American Hip Hop industry influences the rest of the world, simply because it has been in existence for longer. Hip Hop originated from the USA, and so America has always been setting the trends. The European industry (and the rest of the Hip Hop world) models off the American market to know what is hot and what is not. Therein lies the problem. The major companies (who control the trends on the internet with their big budgets) dictate the direction of popular culture, and Hip-Hop is part of that.

Unfortunately, this means that independent artists such as myself are in constant competition with these majors for a place in this game. But hey - I always knew it would be this way from the moment I decided to call myself RootWords. I have a small space to breathe on the internet, but it is mostly out on the live shows with my band “The Block Notes” where I really get to live and shine.

So to answer your question more directly, my opinion is that the industries are the same around the world because the world is the internet, and thus the people who own the internet are the ones who control what is shared. However, there is a whole world which exists outside of the internet, where people can make their own opinions and judgments without being influenced by some invisible trend-setter bias. And that is where I like to live.

In recent times your music has been enjoying playtime on UbuntuFM Hip-Hop online radio station and reaching out to our growing audience currently spanning four continents. Perhaps you have a word or two for them before we wrap up.

Music is very powerful, and so we should all be careful with what we absorb through our eyes and ears ...

I appreciate everyone who takes a moment out of their lives to listen to what I have to say. I sincerely hope that the energy and emotion I put into my music have a positive effect on their lives. Music is very powerful, and so we should all be careful with what we absorb through our eyes and ears. Every word and flow of mine is intricately put together, and if you listen to the music more than once, you are bound to find another layer of meaning. Thank you for your time.

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