Boston hip-hop artist and poet Oompa first played her local Sofar in March 2018, but has quickly become a part of the Sofar community with four more shows in Boston and one in Atlanta under her belt. She talks with us about what it’s like to express her identity (black, queer, hip-hop artist) in her work, the strength of the under-the-radar Boston hip-hop scene, and more:
Sofar Boston in March. An artist canceled last minute, so they asked me to come and jump in since we had applied. They said there’s no PA or anything, and I wasn’t used to that but was up for trying it. It was a house show with a ton of shoes outside the door, and I did an a cappella poetry set. It was incredible, a packed room, and from there I was hooked.
Ben Cosgrove won me over. He’s a solo pianist and completely captivating, a performer with great energy. I did a show recently with an all women bill with Rozie Baker and Stains of a Sunflower. That bill was fire; everyone was amazing. I did a Sofar in Atlanta, and there was a cat named 7-AM. Really dope R&B artist.
Jazmine Sullivan, Chance the Rapper, GoldLink, Big K.R.I.T., J. Cole
What I’m learning is that hard work doesn’t pay off immediately, no matter where you go. That’s a truth for me. Being an artist in Boston right now, especially hip-hop, is that we’re on the verge of something special. It’s very DIY right now. People are taking things into their own hands. The things that people need or want to see, they’re finding those resources themselves and making that happen so it’s useful to artists. This attitude has developed that Boston doesn’t have hip-hop, but it actually does. The young people on the DIY tip have turned a microscope towards Boston’s scene. We’re an incredibly visible city with hip-hop because the things that are happening in other cities are now happening here. People have been trying to make it happen for a long time. People are saying, “What is the need? Now I’m going to fill it.” It’s not a dog eat dog mentality, and it forces us to collaborate.
This change recognizes that hip-hop as a culture and people in hip-hop are wide ranging, and that it’s not just rap. It’s a lifestyle, and it’s a different range of genres; that’s being recognized, and that’s very cool to see. I’m a ‘90s baby, and I’m an educator, and the things I really care about are the people that look like me and that I represent. I think I have a responsibility to represent and represent well. That’s one goal I have. What attracts me to hip-hop is that there’s blood and grit in it, there’s a rawness, and and I never want to forget that in my music. I want to pay attention as a student and always develop that. That’s what I want to focus on, and within that, I hope i can carve a lane for myself that doesn’t force me to compromise myself and what I represent.
I used to think that it didn’t matter, and I was in the camp that it mattered more what I was saying. This was early on, so now I think it’s hugely important to me to talk about and be present, and make it clear the identities that I hold.
I remember the first time I saw two poets who are my friends who are black and queer – there was a feeling I never had before, that I never have to sacrifice any part of my identity to enjoy this. Not only that, there were so many things during those sets that made me feel like an insider to their work and commentary in a way that i had never been before, things that might have gone past the rest of the audience. I wanted to create that feeling for other people. It’s important to take the whole package. You can’t just take one part, you have to take both; you have to sit and listen to this content about queerness. At a minimum, feel like being a part of the conversation at large. At a maximum, I hope I can engage people in that conversation.
What has changed undeniably over time is technology. Civil rights, government, politics: there’s an unveiling of what’s been happening since the conception of our country, our world. We’ve always had a duty to imitate life and speak things to power. That urgency has been the same across time. There are people who haven’t had to experience the world as a rough world that are now waking up, which is better late than never, but the role of an artist in that way I see as the same as always.
But with globalization of the music industry and technology – it makes everyone’s job a little easier and a little harder at the same time in terms of accessibility. Everyone can do it, but because of that it makes it harder to do it better and to stand out. The hustle is 10 times harder. The call is to not do what everyone else is doing, but what we’re supposed to do; to find it and do it as well as we can. What is our message, what do we stand for and where do we stand in that?
What I like about Sofar is the way in which as a hip-hop artist who normally plays with a band or track, it forces me to think about how else my music can take shape. If it’s a cappella or if it’s acoustic, what does that sound like? Every time I do one it forces me to think about that, to walk away and say I can do so many different things. It gives me a newness to the music every time, which is really cool.
Sofar is at people’s houses and offices after hours, and folks are sitting on the floor really close, sharing stories and drinks, so it naturally sets you up to feel like you’re part of a community. For the people who attend, this is their night, this is what they’re choosing to do that night, and I think it’s because they feel like they have a place in it. As an artist, I feel inducted into that. I really truly feel like the Sofar Boston team has my back as a musician in a way you don’t always find. That makes Sofar really a special place, and why I’m always down to do it.