I’ve had several times in my life when I’ve felt lost and looked for any reason to get away from the fast-paced world. One of these times came as I was starting college and realizing I was entering what was going to be the time of my life, but I didn’t want to lose sight of reality around the rest of the world. I wasn’t sure what kind of impact I could have, but I owed it to myself and to the world not to be ignorant. So I dedicated my college years to studying Human Rights and did my study abroad in Kenya. It was an experience that opened my eyes to bigger things in life than some of my other passions like technology and sports. I learned that when resources are scarce (which they always were, particularly in the rural areas I was living and studying in), the focus doesn’t need to be on what we don’t have, but making the most of what we do have. Things like human relationships, trust and care took on a whole new meaning for me. Today, six years later, I find myself working in technology sales, but I never lose sight of what I learned, and truth be told, I often find myself feeling lost and itching to get away again.
Seattle hip-hop artist Sol had a similar revelation a bit over a year ago when he put music on hold for a chance to travel around the world and learn more about himself and life. While it was likely upsetting to his fans to see him drop music like it was nothing, I got it. And though part of me wondered if he’d be able to pick up rapping again after seeing reality in countries like Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti and India, I believed deep down that he would use the experience to tell a better story in his music. And that’s exactly what happened.
Sol didn’t always impress me with his storytelling skills in the past, but today’s release of Sol’s Open Eyes EP is a whole new story. Songs like “Old Him” are a genuine representation of what Sol learned and provide a refreshing perspective on the rest of the world, not just the extravagant one we tend to hear about through hip-hop today. Sol raps: “My belly’s empty, and not because it’s Ramadan/ I simply lost my appetite seeing children starve/ And that’s what’s really hard/ Not your silly bars/ Not your grill, not your cars, not the pills you pop.” Suddenly Sol has a story to tell that’s so real, and it may not quite resonate with everybody right off the bat, but to me it’s an opportunity for Sol to enlighten his listeners on bigger things in life. This EP is Sol’s first step, and he’s got an open lane ahead of him that not enough artists are riding in right now.
There are still songs on the EP like “Jump In,” which still show a bit of the old Sol; it’s poppy, it doesn’t carry too deep a message with it, but it’s still fun to listen to. It’s one of those tracks I turn on every time I want to bounce around a little, and frankly, I appreciate that Sol included a track like that (and bonus track “Dope”) on the collection, because it helps him appear more human than if had he only included serious tracks with preachy messages that might be distant for some of his fanbase or potential fans.
Altogether, I think Sol has taken a leap forward in his career. It goes to show that taking time off, slowing down, and getting one’s bearings doesn’t have to be seen as a pause or a step backward…if done well, it can be a huge step forward. It has helped me tremendously in life, and I think this EP is proof that it has absolutely helped Sol. It helped him craft a new sound, deliver a new message, and gain perspective on life. Sol describes it best in a letter that went out to his fans and promoters today. Hit the jump for the full EP stream and to read the letter from Sol.
Letter from Sol to his supporters:
I write to thank you for listening and for sharing this moment. Today marks not just the release of my new EP Eyes Open, but the return to a calling.
A year and some change ago I left my career on pause in exchange for an opportunity to travel the four corners of the globe. Without any particular motive or agenda, I was truly able to be exposed to a new way of viewing the human experience and my role as an artist and performer.
Coming home to Seattle after ten months soaking up game across four continents, I felt reinvigorated with a new sense of clarity and purpose. With the blessing of music to help me process my thoughts and feelings, I dove back into the creative process. After a summer in the studio, we now have Eyes Open.
Even if the EP is just a mere blip on the radar of music history, this record means much more to me than anything I’ve accomplished to this point. For each question raised with my 2012 albumYours Truly, there is an answer on Eyes Open. After seeing what I have seen and connecting with people in some of the world’s most intense conditions, this was the project I needed to make. As an American and as an artist I battled with the privilege of my position. I entered impoverished communities that lack the resources and connections that I have taken for granted since the day I was born. After spending quality time in places like Ethiopia, Uganda, Haiti (where my family is from), and India, coming back to the “rap life” was a whole other mind-fuck to process.
I have had many sleepless nights (both abroad and back at home)thinking “How can I show people what I have seen?” “What am I supposed to do with this opportunity?” I ultimately settled on the answer…continue the adventure and share the story by doing what I do best; making music.
I didn’t bring a film crew with me on my trip, but instead I brought my rhyme book. The result isEyes Open. Eight songs written on four different continents. No matter what happens in my career after today, I will never be able to shake the humbling experience that sometimes broke me down, certainly toughened my skin, and unquestionably strengthened my heart. Relationships, money, and fame have different meanings now. What hasn’t changed is my love for music and my appreciation to be able to share it with you. Nothing excites me more than the possibilities for the future. Eyes Open!
So much love,
Stream Sol’s EP Eyes Open: