It’s a tale as old as COVID-19: A musician pours their heart into an album, only for it to be released into a world marked by social distancing and lockdowns, which forces them to postpone touring indefinitely. Sa-Roc, the prolific rapper from Congress Heights, was one such musician. She was in the middle of a tour and nearing the release of her 10th album, The Sharecropper’s Daughter, when the pandemic arrived.
“The effect for me was a bit seismic, because I’m very attached to doing things a certain way,” Sa-Roc, 40, says, noting that this was the case for many people weathering the early days of the pandemic. “When that shifts in my world, it’s hard for me to adjust and adapt.”
Adjust and adapt she did, and she eventually came to see a few silver linings: “I believe that everything has timing, divine timing. When it’s supposed to emerge, it does,” she tells City Paper. “We finished [the album], and it dropped during a time that I feel like a lot of people needed what that messaging was.”
That’s not to say The Sharecropper’s Daughter offers pure escapism. The title is a reference to Sa-Roc’s father’s upbringing on a Virginia tobacco farm as a sharecropper. Throughout the album, the rapper builds a bridge between her father’s childhood and her own, which took place during the crack epidemic, Marion Barry’s mayorship, and the war on drugs. (She grew up down the street from where Barry lived, she says.) In doing so, Sa-Roc paints a vivid picture of what it’s like to be Black in a country that’s designed to work against you.
But she also celebrates triumph, and resilience. “We buying back the blocks, Black Wall Street pursuit/ We fell couple of times, the rise absolute, trust me,” she raps on “r(E)volution,” which, with its September 2020 release date, was as powerful an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement as any. On “Forever,” Sa-Roc celebrates her unabashed love for herself following a history of self-hatred and self-harm. “When I wake up, no makeup, half naked, I feel like I’m the shit,” she declares. “Pardon my language, but hang ups do not define the kid.”
Though she grieved not being able to bring The Sharecropper’s Daughter to audiences immediately, Sa-Roc also feels immensely grateful that people were able to take in her music slowly. “Being able to sit with people’s responses to what we were putting out, being able to really see directly how people were absorbing the music, being touched by the music, having that time to be able to sit and then be able to listen and re-listen and replay … it was good for me to be able to see that.”
Two years later, Sa-Roc is finally seeing her fans face-to-face, on a headlining tour that brings her to the Black Cat on Nov. 10, where she promises to bring “energy, energy, energy.”
“I’m always super excited to perform at home, because it’s home, you know?” Sa-Roc says. “It feels like a space of reverence and honor for the city I came from, and that created who it is that I am.” Though she’s now based in Atlanta, Sa-Roc flinches when anybody calls her an Atlanta musician without mentioning her hometown. “My perspective,” she says, “is squarely Chocolate City.”
Sa-Roc performs at 7:30 on Nov. 10 at Black Cat in Northwest. blackcatdc.com. $22 –$25.