Sol: Fighting Back With The Mic

Hailing from the suburbs of Seattle, Sol has been creating in the studio since 12 years old. As a Haitian-American, he has harnessed his rap skills to help rebuild his family's homeland and stay active in the community. Raising thousands of dollars in the wake of the 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew, he remains grounded to his roots. In his most recent release, Legacy, Sol speaks on his family's influence and eyeing the mainstage "since Diddy did the Harlem Shake." 

Before Puberty

“My best friend’s Dad was a huge music junkie,” says Sol. “He played a wide range of songs around the house.” Sol Moravia-Rosenberg, known by his artist name Sol, grew up immersed in records. Bands from the Beastie Boys to The Beatles could be heard reverberating from the speakers. While vacuuming at home one afternoon in the Seattle suburbs, Sol heard ‘When Doves Cry’ by Prince. “I was just a kid, but it put me in a trance,” he says. “It engulfed me.” As the rumbling of the Dyson motor mixed with classically inspired synth fadeout, Sol felt an overwhelming, uncharted connection to the power of music.

He brought that connection to the studio at only 12 years old. Working with older artists who were actively releasing music, Sol absorbed the professional recording environment. “I had this insight into what it takes to live off of your music,” he says. Outside the studio, Sol peddled his CD’s on the streets of Seattle. Before platforms like Spotify and SoundCloud, musicians needed to be foot-soldiers hustling their art into the hands of potential fans.

As a high-schooler, Sol had already accepted the struggles of working as a full-time artist. “I saw people fail...I knew what that felt like, looked like,” he says. “That gives me an edge now as a 28- -year-old not having a normal job.”

Using the studio as an outlet, Sol has struggled with ADHD and a speech impediment since childhood. Classmates mocked him for his stutter. As a successful artist, Sol has learned to stand in the spotlight and share his voice. “I had to find my own path to figuring out how my brain works,” he says. “The structure that my mind doesn’t grasp well is part of the reason I can tap into my creativity.”

 photo: Stacy Jacobsen

photo: Stacy Jacobsen

In developing that creativity, Sol had a mentor in Isaac Meek, the owner and founder of Undercaste Studios in Seattle. Meek trained Sol and prepared him for the business side of the industry. “He was a huge reason why I committed to a life in music,” says Sol. “He made me the artist I am today.”

Learning from Meek, Sol stays hungry but grounded. Running a business properly as an independent artist stretches wallets and tests creativity. An intriguing idea, like a video concept, can drain more cash than expected. “It’s easy to go over budget,” says Sol. “If I have more money and we can afford to spend extra, sometimes we do.” He makes these decisions without the security of a major label’s pocket. Starting out in the industry, he learned from financial missteps. Now, he has people around him to ease the burden. “To sustain my career, I hired a bookkeeper, paid attention, and learned to negotiate,” says Sol. “As an artist, it’s not the first thing I think about, but I have to understand that world.”

Helping Haiti

Before Sol made a dime from music, his aunt paved the way for his path as an artist. Yanick, the younger sister of Sol’s mother, grew up in Haiti. She painted. Her parents couldn’t understand why. They even stood against it. Yanick’s family couldn’t grasp the idea of painting as a career. To them, and Haitian culture as a whole, art was a hobby. Upon joining the army, Yanick moved to the States and received her citizenship through service. Later in her 20s, she became a full-time artist to her parents’ dismay. “I had an emotional conversation with Yanick,” says Sol. “I didn’t know how hard it was for her...taking that path without having the support.”

Witnessing the torment of her younger sister, Sol’s mother never pushed her son away from art. Sol started drawing at a young age and showed promise. His parents even let him skip core classes to take classes in drawing and painting. “My family and teachers thought I was going to become an artist,” he says. Down the line, Sol put down the paint brush and channeled his creative energy into music. “Even though my parents never fully understood hip-hop, they gave me a chance.”

 Sol in South Africa

Sol in South Africa

Seeing his aunt live as an artist empowered Sol to walk a similar path. “She bore that burden for me,” he says. “I didn’t have to face the same questions and pushback.” Even though he rarely draws anymore, Sol and his aunt still share a powerful bond through art. “She was just painting a portrait of me the other day,” he says. “We’ll always have that connection.” Building upon that connection, Sol traveled the globe for ten months as part of the Bonderman Fellowship Program at the University of Washington. As required by the program, he trekked alone. “Everything I that I thought knew about the world changed,” he says. “I was never really alone because I met people everywhere.” Forging friendships from scratch, Sol pulled up to places knowing nobody. He put his faith in strangers. “People are largely good,” he says. “We all want similar things.” Crossing continents with few bags and a tight budget, Sol cut out excess. “On Thanksgiving in South Africa, I found cranberries and cooked with people I had just met,” he says. “It wasn’t a ton, but we were happy.”

While abroad, Sol observed the heights of joy and depths of suffering. When his people of Haiti suffered the destruction of Hurricane Matthew, Sol organized a relief concert in Seattle. In the storm, Mica de Verteuil, Sol's other aunt, lost her home and the ten village school she spent the last 41 years of her life building.

Calling upon his platform, Sol brought his fans together for a benefit show to rebuild his aunt’s schools in Les Abricots. “It was mom’s idea to get off my ass and use my resources,” he says. “My Aunt Mica’s story ties into my philosophy as an artist.” Sol’s mother instilled in him the power of education. She left Port-au-Prince to study in Puerto Rico, and earned her master’s degree at the University of Washington. Graduating from his mother’s alma mater, Sol valued the benefit of a degree on his career in the studio “I was raised in a way where education was viewed as the most valuable thing you can have.”  

 Les Abricots, Haiti

Les Abricots, Haiti

Raising money for education in Haiti, Sol tapped into his skills as a performer. People that cared about his music became engaged with his family and his aunt’s village. “Artists should ask more for other people’s support,” he says. “If they believe in you as an artist, they’ll believe in your passions.”

Compared to those in Haiti, Sol recognizes his own privilege. “It’s still possible to benefit from white privilege as a person of color,” he says. “I’m so light-skinned.” Watching his mother flee Haiti and earn a scholarship, Sol stays grateful for a middle-class upbringing in the northwest. “My existence in this world comes from a place of privilege,” he says. “I had parents who supported me and I had access to a studio at such a young age.”

Legacy

Sol If You Don't Call.jpg

Releasing one of his most recent songs, If You Don’t Call, Sol strayed from conventional promotion. He hung up posters in the style of old school, illicit advertising cards around New York, LA, and Paris. The posters listed a number that fans could call and listen to the track prior to release. The song speaks on losing touch with those who were once close. “What happens if you call?” he says. “When they call, what happens?” When someone dials the number on the poster, a woman answers and hands the phone to Sol. “There’s something different about the sonic quality through a landline,” he says. “It’s a low-fi kind of experience.” Taking his sound from the landline to the main stage, Sol opened for Macklemore at Seattle’s Key Arena this past month. Macklemore booked an all-hometown opening lineup for both shows. “It was a dope moment for the city,” says Sol. He grew up watching the Supersonics in the same arena, and has known Macklemore since he was 14. As teens, they recorded together in Macklemore’s closet.

Now a man with sold out shows and millions of streams under his belt, Sol thinks about his mark as a musician. “I want to be remembered for putting people in a better place, and adding to the conversation of hip-hop,” he says. His most recent release, Legacy, addresses his love for hip-hop and desire to dent the culture. The song was inspired by the photo in the single artwork. “I found a picture of myself from freshman year,” he says. “I was in the back of the class writing raps with a cue tip afro.” He remembers dreaming of greatness as a naive kid. “The stakes are much higher now,” says Sol, “but the love I have for hip-hop is still the same.”

 Key Arena, Seattle (photo: Avi Loud)

Key Arena, Seattle (photo: Avi Loud)


Listen to 'If You Don't Call' by Sol below:

Watch the Music Video for 'If You Don't Call' by Sol below: