Artist

Photo: Simba Madzina

Ursula Rucker

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Ursula Rucker is a graduate of Temple University’s journalism department. Her career took off in 1994 after she recited her own poetry at an open-mic night at Philly s Zanzibar Blue, and she has become one of today’s top young spoken-word artists. She has collaborated with some of the most innovative artists in music, including 4 Hero, Jamaladeen Tacuma, King Britt, The Silent Poets, Josh Wink, and Bahamadia. She also delivered the closing poems on the three studio releases by Philadelphia hip-hop stalwarts The Roots.

Attracted to diverse genres, with roots firmly grounded in hip-hop, Ursula has released two recordings, 2001’s Supa Sista and 2003’s Silver or Lead. Her later work illustrates her growth as an artist and her ability to transcend the bounds of poetry. The captivating tales she created for The Roots, such as the tragic Return to Innocence Lost, contain subject matter that was motivated by genuine concern for those around her. Whether exploring sexual exploitation, as in The Unlocking, or introducing the lifestyle of a crack-dealing single mother, as in Adventures in Wonderland, she gives listeners an intimate glimpse of urban reality. Whatever the content, Ursula has an uncanny ability to touch people with her soft-spoken, seductive lyricism.

Ursula is considered part of a growing movement that is slowly adapting its aural sensibilities to women, particularly in the area of hip-hop and urban music. Counteracting male artists who casually spout tales of black whoredom, Ursula plays an essential role in the rise of a new crop of female recording artists who deliver strong, intelligent, and visionary lyrics from a woman’s point of view. Kicking knowledge on everything from womanhood to slavery to love, sexism, politics and more, Ursula Rucker redefines spoken word with her trademark socio-political urgency and sweet song-speak. Drawing inspiration from women such as Frida Kahlo and Black Arts Movement activist poet and icon Sonia Sanchez, she balances motherhood, activism and artistry with aplomb. With her rhythmic stories of struggle, she’s confident but never preachy.

Her first recording, Supa Sista (!K7 Records) strikes a delicate balance between hip-hop, new jazz and Philly soul, all infused with poetic vision. Supa Sista is a departure from Ursula’s previous work: by fusing multiple genres, she pushes lyrical poetry to places it s never been. She flexes her skills as a songwriter, lyricist and vocalist, touching on subjects like womanhood, the state of black music, love lost, and child abuse. For this album, Ursula teamed up with a host of talented producers to create a memorable debut that is entertaining, provocative and socially conscious.

With Silver or Lead (!K7 Records), Ursula again pushes the limits of her unique blend of words and music. Working with the top names in electronica and hip-hop, she creates a mysterious, unsettling climate that perfectly suits her texts. Her collaboration with Jazzanova, What a Woman Must Do, is a sharp commentary on the condition of women, while her work with Li’l Louie Vega offers a glimpse of a whole other sensibility, Latin and drenched with sunshine. The other tracks on this acclaimed recording deal with politics, sexism and love, declaimed with uncompromising conviction over a haunting groove.

With her beguiling voice and powerful stage presence, Ursula Rucker is a fresh, singular figure in poetry and music today.

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