Amid any era of turmoil, both universally & locally, the first step to facing down adversity & obstacles in our shared world begins with working from within to enact the outward change one wishes to see in their own lives. In the timeless lyrical wisdom of Lauryn Hill, How you gonna win when you ain’t right within?—the balance we wish to see in our community starts by centering ourselves to impart beacons of knowledge & care to loved ones & acquaintances that comprise our daily lives. By regrouping & re-organizing ourselves, the collected & consolidated inward aspects of confidence allows one to bestow a power to be reckoned with that they & few else have ever known.
Exemplifying these logics, truths & a whole lot more is Athens’ upstart Linqua Franqa who presents the world premiere advance listen to one of the year’s best releases—Model Minority. Otherwise known as Mariah Parker, the artist shares a stunning full-length that was created while attending the University of Georgia where she achieved a master’s degree in linguistics displaying a remarkable & original gift of expressive gab that shines further on the new album. Slated for release February 23 from Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records (HHBTM), Model Minority is Linqua Franqa’s relentless autobiographical narrative that delves into ultra-real aspects of addiction, reproductive rights, coping with depression & so much more that illustrates the intimate experiences of women in color living in an America that is in need of an urgent wake-up call. What you are about to witness is the state of our fractured union, where Linqua lyrically tells real scathing truths that exhibits issues of self-care, cultural conflicts & the unbound ambition of the human spirit in ways that the six o’clock news & talking heads could never-ever convey.
Linqua Franqa pulls no punches & begins Model Minority without apology that places a super frank form of honesty on display. This is reinforced with an enlightening passion that speaks to all with hearts that can comprehend human empathy & souls that understand the process of healing. On “Up Close”, Linqua immediately zooms the lens up close on everything from chemical dependency and the pressures of what family wants you to be, who you want to be in life & the long, complicated road to getting where you want to go. “Eight Weeks” is one of the most earnest & unusual tracks about the untold conversations surrounding abortion that are not had, but reserved for the sectors of secrecy. In the same way that Linqa dispels the stigma & taboos of addiction of depression, the concepts of reproductive choice are illustrated in terms of both importance & all the involved complications that a woman endures internally & emotionally (with further perspectives on the generational rifts in dialogues that often go undisclosed & unsaid).
Dependencies on others & substances run parallel lines on “Midnight Oil” that examines the pangs & attachments to comforts with a sharp academic wit & cathartic rhythmic delivery. On the interlude of “Breathe In”, Linqua Franqa exhibits the visceral connection to narcotic fixations & their effects that are revealed in a poetic honesty that recreates the experience in a prosody matched by measures of breaths & the corresponding heart rate acceleration. Mental ecosystems & states of mind are examined in ways that exhibit expansive thought processes of making life plans & all the fears, anxieties & everything we over-think when we’re alone (that closes with a spirit assuaging voice mail style message from Mariah’s own mother). Old world backpack boom-baps are blended with classic calls & responses on “The Good Feels” that kicks it in ways that are meta & self-assured that shines with what could be the definition of the Linqua Franqa style & sound. Mariah makes bold moves with further trademark sensibilities on “Gold Bike” that could serve as the the artist’s own entrance theme whenever the emcee arrives on the scene with a bicycle emblazoned in the luster of ore with a supportive posse rolling deep in toe.
With the Linqua Franqa movement strolling onto the second side, “Raw” features a collaboration with local Athens artist WesDaRuler that keeps the mood lively in ways that are bombast, super honest & above all—ultra-real. Wes also lends a hand remixing “My Civilian Life” that accentuates the beauty that surrounds us all despite the daily obstacles (both internal & external) with a quick spitting woodwind-themed production that paints pictures of a thousand gorgeous sunny days. Collaborating with Dope KNife on another remix of “My Civilian Life”, the moods & tensions of the personal expository delivery is given a cinematic musical treatment that heightens the elements of suspense & high stakes that stands in contrast to the previous rendering. WesDaRuler returns for a new take on “Midnight Oil” in a remix that adds piano loops that underscores the emotional energy & layers of a track that trades in narratives of life aspirations & all the absurd & odd attachments that make cameos along the way. Model Minority closes out with an acapella version of “Gold Bike” that presents Linqua Franqa’s genuine aesthetic form with an isolated vocal that underscores the fierce & raw presence of the Athens artist.
We had a chance to catch up with Linqua Franqa in the following candid interview:
First off, tell us what sorts of enlightenment you can impart to the rest of us in the world of semantics & more now that you have acquired a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Georgia.
Haha, I can’t tell if you’re being serious here. Assuming you are, I think the most important thing that I learned during my master’s degree is this. All dialects are rule-bound and systematic, be they the Southern drawl of the Waffle House or the oration of Queen Elizabeth. Doesn’t matter. What in the 90s we called Ebonics but today call African American English is as internally consistent as the way middle class white people talk. That’s just scientific fact, backed up with many thousands of pages of research, so if anyone who tries to tell you that some kinds of English are degenerate, they are an asshole.
What lead you to discover your own unique & original voice in the world of hip hop?
Being a really bookish kid and forever attempting to harmonize with my mom’s singing in the car were probably heavy factors from my childhood.I think discovering Aesop Rock, as late in the game as I was to that, really gave me permission to be as outlandish and technical in my writing as I am today. I have always loved unraveling word puzzles, but being given license to build them as well, as an artist, has been incredibly freeing.
Describe the relationship between your own lyrical bouquets of brilliance to the organic back beats & production. Do the rhymes come first or the arrangements? Which component inform the other, or is it a mutual symbiotic relationship?
The rhymes generally come first, in bits and pieces. The beat then explains to me how the rhymes should be organized. Take, for example, Eight Weeks. Both those verses had been written and floating around in my head for months until I heard the beat and with it the story arch that would hold those verses together. Most of the album was composed that way, with the exception of a few beats I knew in an instant I had to write to and sat down right then and there to do so– Raw is an example of this.
Tell us too about how collaborations with WesDaRuler, DopeKnife & more have further impacted your own approaches & creative visions for Model Minority and more.
Well, let me start by saying that Wes and Knife are geniuses. For the remixes, Wes finger drummed the beats live in the studio on his MPC, which give them the subtly shifting and unstable feel that I love so much. Early in our careers, a lot of rappers make do taking a beat as it is first presented to them and just running with it, but having the chance to work more like a band, the way Wes and I have on this project, has been a gift.
Like on “Gold Bike” & other tracks, I love the way you move from swift spoken verses to melodic sung. For you what is your relationship to the conventions of sung-song & the expanses of rapped lyical bars?
There is a real personal, privy, candid & feminist forward component especially on tracks like “The Con & The Can”, “Raw”, “Midnight Oil” & “Eight Weeks”. Interested in hearing about the cathartic process of conveying intimate aspects from your own life, histories & more into your own artistic approaches of expression.
It feels good to take these shitty, useless scraps—and I mean both things that have happened in my life and the factoids about how English works that my head’s stuffed with—and weave them together into something pretty and wearable. Externalizing them takes their power to harm me away. It’s like dragging my demons out into the village square and hanging them in the stocks.
Also interested in hearing about how you were dubbed, or dubbed yourself with the awesome moniker of Linqua Franqa.
In linguistics, a lingua franca is a language used to communicate across cultures. In parts of post-colonial African, French is spoken across cultural lines, so it’s a lingua franca. English is the lingua franca of the world today. So, too, is hip hop, I think. I chose the name because I wanted my music to do that.
Other local Athens artists & activists that you want to recognize?
I gotta give props to Tommy Valentine, my friend and a candidate of county commission here in Athens. He’s radically changing the conversation we’re having about local politics in Athens and I feel my friendship with Tommy and my work with his campaign have been some of the most transformative things in my life to date. Plus he’s a former rapper, and if he can run for office, so can I, and so can you! Shout outs also to Mokah Johnson of the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement; I and love that Mokah leads with soul and spirit and leaps toward challenges without fear of failure. She’s another person I’m very happy to know.
Some of your favorite emcees out there, not necessarily in Athens, that you are really inspired by right now?
I played a show with Ceschi Ramos recently and was utterly floored. His genre blending is so insane and rhyme delivery just impeccable. Goals, man. On that same show I played with Jonathan Brown, a rapper-slash-spoken-word-artist from New Orleans. His style is totally his own, his lyrics are totally vulnerable, but he’s also a really nice person and I think that’s super important. Others include Musashi Xero of Asheville, Paid in Amerikkka from ATL—their hustle is wild and their rhyme and production game so on point. Plus Son Zoo, of Athens, has always kept me on my toes lyrically, and I appreciate him for that.
What inspires you currently in the Athens scene?
The resilience of some of the rappers here is incredible. To see folks like Seline Haze and Trvy.
Further thoughts on activism in Athens and everywhere in 2018 and what we all can do to stay woke & aware of our worlds & others?
Discomfort and risk are unevenly distributed in our society. Black and brown people and women and queer folks and poor folks and differently-abled folks are asked to bear more discomfort and risk than other people. Frank and humble conversations about and direct action against these ills can be deeply uncomfortable, but it’s only because conversation and action redistribute discomfort more equitably. So I encourage people to sit with their discomfort, interrogate it, have these conversations, and show up when the people need them even when they feel awkward about it.
Spring, summer & fall plans for Linqua Franqa?
Playing at SXSW in a month, then this summer touring as much as I can. Keep your fingers crossed for me; I’ve applied to teach creative nonfiction at the John Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in Hong Kong and, if accepted, plan on doing a few dates.
Linqua Franqa also broke down The Model Minority with the following side for side/track by track breakdown:
“Up Close” was the first song I put together for Model Minority. Fresh out of the relationship I had moved to this city for, I was drinking hard and nightly, taking any drugs I could get my hands on, bringing home anyone with a pulse, driving off all my friends with suicidal rants. I began stitching together pieces of spoken word I had performed over the years, desperate to find a new identity in music. The second and third verses of “Up Close” were old gems, which I topped off with an opening manifesto of how little I wanted to live: I don’t give shits, damns, fucks, but up hope I give with gusto…Altogether, the song gestures broadly to how I have felt basically my whole life; crippled with self-doubt, lost in vices of various kinds, hyper-aware of identity issues, but all the same trying to construct a public persona of capability and chill.
I remember when I first rapped those verses over the Murk Daddy Flex loop, pacing around my mom’s apartment, deaf to the outside world, a few days before Christmas. I felt hope to be alive again, fleetingly.
Springtime came and I thought I’d survived the seasonal side of the depression. The sun came out. Grass flourished. I was over my ex. Still I wanted to die and couldn’t understand why. But I find myself desensitized by how absurdly nice it is to step outside my crib and smell the violets and the hyacinths. In February I discovered I would need an abortion and it was a saddest kind of aha moment. If everything in your environment’s conspiring to uplift you and cannot, then maybe there’s something on the inside that’s the problem. I didn’t finish writing this song til months later, when I had a second, compositional ahamoment and decide to put together these verses, which were written separately.
“Midnight Oil” is mostly a true story. I recall a day where I did indeed spy a pile of powdered orange crumbs in the corner of my room and got down on my hands and knees to taste test it. The rest of that verse is fictionalized, but highly plausible, thinking back to previous periods of my life. I can imagine a younger version of myself licking floorboards with ease.
“Breathe In/Breathe Out” I had initially formalized as a song of its own, and the original opening verse I’ll still perform acapella at shows. It’s braggadocios as hell and Joel really didn’t want it to go on the album because he sensed it didn’t fit with the vibe, and he was right. The remnants were split in half and I’m really happy with the narrative support they give the arc of the LP as a whole.
“The Con and the Can” is produced by Dexx of YOD. The voicemail from my mother at the end is dramatized, by her, which was easy for her to do since it is literally what she says any and every time I call her crying.
“The Good Feels” was my first-ever collaboration with Wesdaruler. The first day we ever met I recorded a demo in front of him at our mutual friend’s studio, and like that, he and all the boys there were visibly shook. Wes right then and there asked me to be part of his Space Dungeon collective. We’ve been good friends ever since.
I wrote “Gold Bike” roughly two years after my friends had kidnapped my then-very-normal bicycle, which I used to get around town and returned it glittering on the day of my 23rd birthday. “Gold Bike” was also written the week after my first ever hip hop performance, which left me reeling and feeling sustainedly hopeful and like my life mattered for the first time in years. I actually met the producer at that show, too, so I feel doubly indebted to that evening.
“My Civilian Life” is my first collaboration I did with Dope KNife. The beat was titled “My Civilian Life” when he sent it to me and I kept the title in honor of his skill as a beatsmith. Producers don’t get enough credit. Another story: Knife is actually a big reason why I rap now. He and I met at a Sage Francis show in Atlanta in 2015 and I loved his set and wanted him to come to Athens. My desire to bring Knife here was a large part of why I booked my first show without having any songs written; I didn’t know who else here could or would open for him, so I decided I would. He couldn’t play the show in the end, as luck would have it. In short, I am a longtime fan of his and really thrilled about the projects we are planning for in the near future.
As well, it should be known that the opening verse of “My Civilian Life” was written for an Apartment Session video shot on a rooftop in Bed-Stuy while I was on my first tour. When I got the invite from Evan Tyor (of Scooterbabe) to take part, the verse poured out of me onto paper in about an hour. The idea was that I play Earl Sweatshirt, only reciting an original verse.
“Raw” is a very subtle, indirect nod to Busta Rhymes, particularly in the opening ya ya ya ya ya’s. Wes was putting together his 4da99 EP at the time, all of which was heavy homage Hip Hop pre-2000 (which everyone should go listen to immediately if they like Raw; it’s one of my favorite hip hop records, period). It was originally going to come out on 4da99, but we both really wanted something of Wes’s on wax and decided to include it as part of this collection.
The line if I died in my apartment like a rat in a cage is also a nod to Aesop Rock, my favorite rapper; it’s copied from the opening of “Dorks” off The Impossible Kid.
On “My Civilian Life” (Wesdaruler mix) and Midnight Oil remix: Wes actually finger-drummed the beats live in the studio on his MPC. The subtle irregularity of the bass and snare drove us completely insane and told us something special was getting created all at the same time.
I wanted people to remix “Gold Bike” because, of all the songs on the album, this one feels like a true dare. The original beat is so iconic (much love to Letsruntrack) that I’m skeptical it could be outdone in different hands, but I’m excited to see what happens.
Linqua Franqa’s anticipated debut album Model Minority will be available February 23 from Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records.