BioUrsula Rucker has never been afraid to take it there. There, that place, deep, inside, up and above, where she carves emotion with piercing lyrical cadence. There, where poetry and music intertwine, melodies and words mingle. On her third album, Rucker sets her sights There, aspiring towards an ancient Egyptian kemetic principle, the foundation of universal order and balance — ma’aat — truth. Hence the album title: ma’at mama.
“Ma'at is also the name of the goddess whose power works to keep this truth, this balance, ever present and functional,” she muses at home in Philadelphia, surrounded by her four children, all under age of 12. “Some believe she is at the top of the hierarchy of Egyptian gods and goddesses, for without universal order there is nothing but chaos and destruction.”
Mother of four, Rucker has reached a personal balance that is evident in ma’at mama. “It has been something I keep in my heart, something that is beautiful, simple, powerful and a guide through this crazy life,” she explains of the balance between motherhood and living as an artist. “Now that I am a mama of four black boys in America, I need all the strength to raise them and do my best to achieve good human being-ness, so I can show them the way. Supa Sista has evolved into ma'at mama.” From her native Philadelphia, Rucker’s affinity for crafting words catapulted her message into hungry ears when she began to read publicly in 1994 at Zanzibar. The Temple University journalism graduate struck a chord in Philly’s soul that reverberated around the world with her mezzo-soprano speak. Her recordings with the Silent Poets, Jamaaladeen Tacoma and Josh Wink captured the public’s imagination, so when Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson asked her to compose the final cuts on three consecutive Roots albums, she found an eager international following. In 2001, her !K7 debut Supa Sista featured production by 4Hero, King Britt and Jonah Sharp and introduced Ursula Rucker as a talented poet and solo artist with a strong lyrical voice. Backed again by an assembly of diverse, top shelf producers that included The Roots, Louie Vega and Jazzanova, her 2003 release, Silver and Lead further extended her exploration of self, race and femininity. With ma’at mama, Rucker shows a new level of maturity in her writing.
As usual she does not mince words, exposing various personal insights and truths with steel-cut precision.
Then, there’s her lifelong love of Prince. “If I would go through a hard time I would listen to something otherworldly godlike so sexy and so fine. It was all I needed,” she says with pride. Prince’s musical influence is more clearly recognizable in ma’at mama’s production style than on previous releases, as Rucker is joined by vastly talented producer Anthony Tidd who uses traditional African percussion, raucous guitar, and slinky synthesizers to create his sound. She worked with a handful of other producers as well, but the sound remains consistently impassioned, whether melancholy or upbeat.
While her perspective as a proud mother informs much of the content, her understanding of her own upbringing drives this project. “I’m really taking into account who my parents are and what their life is like. My father is black and he’s from Lynchburg, Virginia. My Mother is Italian, born in this country. They got married in 1952, which when I think about it, it took so much courage. They met at a luncheon with a jukebox and a counter down on Market street in Philly.”
True to form, Rucker’s albums are poetry in motion, guided by a time signature that speaks to the human experience with honesty and poignancy. Sensuality oozes with mention of body parts in “Black Erotica.” She kicks straight goodness in the acapella “Church Party”, an ode to the glory days with clear imagery. They all stand in a buffalo stance/B-boy posin’/Skin and style pressed up against church hall wall/3-D graffiti hit/Somebody say, Exotic! Exotic!
Wise listeners should keep liner notes on hand.
These connections are made through intense outpourings of emotion, at times surprisingly subdued, then more overtly pronounced. “Poon Tang Clan” is one of such power pieces, exploring a woman’s reality in a man’s world. Why am I so raw? Cause I don’t fuck with protocol or propriety.
“It’s something that’s been around for awhile. I recorded it for one of the Roots albums,” she says. “They thought it would be too hard for their audience to grasp.”
Rucker does not shelter her audience. She’s honest, vibrant, heartfelt and at the core —true. She ends “For Women” with a grand declaration. Call me crazy, divine, Ma’at, true honeybun, Supreme Pontifica, electric lady, holy prostitute. I don’t care what you call me. I know who I is. Rucker, a global activist, enlightens in the recording studio and at her powerful live shows. Recently she has performed at FREEDOM Festival in Australia, to raise awareness for Amnesty International’s global “Stop Violence Against Women” campaign. By her own definition, she is ma’at mama to the core.
Oh yes, she’s gone there, to that place.