Reflections on Sammus
I saw Sammus last night! For those of you who don’t know, Sammus is an NYC-based producer, rapper, and PhD student who slings beats about her complex and interwoven identities as a nerd, a black woman, a gamer, and an academic, just to name a few. She’s performed at MAGfest, SXSW, and a bunch of other gatherings.
My good friend Jake and I drove up to Philly from Baltimore for the show. We parked and got the keys to our AirBnB (me, walking across the street, exclaiming at Jake, “I feel like such a fucking millennial right now!”), which was an adorable little studio apartment on S 3rd Street. I was, and still am, sick as hell, and honestly all I wanted to do after we got there was sleep. I dosed up on guaifenesin and ibuprofen and we walked over to the venue. Walking through Philly made me a little wistful for travel, made me feel a tiny bit jaded at being a lifelong Baltimorean. (No shade to Baltimore, of course. I just need to get out more.)
We got to PhilaMOCA, which, little did we know, was TINY, and a Fucking Mausoleum (spoopy, right?). We walked in the open door and Sammus was right there, doing a mic check. My dopey, virus-infused self made a beeline for the water bottles and the first open couch, but I still managed to bop along to the opening acts — Empath, Ivy Sole, and Sad13. Ivy Sole fucking killed it with her Fetty Wap and the Chance covers, and I can’t wait to check that shit out for real on Spotify, and while not too delirious from whatever this virus is to fully experience things.
And then my girl Sammus came on. It was kind of cool (for everyone there into Sammus) that it that was Halloweekend Saturday, because there was almost no one there, so the show was extremely intimate. She came on stage and told us that she was sick and losing her voice (definitely audibly losing her voice), but she was gonna go for it anyway. And she fucking went for it. This girl turned her beats off and rapped her verses a capella while sick as fuck. She even said fuck it to the mic during the last song and just rapped with her voice alone.
I wasn’t completely familiar with most of the songs Sammus performed. I got into her music through her album Another-M, which helped me reconfigure the way I was thinking about myself during an extremely trying time in my life. I can remember walking to class, “Crown” blasting in my ears. “If you ever fought a boss, get your hands up.” I was dealing with having to relive traumatic experiences and feelings of abandonment several times a week in class, and Another-M gave me a little bit of power in a situation that I felt completely powerless in. It’s also a very good treadmill tape, if anyone is looking for things to run to.
Sammus didn’t perform anything from Another-M last night, but she did perform “1080p,” which also means an enormous amount to me. While Another-M empowers me, “1080p” gives me a space of reflection, a space to understand a seemingly incongruous combination of loss and gratitude I felt about a particular situation. Hearing Sammus perform “1080p” live was extremely gratifying and healing for me. The second verse of the song was one of the times when she turned the beat off and rapped in silence, and the authenticity of her pain and her power were sublime. Hell yeah, I teared up. No shame in that.
Sammus introduced and summed up all of the songs she performed. From “1080p,” which is about getting the help you need, to “Perfect, Dark,” which is about how representation matters, to “Weirdo,” which is about trying to maintain your sanity while also trying to be an activist and an introvert. You can definitely tell she’s an academic, with her tendency towards extrapolation and making sure you understand what she’s trying to convey. What I love most about her, and what most academics don’t have, is her accessibility. Her music is complex, but at the same time, her songs don’t hide anything. Her meaning isn’t hidden in metaphor, unless you count the references to nerd-dom as such. To most of her audience, they make the songs even more relatable. She is a truthful, straightforward poet, and it carries into her performance. The vulnerability in her music and her performance shows her authenticity, and in fact shows that vulnerability is what brings forth authenticity. There’s power in bringing forth your fear and pain.
I think my favorite part of the show was Sammus performing “Qualified.” She couldn’t sing the chorus because of how sick she was, so she rapped it instead, and she added some “fucks” into it that, again, resonated with me for their truthful feeling. (“Am I qualified…qualified…hell if I know. Am I qualified…qualified…FUCK!”) I’m an anxious, self-conscious baby academic who is scared of vulnerability and intimacy. Before seeing Sammus I wouldn’t have been able to write that out. But now all I wanna do is think and write about those feelings and where they come from. Express and process them instead of being scared and ashamed of them.
I’m so happy I got to see (and talk to???!!?!) Sammus last night. When people ask me who Sammus is, I usually tell them she’s a nerdcore rapper. But that doesn’t feel totally accurate. She’s kind and genuine and she goes hard. I was sick last night and considered just sleeping through the show. She was sick, and she still showed up and gave a killer performance. She’s an academic, a creator, and an activist, kind of what I also aim to be. And it’s inspiring to see that someone can do it all. I’m patiently waiting for the next time Sammus comes within driving distance of Baltimore. Hell yeah, she’s qualified.
Check out Sammus’s new album Pieces in Space, on Spotify. And then go buy it! And then go see her live! Check her stuff out here.