Photo Credit: Sean Dunn
It takes seeing, or in this case, hearing something you never thought possible to make you believe – hell, I can do that too. That’s what happened to Linqua Franqa after hearing one rapper in particular. That’s where this conversation started, but as it went forward we unraveled Linqua Franqa’s thoughts on growing up online, their lifelong activism, and more like their new album, ‘Bellringer,’ out April 22nd.
Kendra: What led you towards music? Was it an artist, an album, a feeling you had growing up?
Linqua Franqa: I grew up in a household saturated with funk, soul, disco, and classic R&B and regularly road tripped the Carolina coast with my mama and aunties, who sang back up for beach music bands. I swam through music like water growing up, and dreamed of being a writer when I grew up, but it wasn’t until I discovered Aesop Rock in college that I found the courage to synthesize these things into an art career of my own.
Shock at what Aesop Rock proved you could do with Hip Hop– rap about your mom not letting you go play with neighborhood kids because you won’t eat your vegetables, or buying a kitten out of the trunk of a witch’s car in a parking lot– is what really propelled me to tell my own oddball stories.
Kendra: Looking back at ‘Lingua Franca,’ how do you believe you’ve grown as a lyricist between then and ‘Bellringer?’
Linqua Franqa: I don’t even think my skills have grown per se as much as they have become more automatic. I still have the same toolkit at my disposal, and use it in similar ways, I just work more fluidly, with less hesitation and greater exactitude. Some of the stuff on ‘Lingua Franca’ took me nearly a decade to refine, whereas I wrote and memorized several verses on ‘Bellringer’ in my head in about an hour, for example.
Kendra: The title track for ‘Bellringer’ takes us back over two decades to something that’s sadly still pretty familiar in the news today and that’s the murder of Latasha Harlins. In it you proclaim, “If I die don’t pray, you better riot,” and not only has that hook been in my head for days now, it’s how I’ve felt for years. How ironic do you think our country is for being called the United States when it’s clear that there is such an imbalance in how we’re all treated by our government from non-white Americans to LGBTQ people to women and a division in how things should be?
Linqua Franqa: As I say on “Overture”, the system isn’t broken; it’s fully operational. The United States felt united for wealthy white men when the Constitution was penned, and it still feels united for the oligarchs that run the economy and the government. It’s just united under a system of exploitation that serves their interest. They never meant for us to be united on our own terms; indeed, history shows numerous examples where these folks profit off divisions between us, pitting white against Black, men against women, the middle class against the poor. There’s nothing more terrifying to the ruling class than the prospect of us little people actually being united to fight for collective liberation from their whims.
Kendra: ‘Bellringer’ covers a lot of the injustices of the world, but you also have moments about our addiction to social media and mental health. Do you think we’d be better mentally in some way if we got offline more?
Linqua Franqa: Oh yeah, I immediately felt a difference in my mental health when I ditched socials, for a time.
Kendra: How damaging do you think it is for a generation to be raised online?
Linqua Franqa: I think being raised by the internet is a large source of internal turmoil for me to this day. When you grow up in online communities, as I did, you feel like a marooned Martian walking the halls of your high school. You have little idea of how to relate to others and no other kind of social outlet that scratches the same itch as talking about that one really specific interest with that one really small internet forum. I think that definitely led me to drugs in my early adolescence, as a way to relax into trying to make real-life human connections. Among other troubles. Add to that the ways social media are increasingly engineered to explicitly foment addiction, I imagine the same is true, if not worse, for Gen Z.
Kendra: For those who can’t put two and two together, you’re not just an artist you’re an activist. Where did you find your passion for that?
Linqua Franqa: My mama raised me to fight for something and always supported me in the random causes I took up. Speaking of internet wormholes, I got really into PETA in middle school and she’d drive me to picket outside of KFC in protest of their cruelty to chickens, etc. And the longer you live, the more injustice you see, the harder it is to look away and the more sophisticated your attacks on injustice become.
My fights have evolved as I have developed a more consistent political framework, learned more history, fought, and lost some fights. But it’s all an outcrop of the feistiness instilled in me from birth.
Kendra: You speak about a lot of this and more on your podcast alongside Dope KNife, ‘Waiting on Reparations.’ Do you ever do an episode and immediately feel inspired to pen a new track?
Linqua Franqa: Indeed. Rhyme writing remains a critical tool I use to make sense of the world’s happenings, so often we’d either build an episode around current events I’d written verses on, or I’d write verses to summarize understandings of current events that I’d hashed out talking with Mack for the show. It’s definitely been a symbiotic process.
Kendra: Lastly, with ‘Bellringer’ out April 22nd, what’s next for you as spring continues to roll into summer?
Linqua Franqa: Well, ‘Bellringer’ is also my dissertation for my Ph.D., and I hope to defend it before my committee sometime in May and graduate in August. With school done, it would be rad to tour about while the weather’s nice; I miss traveling so much.