Name: Mariah Parker aka Linqua Franqa
Occupation: Rapper, linguist, activist and politician
Recent release: Linqua Franqa's Bellringer is out via Ernest Jenning Record Co.
If you enjoyed this interview with Linqua Franqa and would like to find out more, visit them on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
I find it interesting that you sandwiched parenthood in between being an activist and politician. Is being a parent “political” as well?
I imagine so, and in ways that will probably blindside me as we go along.
My son is mixed but white-passing, so wondering how we're going to navigate race and privilege with him is a political question I can't yet answer. As well there's this tension between wanting him to have "good politics" and fight for liberation versus instilling in him the critical thinking skills to make his own decisions.
I joke one day he's going to decry his parents' radical politics and become a Turning Point USA dude or something. Never knowing where the story's going's the only guarantee.
How has being a parent changed your outlook on the world?
Well, I'm a bit less cavalier regarding death threats and the like. I don't want Aes to grow up without me. I still take political risks but with greater appreciation for the potential consequences for my family. As well, in terms of policy, it has really opened my eyes to the importance of free and universal childcare and healthcare to support families in really thriving.
I've already heard from other parents that Bellringer has inspired really hard and important conversations with their kids. So that's dope. But really to me the most important lesson of music is the liberation to be found in conscious connection with one's body.
We spend so much time sitting in cars, sitting at desks, sitting on the couch. Music's ability to get you on your feet, wiggle, acknowledge and feel what your body can do is a powerful gift that we steal from children with time, as their disciplined to sit still, don't touch that, be quiet, etc.
Going back a bit more, were you one of those artists who want to "change the world"? What were some of your early ambitions?
I frankly had no real ambitions early on. I started making rap music to, in my view at the time, exorcise some demons in my desperation to stay alive. And as you may know, I did manage to stay alive. (laughs)
I had been involved in political organizing, yes, but I didn't really see the project of organizing hip hop shows and performing myself as part of a larger political project until it began to build and I started making mental connections between those realms. I just wanted my Black friends to come downtown with me was all.
With time I was able to influence the integration of the Athens music scene, which was dope, but never something I thought I could or would accomplish.
Being a rapper and being a politician are usually considered two different paths. How closely connected are they for you? Does your artistic work in any way feed into your activism - and vice versa?
I tell people all the time that rappers and politicians are basically the same. We rabble rouse, we verbally joust, we (hopefully) shed light on the plight of the people and make space for them to be heard. But yes, they are very intimately interwoven.
Music is a vehicle for coalition-building and grassroots political education necessary to build mass movements behind political demands. I feel I have processed a lot through songwriting that informs my political analysis as well. Both tributaries flow to the same ocean.
How, would you say, are you using language in your art to make a change?
It's my hope that using Hip Hop to add nuance to our conversations around mental health, race, gender, and their connections to societal forces. The songs might change the people who listen to them, but it's up to the people to decide what world-changing they themselves want to make.
But I also feel that if you don't fucking know what you're talking about it's okay to say nothing. I wish rappers felt more comfortable just admitting that they are listening and learning and normalize not knowing everything. I certainly try.
But even outwardly unpolitical songs can inspire joy that is in itself liberatory, so we shouldn't overlook the role of that in surviving and thriving under our current conditions.
Tell me a bit about the causes that are most important to you – and how you're dealing with them in your music, please.
Well, I'm a prison abolitionist, first and foremost, so applying an abolitionist political analysis to the problems in Athens is a pretty central part of what I do.
I agitate somewhat furiously for investments in mental healthcare, youth affirmation, housing, food security, substance abuse treatment and other community-based measures that can dramatically reduce the amount of harm happening in our neighbors and shrink our reliance on the prison industrial complex.
Increasingly, I'm becoming frustrated with the constraints of local policy-making seeing the necessity and power of the people taking fights directly to those responsible-- workers organizing to fight their exploitative bosses, tenants uniting to fight corporate housing developers and slumlords.
So thinking about how I can support that both legislatively and in community actions is becoming another central orientation.
When it comes to being a rapper/activist/politician, how do you define success for yourself?
The album starts with, "I will never see the seeds that I planted grow." Appreciating every seed planted is part of how I measure success. Hey, you sent that email today, and that conversation might turn into a program to prevent child abuse and save the life of even just one kid. Yo, you showed up at that community cook out, and that conversation you had strengthened a connection that might foster a coalition. You lost that vote but wow, standing your ground just then really shifted that conversation in a new direction that might change the outcome a year from now.
There are big wins too, but they all start as seedlings. I try to center gratitude for these seedlings as a means to keep up the faith and hope to make the work of attaining those bigger wins sustainable.
For me personally, books and song lyrics have been extremely influential in terms of questioning my perspectives. From your point of view, how powerful is the word?
The word is only as powerful as the conversation it's in. Like the old saying goes, if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it ...
A confession in a notebook has a different power than that same confession uttered to your therapist, or put to music as a song, or issued as expert testimony at the State Capitol. so we have to ask ourselves, who are we dialoguing with? What power relations are structuring who gets heard? Who do our words challenge? Whose ideas are we remixing, uplifting, or responding to?
How far do you see music as a language in its own right?
There's this idea of sonic narratives-- like the song a beat tells absent lyrics.
I honestly think Bellringer rules because of the production, shoutout to the most high Reindeer Games. Even without words, "Sometimes" tells a story of grievance; "Overture" a story of sorrow. And these stories are ordered by a kind of musical grammar (harmony, key, rhythm) much as verbal language is.
So yeah, I'd say music is a language of its own.
When you're writing a song, when do the lyrics enter the picture? Where do they come from? Do lyrics need to grow together with the music or can they emerge from a place of their own?
Ah shit I talk about this for pages in my dissertation. In short, I get phrases stuck in my head all the time, like "imagine a minute" on Wurk or "wishin there were six of me" on Growth I.
I'll muse on all the ways they can connect with other phrases metrically, grammatically, and in terms of rhyme. Okay, six of me rhymes with kitchen clean; now I've got a couplet. What else goes with that alliteratively? What slant rhymes could hinge this next bit to the previous one? And ultimately, it's stuff from my everyday life that bubbles up to fill in the content.
What makes lyrics good in your opinion? What are your own ambitions and challenges in this regard?
There's a certain level of metrical density and saturation of alliteration and internal rhyme I go for, but I can't explain it. Packing lines with all this sonic interplay is a challenge but one I enjoy, but it doesn't really matter.
My ambition is to sock people in the hearts and even simple lyrics can do that.
Icelandic artist Heidrunna told me: "I let my kids get involved. They can sing and play, rap into the mic, and do double piano playing with me. I ask them their opinion on the songs and the lyrics. They are brutally honest!" Is that something you can relate to?
I look forward to making music with Aes. He's already bouncing to gospel jams and banging on pots with a spoon.
As I said before, there's a tension between wanting your kid to love what you love and wanting to support their chosen path, so it feels good that at least on the musical side of things he seems to take after me.