Releasing an album at the height of the COVID-19 quarantine was obviously not what Sa-Roc had in mind when she signed on with Rhymesayers Entertainment.
Still, the reputable East Coast rapper — only the second female artist to record for Minneapolis' enduring indie-rap label in its 27-year history — now sees the circumstances behind her 2020 record, "The Sharecropper's Daughter," as serendipitous. Especially after what went down in her record label's hometown in the interim.
"The killing of George Floyd and the protest and unrest that followed, a lot of that was already reflected on this album," Sa-Roc said.
"It was the kind of album that spoke to those of us who were already embroiled in that tragic legacy."
Finally making her way to Minneapolis again for a 7th St. Entry show on Sunday, the lyricist and activist born Assata Perkins talked by phone from her home in Atlanta before heading out on tour two weeks ago. Sunday's gig will be her first Twin Cities headlining performance, but hardly her first time playing here.
Sa-Roc has previously opened shows in town for both Brother Ali and Prof, plus she was a semiregular on the lineup at the Soundset Music Festival. Rhymesayers (which produced those festivals) first went after signing her to the label after her first Soundset appearance in 2015 that she called "a total surprise."
"I was completely enthralled with the entire culture there and how it all came together, from the vintage cars to the DJs to having Sway as a host and having so many different types of artists," she recalled of the festivals, which have been sidelined since 2019.
"I'd had no experience in that market before, too, so to be so well received was really dope and surprising at first. But as I've come to know the city from being on Rhymesayers, I know now I shouldn't have been surprised."
Sa-Roc signed with Rhymesayers before several of its artists were accused of sexual misconduct or misogyny in 2020, part of what prompted its previous lone female rapper Psalm One to call for a boycott of the label.
Something of a latecomer to rap after she studied at Howard University to become a biologist, Sa-Roc — now age 40 — said the criticism of Rhymesayers is "just a microcosm of the broader hip-hop industry, which is patriarchal in nature."
"I think women are becoming more and more prominent in hip-hop across the board, and that's happening with both the industry and with the audiences supporting us better," she said. "Even if we're not being supported, we're still doing our thing and still doing it strongly. We're refusing to be marginalized."
As for Rhymesayers specifically, she added, "I've felt nothing but total support from the label, and nothing but total freedom to explore my music and culture in the way I see fit."
Case in point: "The Sharecropper's Daughter," which was a long time coming, involves dense themes and deep-reaching lyrics about the generational trauma that Black people in America still endure from slavery and racist government policies.
The album title and song of the same name refer to her family's roots as actual sharecroppers in post-slavery Virginia. Raised in Washington, D.C., Sa-Roc ties to her own experiences growing up in the 1980s crack epidemic that even embroiled D.C. Mayor Marion Barry at the time.
"There's a thread of human themes and stories on the album passed down from generation to generation going back to the sharecropper era," she explained. "There's an overlying theme of how all these experiences overlap [and] led up to more recent atrocities like the murder of George Floyd."
"We come from places / Where 12-year-old little Black girls can't even name her rapist," Sa-Roc seethes in the hard-hitting title track, which features New Orleans R&B/jazz singer Ledisi as a guest vocalist.
"And if she ever did, they'd throw her family off the acres / And send a burning cross from a mob of hooded faces."
Another guest star on the album, Black Thought of the Roots (and "The Tonight Show"), is prominently featured in the jazzier track "Black Renaissance," which Sa-Roc described as "a song about pushing hip-hop and Black culture forward."
"Squad minted from Nina's demeanor and Lauryn's lyrics / We bogart dinner tables and squat like Solange's titular album," raps Sa-Roc, whose own skills as an emcee are becoming renowned. A recent strong example was her appearance freestyling in the BET Hip Hop Award Cypher, sort of a round-robin performance with other rising rap stars.
Sa-Roc credits breathing techniques she learned in yoga and meditation for her impressive flow, as well as a longtime partnership with Sol Messiah, her DJ, producer and husband.
"As I figured out my voice, my flow, my cadence over the years, he's been there with me the whole time, helping me and enhancing it all musically," she said of Sol Messiah, who is on tour with her promoting his own new guest-filled album, "God Cmplx."
The couple were working on a new Sa-Roc record in the weeks leading up to their tour, which she said she's excited to complete. However, she's still eager to celebrate the LP that came out two years ago.
"It feels like unfinished business," she said.
With: Sol Messiah, Juice Lord.
When: 8 p.m. Sun.
Where: 7th St. Entry, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.
Tickets: $20, axs-com.