You might not know who Son of Nun is and, to be honest, neither did I until about a month ago. That is more likely a result of our personal failings as sheltered college students, though, because in both the Baltimore music scene and amongst the city’s revolutionary movements, his name carries some weight.
I first encountered him at one of the thousands of West Wednesdays, a local protest in memory of police brutality victim Tyrone West. What drew me in was the name: Son of Nun or S.O.N. I had no idea what it meant, but I wanted to know more about the person wielding it. So, when I returned to the Hopkins Bubble, I took to the Internet with gusto.
I learned that Son of Nun was both a rapper and an activist, a musician who has shared the stage with Prophets of Rage, Dead Prez and Immortal Technique and has walked the streets in protest with a number of Baltimore’s revolutionary movements.
Nevertheless, all that was on his website was not quite enough for me. Anyways, using someone’s website to create a profile on them would be horrible journalism, so I got in touch with S.O.N. to see if he was interested in an interview — and here we are.
Originally from Silver Spring, Md., S.O.N. came to Baltimore to teach high school after graduating from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. It was there that he became involved in activism after seeing an HBO documentary about incarcerated black journalist and former Black Panther Party member Mumia Abu-Jamal.
“He [Abu-Jamal] not only talked about his own situation, but connected a lot of dots for me in terms of where inequality comes from and how it impacts people on an international level,” he said.
Hip-hop was always a presence in his life, but when he entered high school, he delved more into other genres as well.
“I started with reggae and then I got in to rock and all different sorts. I’d say I was always into music that had a message,” he said. “It wasn’t the only thing I’d listen to, but it definitely struck a chord.”
In college, S.O.N. was Director of Cultural Activities for UMBC’s Black Student Union. After graduation, he joined the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. S.O.N. said that part of what drew him to the organization was their “Live From Death Row” events, where death row inmates called in to the gathering to talk about life as the living dead.
S.O.N. began teaching in Baltimore City, working at both Northern and Southwestern High School. He eventually left in 2005 after deciding that he would be able to achieve more outside the classroom.
He wanted to work with youth-led groups, like the Baltimore Algebra Project, a branch of an organization which was founded by Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) alum Bob Moses. By leaving the classroom, S.O.N. was able to advocate more openly. In the same year that he quit teaching, he released his first album, Blood and Fire.
“When I started making music, I wanted to make music that I wanted to hear,” S.O.N. said. For him, these were groups like Burning Spear, Public Enemy and Bob Marley and the Wailers, music across the genres that carried a message. The message he wanted to send was a call to resist the status quo.
Part of that drive to create was born of a growing uniformity in hip-hop during the late 1990s, born of the young white consumer’s demand for a pre-fabricated image and persona from musicians. Such a trend still dictates much of hip-hop’s sound today.
“A lot of those people, in my opinion, who did have that power had a certain idea about what young black men and women should be interested in terms of hip-hop,” he said.
Three years after Blood and Fire came The Art of Struggle. That was S.O.N.’s most recent full-length album, although he has been releasing additional singles and collaborating with other artists.
In April of 2016, S.O.N. was invited by Jared A. Ball, founder of emancipatory journalism, to work alongside director Bashi Rose on George Jackson: Releasing the Dragon, a video mixtape about the life of the black revolutionary.
S.O.N. said that in addition to addressing issues and fighting for equality, he likes to think of some of his music as being “after the revolution.”
“If it’s always a reaction to something the government or whoever is doing, then they win, because they get to control how we think and all of our actions. I think it’s important to say, ‘This is actually what we’re for, not just what we’re against.’”
Despite the militant nature of his music, he says he is more than happy to debate.
As an activist, he has recently been working as an organizer for the Right to Housing Alliance in Baltimore, which fights for tenant rights and works to improve the quality of housing in the city. S.O.N. told me that last December, the organization released a report, which said that in Rent Court, seventy percent of city landlords had failed to meet lead remediation requirements.
This has left poor tenants stranded in poisonous homes. S.O.N. also said that when these tenants went to rent court and complained about the lead, vermin and mold, the judge essentially dismissed them because they had not met their monthly payment.
That report shares similarities to a study conducted in Milwaukee by Matthew Desmond of Harvard University. S.O.N. explained the importance of that studyand that the Right to Housing Alliance had come to a similar conclusion in Baltimore.
“One of the conclusions he drew is that eviction is to Black women is what mass incarceration is to Black men,” S.O.N. said.
S.O.N. recently finished up a summer performance circuit which including multiple shows at Baltimore spaces such as the Crown. He performed at events such as Lightning BALT at Coppin State University. Lightning BALT was a collective solutions building event made to increase access to jobs as well as confront injustice inherent in Baltimore. It was curated/organized by the Baltimore Action Legal Team (which forms the aforementioned acronym BALT).
S.O.N. will soon be bringing his activist and musical interests together in a new video for his song “It’s Like That,” which was released shortly after he signed to Tom Morello and Ryan Harvey’s eclectic new label, Firebrand Records, which features revolutionary artists across the genres (such as Ike Reilly, bell’s roar, Built for the Sea and Lycka Till).
In the video, S.O.N. says he will try to document the efforts of some of the many Baltimore groups working to reform and better the city.
If you consider yourself to be anything left of center and are pissed off about something political, social or environmental at the moment, be on the watch for that video and future projects from Son of Nun, because he certainly has more to offer this City both in the studio and on the street.