Affecting real change in the world is more than just a search for quick solutions. It’s calculus. Attempting to become a purveyor of change means understanding the complicated nature of the variables in front of you, sifting through false avenues for answers, and being able to solve the equation in incremental pieces instead of swooping decisions.
Change also requires the purest of souls at its helm. The most genuine of us, those who uphold authenticity, especially from an artistic point of view, often wield the power of change best. These are the people who understand change is never perfect nor easy.
Bobby Sessions, one of Def Jam’s most recent signees and one of hip-hop’s most relentless new forces, believes himself to fit that genuine and understanding mold.
To understand Sessions, we must understand that he is Dallas through and through. Raised in Pleasant Grove, a suburb in Southeast Dallas, until the age of 12 when he moved to Rowlett, a suburb on the rural, Northeast side of the city, Sessions prides himself on having “the reps,” as he tells it, in all of the different cultural venues with which Dallas is built on. He’s the product of multiple environments. A man capable of understanding that affecting change means reaching those residing in the most privileged areas of a city, a nation, or even the entire planet, while never relinquishing his voice in the process.
This year, Sessions has released the first two chapters of his RVLTN series, a volumized project dedicated to establishing the methodical processes that are required for society to grow. The project is intent on establishing how Sessions, as a person, fits into growth's narrative. RVLTN is unfinished, purposefully, and in our phone conversation, the intentionality of the project's pacing is clear. As Sessions puts it himself, “I want people to view it like any other book or a series on Netflix. I can reveal at some point that there will be a solution, but if I give the solution too early in the chapters, there’s no point in continuing the book.”
With that, each of the first two chapters of RVLTN has served the purpose of laying the groundwork. Sessions is articulating the stakes of change, as well as establishing just how difficult it is to follow through an actual revolution.
“Chapter 1 is more chaotic. It’s more rebellious, I’ll say, sonically. Chapter 1: The Divided States of AmeriKKKa, and the RVLTN series as a whole, was about identifying what the problem was, whether I’m addressing systemic racism, oppression, mass incarceration, etc. Chapter 2: The Art of Resistance is more, I’ll say, artistic. A lot more musical elements to it and the intention behind Chapter 2 was about now, the pushback when those two divided, the people that are divided begin to have a collision. Chapter 2 represents the pushback.”
Everything is accounted for in Sessions’ revolutionary vision, even “pushback.” Conceptually, he positions himself as both the leader of his own movement and its biggest critic. At moments, he’s wielding a sword against the forces of racism and oppression on tracks like “Like Me,” “Politics,” or “Same Oh,” and at other points, he’s able to fluidly step into the shoes of a white supremacist ("One Less").
Sessions isn’t trying to have an All Lives Matter conversation, though. He isn’t Joyner Lucas, whose viral “I’m Not a Racist” felt more like a fumbled attempt at bridging the gap between what’s clearly right and what’s evil. When Sessions steps into the shoes of the oppressor, it is only to provide his audience with a much clearer understanding of how “divided” we currently are, and that the “pushback” isn’t going to be thwarted so easily.
What Sessions is doing, musically, is obviously unique. His voice, narrative structuring, subject matter, and procedure for delivering the music to the world are all very specific to him. Yet, what Sessions clearly understands, is that even a specific voice in rap still has to be enjoyable. Drawing a lot of his inspiration from artists like N.W.A and Kendrick Lamar, as well as stand-up comedians such as Eddie Griffin, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dave Chappelle, and Chris Rock, balancing delivering socio-political commentary in an enjoyable and entertaining way is baked into the final product.
“The way that [these comedians] can communicate very uncomfortable topics and subject matter, but they coat it with candy just by making you laugh to get this point across, I’ve been using that as a reference for me to have these very difficult conversations, and be unapologetic and be politically incorrect. But I also want the music to be entertaining, because if the music has a lot of substance but doesn’t make you happy [laughs], like the listening experience doesn’t make you happy, then what’s the point? I could just go listen to a Barack Obama speech.”
The idea of an Obama speech versus the specific aspirations of Sessions showcases how balanced change must be. Sessions isn’t here to just speak to you. He’s here to move, instruct, and carefully lead you to a more fully-formed vision of actual growth.
Sessions is also aware of just how uncomfortable the conversation is going to need to become in order to see real growth. In his mind, being “woke” is becoming a trend. "I’m seeing a lot of artists speaking about these things," he says, "but I’m not feeling a genuine vibe from some of the music. It seems like people are making it just to make it, and I’m not feeling the spirit.”
“You have these songs speaking on these uncomfortable topics, and then you just go back to your cubby after you put it out. There’s no context behind it. It’s clear through a couple of questions that your intentions were about the song versus what you were just speaking about in the song. Saying all that to say, I do feel like people are taking the steps to speak out about these songs, and the more the better at the end of the day.”
The genuine nature of his music pours through not just the songs but also in the way the artist speaks about himself. Sessions isn’t overly cocky or hard-headed. What makes him special is his willingness to be wrong and be corrected. “I’m not looking to be some perfect leader,” he says. “So when people wanna hear some sociopolitical commentary, and not go to The Daily Show or something like that, and they wanna hear it in the form of music, I want them to come to me. Regardless of if you agree or disagree, [know] that this is gonna be raw and I’m not gonna sugarcoat anything, even if you think I’m wrong.”
Humble, Sessions can’t afford to position himself as all-knowing. His genuineness is also prevalent in how he factors in white audiences, a dominant demographic of rap listeners, into the equation for music that is unapologetically black. In regard to white people—or more specifically white women—coming up to him after shows where he reenacts the suffocation and death of Eric Garner, Sessions remarks at how moved they tend to be and how open the conversation becomes. He’s even inspired by what he feels is a very real online movement to course correct a lot of the ways white people have failed to be a part of the solution in the past.
“They say, 'I don’t want to be a part of that history. I want to do something different. I don’t represent that at all.' I feel like a lot of them are having that awakening through listening to the music. So my goal, as much as I’m a rapper, I’m a historian through the music. That motivates me to be even more raw, so they can experience it and be like, 'Wow, that makes me uncomfortable. What can I do now, because I don’t want to be looked at as a racist, or someone who’s cool with people being oppressed? I don’t want to be a part of that at all.' I think that inspires me to continue to be as raw as possible, not soften it up so they can be more supportive, because I think that does us both an injustice.”
Sessions’ authenticity is consistent both in the leadership he is assuming and in how he connects to the diverse range of audiences in front of him. Ironically, the city from which he hails has never given artists like him a reason to pursue such things. It’s a vast metroplex searching for a genuine identity but constantly haunted by the fact that it doesn’t have the means to develop one. Musically, that leaves many of its most talented artists on the fringes of national or global fame and stuck in regional confinement. As Sessions once put it in an interview with Mass Appeal, the Dallas music scene becomes very similar to a “crab bucket” with artists clawing at one another.
“Any time anyone gains any traction, there’s a fear among the other artists that if this guy or this woman gets on then there’s going to be a shortage of opportunity for me,” Sessions says. “I think now seeing the city get several wins: myself, Yella Breezy, T.Y.E. just signed, Trapboy Freddy, we’re seeing more people get wins, so I think that crabs in a bucket mentality is going away because when you’re seeing several people gaining traction on a regional, national level, it’s hard to have those excuses. I think that’s been a good step in the right direction for the city by having several of us win instead of one person and we try to tear that person down.”
Dallas’ identity crisis doesn’t end at music. The city remains just as troubled in establishing a genuine path towards political understanding as it does for a stable music scene. Plagued by a mass shooting of police officers in 2016, along with several shootings of black citizens by officers in the metroplex, including Sessions’ cousin James Harper in 2012, Dallas is a hotbed of racist undertones and seething animosity as the city fails to appoint people in power to change it for the better. Sessions knows this well and understands just how systemic this problem is for a city stuck in a political stall.
“Someone gets shot, and I’m like, 'Black Lives Matter,' and you’re like, 'Hey! All Lives Matter!' [laughs]. You’re more offended by me saying this life that is dead matters? You’re more offended by me saying that than him being dead? It just shows the subconscious behavior, and it’s not completely your fault. It’s trained; you’re conditioned to not value these lives at all. Like if you saw as many dogs getting killed for no reason, this would’ve been stopped.”
These are the uncomfortable lessons being taught by a man fully prepared for his war. Sessions knows this war is far from over. “I don’t want people to listen to [my music] and to expect this kumbaya moment. We’re not at that point yet,” he explains. His music is both intentionally grim and uncomfortable, while he inversely maintains himself as a beacon of positivity. It’s the type of contrast that all artists intent on change need to have, and what all artists specific to Dallas need to be aware of in order to make it out of the city’s chaos.
It’s quite possible RVLTN will eventually grow into a much less relentless piece of music, one that doesn’t need its audience to be as angry or as intensely focused on every aspect of the design for change. It’s entirely possible that years down the line Sessions transitions into a different voice aiming to reach a much less uncomfortable feat. For now, though, there is a revolution to be led and an audience to be inspired to change. For all of the other lighter and less intense material, as Sessions puts it, “It’s not the time for that right now.”
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