Solitaire was a huge experiment…but apparently, it worked

[Hi – please, if you haven’t listened to Solitaire, my debut spoken word project, please go and do that and come back. Thanks.]

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I was madly nervous during the listening session. This was 2 weeks before Solitaire was due to drop. I had invited some of the coolest people in Accra that I knew and trusted to come witness and give me feedback for the biggest and riskiest thing I have ever done in my life to this point. Because they were my favorite people, I wanted to know how they’d respond as I believed it would give me an idea of how people as cool as them (AKA my target audience) would respond.

Surprisingly enough, the thing I was most concerned about was people hearing my words and realizing how wack and corny my lyrics were and finally see what a fraud of a writer I was. LOL. Imagine – my writing was just about the one thing nobody complained about. So what’s wrong with me? (BTW, all Solitaire lyrics are available on Genius.com.)

Solitaire is a huge experiment. And it wasn’t intended to be, as unbelievable as that may sound. I have never heard a project that sounds like Solitaire before, true, but I realized that after it was completed. I didn’t start out from the beginning thinking, “Okay, for this project, I’m going to try my best to go all out in breaking all the rules.” It seems befitting to my personality to have done something like that, but that isn’t what happened. Solitaire came to life mostly organically. I described the circumstances around its lyrical composition over-dramatically in the blog post “Where did Solitaire even come from?

Solitaire (the poem itself) was written while I was blanked out in math class. Ephemeron was written in my room in boarding school during very hormonal moments. It was cathartic, though. Imagine harboring hurt for 2+ years from people whom you are forced to see nearly every day anyway. Dear God was written under high duress (that is, Part 1). I don’t know why it ended up following a regular beat. These things just happen to me. I think Dear God was one of those casual voice notes I sent my manager like, “Look, Ekko, I wrote something.” It wasn’t even originally part of the tracklist. We decided to replace one of the originally intended tracks with Dear God very late in Solitaire’s compilation stage. I wrote Part 2 when Ekko and I decided that Tronomie should sing more than just background vocals. I’m glad he did. It gave the poem a sense of further completeness. And his voice is amazing. Love you, Solitaire God! ❤

To Be has an interesting backstory. It was not originally a poem. I had written a blog post called Comfort as Yourself, and during Ekko’s daily rounds of Akotz Stalking Sessions (back when he actually had time to recreationally care about my life), he found the blog post and sent me a Facebook message immediately, telling me to turn it into a poem. That’s why, to some extent, I feel like he wrote it rather than me – even though he never touched my pen or my words. Maybe we both wrote it in a way.

During the listening session, someone asked me if I had tried saying Undeath of the Artist, as more like a poem and less like a rap. I had forgotten about it then, but in fact, I had tried. In February, I took a break off from school to record demos of every intended Solitaire poem in the studio with Tronomie. He pressed record and stopped halfway through, like “No. This needs a beat.” Um…well, I knew that. A few months later, I met EDWVN for the first time in person. I had been following him for a while on Twitter and had finally mustered up the courage to enter his DMs and ask whether we could be friends. The first day we met, he played a bunch of stuff he’d produced for me (the only productions of his I’d ever heard before were from Sutra’s mixtape, The Art of Being. I’d been stalking Sutra for a while then too.) I hadn’t even paying attention to his music; I’d just thought he was a cool person from his tweets. But then when it finally came to time to start thinking about production, well, I thought, if EDWVN didn’t produce it, anka who would produce it? And as you can see, the production is cooler than the poem itself. So maybe I made a wrong move. LOL

Solitaire is a freaking hybrid.

  • The Curse of They is literally a sonnet said out loud.
  • Undeath of the Artist is a thing most people can’t fully classify as rap or spoken word.
  • Ephemeron fits classical perceptions of what spoken word should be but yo – have you heard those sound effects? (Shout-out to Ekko and TheGentleMan for making that poem sonically pregnant with creativity.)
  • Solitaire is a poem made out of a freaking card game. That’s not normal. This is how I know I’m mad.
  • IWITP is a spoken word song. WTF is a spoken word song anyway?
  • Dear God is a prayer-rap-call-response-poem-song in 2 parts. Whoa.
  • To Be is a poemified blog post. That’s weird.

The whole project ended up being strange, even to me. But maybe that’s just the only way it would make sense because I’m strange. I don’t fully understand myself, much less am I able to understand or predict the nature of the art that comes out of me. Solitaire was a huge experiment…but apparently, it worked.

-Akotowaa

Where did Solitaire even come from?

Solitaire is a French word. It means “lonely”/”alone”/”isolated”.

Solitaire is a computer game, designed to be played alone.

I sat in math class almost 2 years ago, and as usual, every single thing was flying over my head. I opened my notebook and saw parabolic graphs I didn’t understand. I would rather have been anywhere but that class; several times rather have been playing Solitaire on my bed. In my room. Away from people and life.

Solitaire was my escape strategy. It was the computer application I went straight to when I didn’t want to think. Thinking was too hard but Solitaire was mindless enough. The Microsoft Collection had about 6 different types of the game, making it nearly impossible for me to get bored of it. And as I sat in that IB Higher Level Math class, I definitely didn’t want to think. However, the class had an unspoken no-computers policy. So instead of Solitaire, I started to scribble words on top of my parabolic graphs.

Perhaps I should have been more concerned about how I fared in that subject, but I genuinely couldn’t bring myself to care. I had my eyes on graduation. With math in particular, I just needed to hit the pass mark and pass on to graduation. Excelling in the subject was out of the question. If I managed to just get by, that alone would be a miracle.

I zoned out completely. Writing it was a mindless endeavor, and it was nearly as much fun as playing the game itself. I had made a new game: a Solitaire word game. Ace. Two. Three. Four. The paragraphs began to form all over the page, squeezed into corners between equations. I was about halfway through by the time the class ended and hadn’t learned a thing. I forgot about my Solitaire word game.

Another math class. I opened my math notebook and saw the paragraphs of my word game. Well, if I hadn’t gotten anything from the last class, what were the chances I’d benefit from this one? I might as well continue writing. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.

At some points, I would walk to school alone. The most popular girl in my class never walked alone. She literally had the nickname of “queen”, possibly because of her influential online presence and general reputation. I wasn’t the biggest fan of her friends but their appearance of untouchable “royalty” still intimidated me. I tried to ignore them as I walked. I did not always succeed.

This was the period of my intense obsession with Janelle Monae. Nearly every time I put my earphones in, I would go straight to this one album: The Electric Lady.  For a while, my favorite song was QUEEN. I loved these lyrics:

“Even if it makes others uncomfortable, I will love who I am.”

I wanted to be QUEEN. I wanted to love who I was. Jack. Queen. King.

My word-game had turned into a poem now: “Solitaire”.

***

In this period of the Electric Lady and Solitaire addictions, one of my roommates was an artist. The previous year, we had taken IGCSE Art together. She abandoned art for humanities in the IB Diploma Programme. I left it too, for Mathematics and Physics. In the months and year after we left Art, she would periodically ask me, “When was the last time you drew?” If my pencils were food, they’d have gone to rot from having remained untouched and stale for so long. The artist in me felt like she had died.

But I refused to let her go. As Dylan Thomas said,

“Do not go gently into that good night

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

If the artist in me had died, she must by all means be revived: “Undeath of the Artist”.

***

I used to think the friends I had the first year would be my friends forever. Our bond seemed so strong and permanent. I didn’t know how ephemeral the whole thing was going to be. The close circle broke up. I wrote my pain. I vented privately. I vented publicly. In very unpoetic words and several expletives. Finally, about 2 years later, when I’d calmed down a little, something else came out, in the form of something that finally resembled poetry. I used it to let go of my harbored hurt: “Ephemeron”.

***

The last year of high school was the one where my classmates wanted to make memories. Selfies and group pictures were taken nearly constantly. I felt disconnected. It was a struggle between wanting to fit into a community and knowing that this community was not meant for me to fit into anyway. There were many pictures. For the most part, I wasn’t in the pictures: “IWITP“.

***

Outside of the math classroom was the balcony. The classroom was on the second floor. I stood there and looked down at the mostly-empty car park. A classmate of mine was standing next to me. “If I jumped from here, do you think I’d die?” I asked.

“Yes,” he responded. And maybe he told me something along the lines of “don’t do it”; but by that time I wasn’t listening anymore. God, I had questions. God, I needed answers.

Dear God, I began to write, as I sat in a teacher’s office perhaps a few minutes later. I did not want to be in school. I did not feel like doing life. What did all of this mean? What did God want from me?

With a backlog of homework, a bucketload of tears and a series of abysmal scores on tests, I found myself in the wardrobe room of my dorm some time later. It was small and cramped, and there were no chairs. My heart was extra-heavy and I plopped down on the floor. There was no one to talk to. No one but God. There, on the floor, at my lowest, I continued my letter to Him: “Dear God”.

***

I walked into the dining hall, went in line for my food and sat down at an empty table to eat. As I observed the woefully microcosmic world around me, I wondered when I’d become so comfortable with this phenomenon of eating alone. I watched others freshly out of the food line looking nervously around the hall for familiar faces that would welcome them to the hopefully empty seats at their tables. I genuinely wondered how come they weren’t as comfortable as I was with eating alone. Did they not see the liberation in it? What was all this anxiety about being seen as solitary in room full of people? Maybe the experiences that had forced me to be an hardened outsider had simply led me, after all these years, to become an expert in keeping myself company: “To Be.”

***

Every time I performed Solitaire, at least one person would ask me one of two questions:

  1. How do you memorize all that?
  2. Where can I find a recording of Solitaire?

The answer to the first question was: it’s easy. It follows a sequence, and it has moments of rhyme. If you know what a pack of cards looks like, Solitaire’s lyrics are easily crammed.

The answer to the second question was always: nowhere. (Until now.)

I present to you my spoken word project, Solitaire, on 19th December 2016.

-Akotowaa