Words & Photos By Shelly Simon
When SAMMUS takes the stage, you put down your phone and prepare to let loose. Like a freshly lit fire, the flames that ignite words from Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo (aka Sammus ) coupled with those burning-hot homemade beats creates a fire within you that’s hard to put out.
With her 2016 LP, ‘Pieces in Space’ (Don Giovanni Records), a variety of in-studio projects (3 EPs to date) and a nebula of networks (NuBlack Music Group, Don Giovanni, her Ithaca community and the DIY scene) Sammus is a product of perseverance who’s consistently making waves in both Nerdcore & hip hop.
Nerdcore is described as a pocket of music where the lyrics focus on the typical things a “nerd” would enjoy; the product of folks who enjoy making music based on their interest in staples of alternative culture such as comic books, intergalactic drama, video games and science fiction. It has been recognized by its implementation of “uncleared samples” and really holds no single musical style to the stake. It’s to be noted that Nerdcore isn’t a parody of rap; it’s just as confessional and creative as any other genre of music.
While Nerdcore is truly what the artist makes it, there are a few common threads that weave through this genre of music: electronic beats, programming and digitization of common instruments plus sampling from a variety of sources. Like a number of fields, Nerdcore is heavily dominated by white men so seeing Enongo take up space in this arena and inspire other black and brown nerds to enter the Nerdcore scene is truly moving. Sammus has put a lot of work into her craft and is quickly becoming a powerful player in the hip-hop & Nerdcore scene.
Coming from a family of two PhD certified parents, it was only natural for this artist to get both her undergrad and graduate degrees from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). A lifetime of learning, yearning and growing into the galactic goddess she is today, Enongo has always had an interest in sharing her passions with people. Through creating her own beats and tapping into Ithaca’s DIY culture, she emulates a “Be Your Own Heroine” energy. By relying on herself & the love and support of others, her dreams to do both academia and artistry were able to come to fruition.
Mega Ran, one of the top nerdcore MCs, took an early interest in her awesomeness and assisted Enongo as she made her entrance into the Nerdcore scene as a recording artist & producer. Sammus’ contributions to the music industry is truly a gift; her music goes beyond the basic Mario Bros references in the mainstream NC scene and gives voice to issues that she has experienced firsthand. Topics such as women’s liberation, mental health, sexuality, politics and black representation in media can be seen throughout her discography.
“We got Sailor Moon, Mercury, Saturn, and Mars
And not one of them burgundy colored at all
It’s that kinda thing hurting me when I was small”
[Perfect Dark from ‘Pieces in Space’]
Like a number of industries, there’s a shortage of representation in digital music; Enongo’s success and presence in this industry has helped carve out space for folks who don’t feel seen in digital music and the world at large. Her art truly strikes a cord with people of color, non-binary folks and women who relate to the topics she raps about and become livelong supportive fans. As a musician and an agent of change, Sammus says, “it’s inspiring to have a hug after the show; knowing the music and the message carries past a 45 minute set.” In my typical tell-you-like-it-is fashion, I went up to Sammus after her set at Northside 2017 and said “Hey, I want to write an article about you…”
TT: Tell us about your drums/beats set up. What programs do you use?
S: The program I use is a digital audio workstation (DAW) called Logic. If I’m writing a sample based beat, I’ll drag a WAV file of the sample into the program, chop it up until I have a loop I like, and then play out a drum beat a few times using a midi keyboard before recording it. The kicks, snares, and hi-hat sounds come from kits that were given to me by friends and other artists over the years. Once I have a good loop for the sample and a drum beat going, I’ll play out the other elements of the song on the midi keyboard. I’ll map out things like the bassline and often some melodic embellishments on the keyboard before recording them and editing them within Logic.
TT: How did you get into making beats?
S: I got into making hip hop beats after I first heard Kanye West. Throughout high school I had been using the program ‘Reason’ to make video-game inspired music because I’ve loved video game music since I was a child. When I heard Kanye West’s ‘College Dropout’ for the first time, I fell for his beats so hard that I immediately switched gears and decided I wanted to make sample-based hip hop beats.
TT: What has that done for you creatively in regards to growing as a musician, woman, artist, rapper, etc.?
S: Making beats has been the foundation of my musical career. I never would have been a rapper if I were not a beatmaker. Being the person to produce the beats I write over has enabled me to tell stories in my voice and on my own timeline. I never have to negotiate with anybody about anything because the tracks are all mine which is especially important when you consider the messed up power dynamics that often emerge around women musicians in predominantly male spaces.
TT: Northside 2017! Is this the biggest festival/stage/show you’ve played? How did you feel about it?
S: Northside was so much fun although, it’s not the biggest show I’ve played (in 2016 I opened for Young Thug and that was probably the biggest stage I’ve ever rocked). Typically I don’t like to be on a stage that’s elevated above the rest of the audience but I found a way to get in the audience and touch hands with my people so it all worked out! I was invited to perform only two days before the performance; hopefully next year they’ll invite me back and I’ll have the opportunity to promo the show like crazy!
TT: Tell us about yourself!
S: I’ve been producing for over 10 years as well as rapping and it finally feels like things are falling into place — I’m getting a lot of love from supporters worldwide, my music is being recognized and highlighted, and I have the opportunity to perform in so many cool places. As I prepare for my next project (tentatively dropping in 2018), I’m really hoping to collaborate a little more than I have in the past and expand my sound. I’m going to spend the summer learning new DAWs and making beats on some new software/hardware. Wish me luck!
SAMMUS is taking her thunderous act on the road with Open Mike Eagle and Mega Ran! She tells Tom Tom:
“It’s called the “Qualified Tour” and I named it that because “Qualified” is my favorite song on ‘Pieces in Space’ and it features Open Mike Eagle; with whom I’ll be touring with for a good chunk of the way. The track is about imposter syndrome, which is something I’m dealing with more and more as more folks learn about and celebrate my music”
SAMMUS PRESENTS: QUALIFIED 2017 TOUR DATES
~w/ Mega Ran | *w/ Open Mike Eagle
8.16—Brooklyn, NY—TIDAL + Summer Screen @ McCarren Park
8.20—Cincinnati, OH—Urban Artifact
8.23—Birmingham, AL—Syndicate Lounge
8.24—Memphis, TN—Lamplighter Bar
8.26—Norman, OK—The Deli
8.27—Los Angeles, CA—Junior High
8.29—Oakland, CA—The Octopus Literary Salon
8.31—Bellingham, WA—Make.Shift Art Space~
9.2—Seattle, WA—The Funhouse [PAX after-party]
9.3—Portland, OR—The Know
9.8—Purchase, NY—SUNY Purchase
9.9—Brooklyn, NY—Well-Read Black Girl Fest
9.23—Ithaca, NY—Cayuga Sound Festival [full band]
9.24—Minneapolis, MN—7th Street Entry*
9.28—Ithaca, NY—Sacred Root Kava Lounge
9.30—Boston, MA—Boston Fuzzstival 2017
10.1—Philadelphia, PA—Everybody Hits