by Anthony Iverson
From the second those lazy Eric B-esque horns meander their way into “Aaliyah,” the lead single from Sophia Eris’ self-titled debut album, it’s evident that the ‘90s R&B influence on this record pervades much deeper than just the titles of the tracks.
That smooth ‘90s R&B feel is all over this record, but don’t mistake this for just another throwback album. Sophia Eris carefully picks elements from that era and mixes in bits of modern hip-hop, electronic and soul that turn this into something that evades traditional genre categorization.
Part of this is because Sophia Eris’ style and talents go far beyond just one clean-cut category. As someone who’s been rapping since high school, it wasn’t until later that she chose to seriously pursue singing and even more recently that she realized she has a knack for DJing. It’s because of these different interests that Sophia Eris broached the idea of creating an album that doesn’t treat singing and rapping as mutually exclusive. And that’s part of what makes it so intriguing.
“When it came time to sit down with my own project, I viewed my voice as an instrument that I knew how to use to express what I had to say, whether it be singing or rapping,” she said. “I really didn’t contemplate the strategy, I just wanted to allow myself to be free to organically feel what style came out with the words I wrote.”
This tandem approach is perhaps most evident on album standout “Blue Dream,” which finds her switching between singing and rapping verse to verse in a way that doesn’t make the casual listener think twice. She makes it a seamless transition and a far cry from many R&B songs today that feature very conspicuous rap features that are clunky and out of place.
Listeners of Sophia Eris are likely familiar with this style already — it’s not unlike what her close friend Lizzo does or what their former group GRRRL PRTY did. After meeting at the Red Stag Block Party in 2011 and bonding over drinks and Beyonce karaoke, Lizzo and Sophia connected in a way that would lead to Twin Cities favorites like The Chalice (with Claire de Lune) and the aforementioned GRRRL PRTY (with Manchita and Shannon Blowtorch), as well as collaborating on Lizzo’s breakthrough single “Batches and Cookies.”
“I think I truly embraced being called a rapper when I met Lizzo. Within our artistic endeavors as friends we created multiple groups where rapping was a key element,” she said. “I can confidently say that was what shaped me as an artist in the beginning of my career. She’s inspired me with her musical abilities and she was a huge part of my development artistically.”
Pioneered by none other than the likes of Ms. Lauryn Hill, Sophia and Lizzo have carried this stylistic torch in a realm that is not occupied by many others. Sure, modern artists like Azealia Banks or Dessa come to mind when we’re talking about today’s rapper-singers — and the list certainly doesn’t end there — but it still feels like this style is largely unoccupied, likely because most artists (male or female) can either rap or sing, but not many possess the capabilities of conquering both in a way that doesn’t come across as contrived.
That’s much of what makes Sophia Eris a special debut effort. It’s no small feat to write verses from the mindset of being a singer and a rapper, but to do so in a way that comes across as natural for the listener is unique and rewarding.
That’s a testament to the fact that Sophia has been writing songs since her freshman year in high school, where she started writing poetry that turned into songs with melody but no beats, which eventually evolved into full rap verses.
“My sophomore year of high school was when I wrote my first rap, which was a diss against the crew of boys down the street that I played basketball with. I remember I wrote it to the ‘Game Over’ beat by Lil Flip,” she said. “One of them found it in my notebook and didn’t talk to me for an entire week, which I feel justified its greatness.”
Produced by Prophis, Sophia Eris features a variety of sounds that make for an eclectic blend of styles, which is part of the reason that Sophia’s delivery comes across so seamlessly. From the glimmer on “Neon City” to the spaced-out bump of “Money Music” and the dizzying whirl of “Dust,” not only does the production fit the vocals, it adds to their effect.
“Prophis definitely came to understand the exact zone I was shooting for, and his beats became easier and easier to jump into because they became one with my heart,” she said.
But even considering her impressive track record DJing for Lizzo, Go 95.3 and various other gigs around Minneapolis, Sophia insists that she isn’t eager to self-produce her next project because she’s more interested in honing her songwriting skills and collaborating with like-minded artists who can help her grow.
When asked about the collaborative nature of the Twin Cities music scene and if she will continue to use that to her advantage, her response is coy: “You will find out soon.”
Born into a family that moved around a lot when she was young, Sophia has now resided in the Twin Cities for the better part of 8 years and is on the cusp of running a prestigious Minneapolis hip-hop scene that is almost notoriously male-occupied.
Despite her recent successes though, she’s expressed an interest in moving out to California in the near future to try her hand at a new market — one that has recently welcomed numerous Twin Cities favorites like Lizzo, Caroline Smith and Tickle Torture, to name a few.
But she insists that there are still things she wants to accomplish here before moving on.
“I was born in California, so it’s always been a special place in my mind to return to one day. I definitely have a strategy, and there are things that I still want to accomplish in Minneapolis before I depart,” she said. “My chapter has to be complete so I can start another.”
And judging by how busy she’s been in the month and a half since her album dropped, she has a lot she wants to accomplish before she trips out to the West Coast, including her official album release show this Saturday, September 17, at Icehouse — a show that will surely be yet another notch in her storied artistic development here in Minneapolis.
Whatever her plan, you can rest assured it will be carefully plotted upon execution. From her and Shannon Blowtorch’s recently completed TAWST project down to her stage name (an ode to the Greek goddesses of wisdom and strife, respectively), her meticulous attention to detail has carried across various projects over the years. That, along with her unique style and blossoming confidence as a performer, has built her into a justified solo artist and far more than a Lizzo-sidekick.
Sophia Eris’s release show for her self-titled debut album will be on Saturday, September 17 at Icehouse; located at 2528 Nicollet Ave S in Minneapolis. Doors for the 21+ show (which will also feature Saint Laron, Gym Kang, Ness Nite, and Alibaster Jones) will open at 10:30pm with music starting at 11pm. Admission is $8 advance or $10 at the door. Tickets and more information can be found on the Icehouse’s site.