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King Sol is San Francisco's Teenage Jewish Rapper 

Wednesday, Jul 6 2016
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In advance of its annual Oracle Arena basketball games against Lick-Wilmerding High School, the spirit squad from University High School uploaded a video on YouTube in January. Called "Devil's Anthem," the four-minute-and-22-second film is essentially an ode to the Pacific Heights school, with cameo shots of its sports teams, faculty, and students. A tall blonde student named Frannie Arnautou handles the chorus, belting the lines "It's the Devil's anthem / Lick here we come" from various locations around campus, including the top of Twin Peaks.

But it's the song's writer and rapper, a senior named Ben Solomon, who deserves the most applause. Donning thick rectangular glasses, a red fleece vest, and a white T-shirt (red and white are University's school colors), Solomon — who raps under the name King Sol — spits words in quick succession, his voice athletic and tireless, his lines punctuated with open arms and hand gestures.

Since middle school, the 18-year-old has been practicing the art of rapping, and for most of his high school career, he's made money on the side by penning songs for people through the internet. (He's also not the first rapper to graduate from University High School; Watsky predates him by 11 years.)

To date, Solomon, who will attend Tufts University in the fall, has released three albums, but he counts "Devil's Anthem" as one of the most pivotal points in his career thus far. Not only was it fun to create, but it ended up leading to the emcee's first-ever rap beef.

Two days after the spirit squad at University uploaded the video, some students from Lick-Wilmerding responded with a video of their own — except, instead of modeling it as a paean to their school, like University had, they created a diss track.

Whereas the worst remarks in "Devil's Anthem" are "They ain't the best" and "They'll be crying on every bus," the lyrics to the Lick-Wilmerding students' "Game Recognize Game" are more personal and hard-hitting — and in most cases, aimed specifically at Solomon. They mock his rapping abilities, his bushy eyebrows, and his resemblance — however vague — to the Jewish comedian and actor Andy Samberg.

"It got very interesting because we wanted to make something that was very positive about our school," says Solomon, who is Jewish. "And they came back at us with a four-minute rap diss song that just attacked me."

As a white rapper and a self-proclaimed nerd who pens songs dissuading listeners from drinking or doing drugs, Solomon knows he's an easy target.

"In one sense, it's a lot harder because you have to overcome judgments people have about you," he says. "But I try to be who I am and I'm not afraid to hide that."

He's also not afraid to hide what others say about him. At University's end-of-year school dance, Solomon learned the lyrics to "Game Recognize Game" and performed the song for his school. He says he now finds the song "hilarious" and thinks it's "cool" that he was embroiled in a hip-hop-related tiff.

The Lick-Wilmerding students' video — which has about 300 more views than "Devil's Anthem" — also ended up helping Solomon (even though his school's boys team ended up losing to Lick-Wilmerding; the girl's team, however, won). King Sol's SoundCloud page benefited from an influx of new listeners who doubled the number of plays for each of his 23 tracks. (He now has a little more than 1,000 followers on the music-sharing site.)

At the end of May, Solomon released his third album, Be Somebody, which he completed during the second semester of his senior year and received class credit. The eight-track project was mixed in Miami by DJ Double A, a producer who has affiliations with DJ Khaled's We The Best record label. But other than that, it was created entirely in Solomon's bedroom at his parents' house in the Richmond District. In fact, Solomon's entire catalog has been recorded there. In addition to a twin bed, a desk, and dozens of vinyl rap records displayed on the walls as decoration, the room is outfitted with two electronic keyboards, a USB microphone covered with a pop filter, and a transportable square-shaped sound barrier that Solomon made using noise-cancelling foam, a stapler, and cardboard paper.

Rudimentary though this setup may sound — and look — it works. Be Somebody which features a range of production styles and techniques, from reverb and auto tuning to funky bass lines and marimba-esque percussion — is a sharp, tightly recorded body of work that sounds professional-grade to even the most discerning ear. With braggadocio-heavy songs ranging from young love to time-traveling in the DeLorean from Back to the Future to broadening one's vocabulary to include more than just cuss words, Be Somebody is Solomon's best work to date, as well as his most positive.

"I wanted to make something that was a reflection of who I am, but also something that has a purpose and reinforces the idea of positivity," he says. "Rap is such a powerful tool in that it can really change people and help people deal with things in life. But I feel like a lot of times people waste it on negativity."

Solomon also shies away from sounding didactic or preachy in his music, especially in regards to abstaining from drinking and using drugs. Though he has never tried smoking weed, he says his stance has nothing to do with his religion, but that it's more of a lifestyle choice, just as it is for those who partake in both activities.

"I'm not out of touch with reality and I know that it's a huge part of a lot of people's lives," he says. "What I have a problem with is when you have people, like Lil Wayne, where most of his rap songs are about drugs and alcohol. He has this powerful platform where he can put music out to millions of people and has the potential to change people's lives, but instead, he will put out hundreds of songs about misogyny, violence, and drugs."

Even though Solomon will be heading off to college in Massachusetts this August, he says he won't be changing his message — or opinions on drinking and drug use — any time soon.

"Obviously, it's going to be around everywhere, but there's no way I'd try either," he says. "I'm very set in my ways and I think that's what's helped me get to where I am today. Being different has put me on my own path."

Solomon will, however, continue making music while pursuing a degree in computer science, even if it means having to record in a closet surrounded by sweaters. He even has a tentative name for his next album: Dorm Room Flows.

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Jessie Schiewe

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