By Syd Bishop
Mariah Parker, aka emcee Linqua Franqa, has a lot to say. The linguist-cum-politician holds down a hip-hop career as her side hustle, balancing the responsibilities of public office with her skills on the mic.
This year, Parker released a debut album, “Model Minority,” and she campaigned and won the office of county commissioner in her hometown of Athens, Ga., where she was sworn in on a copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography.
“Some of the qualities of a hip-hop artist that cross over into the political sphere is that you know how to rock a microphone and get a crowd together,” she tells Insider.
Parker will perform at Kaiju on Friday, Sept. 21.
A Louisville area native until college, Parker found her voice in Athens. As a child, she grew up with a gospel-singing mother and a fondness for harmonizing to classic R&B.
By high school, she was resigned to watch, sitting on the sidelines until her time in college gave her the courage to get into the spoken-word and hip-hop scenes.
“I’ve always been kind of a loner,” she says. “Growing up, I was kind of that weird kid, reading a lot of books.”
With a burgeoning Athens hip-hop scene to inspire and a community to encourage, Parker got to work on her album. She made connections with local producers, including Wesdaruler, Letsrunktrack and Murk Daddy Flex, who helped her bring her visions to reality on “Model Minority.”
“What was interesting is that some of the rhymes I wrote were from 10th grade,” she says. “I’ve been hoarding these verses for years. Some of it got shuffled, and re-engineered, as I became an adult.”
Given the sensitive and deeply personal subject matter on the album, Parker and the engineers she worked with were diligent about how the music was presented. Parker’s shyness not only translated to her earliest performances, but, in the way, her voice sounded up close and personal.
“I’d written all these songs, and I’d try to perform them, and it didn’t feel great even though I was being affirmed,” explains Parker. “Slowly I came to accept that. But initially it was kind of painful. When we initially recorded the album, we had to throw out everything and come back four months later and do it again. The engineer was hearing these things up close and could hear my nerves and anxiety.”
The album recalls the very best of the golden age of hip-hop, with a Digable Planets or A Tribe Called Quest vibe. Her up-close-and-personal approach is critical to the soul of the music, which is deeply open and honest.
The album is unflinching in its often unflattering portrayals of her emotional and mental life, turning the braggadocio and sensationalism of hip-hop on its head.
Parker is a playful lyricist, pulling from her background as a linguist.
“From a technical standpoint, I’m super obsessive to make sure my rhymes work — flipping through different rhyme schemes,” she says. “At the end of the day, talking about depression, anxiety, being a woman in the world … it felt really true to myself to do my own thing.”
Parker in politics
Like her initial anxiety behind the mic, she was encouraged to pursue politics through a friend whose campaign she’d worked on. As with her rhymes, Parker is earnest and unflinching in her beliefs. When she realized the position for Athens-Clarke County commissioner was running unopposed, she saw that as her opportunity to make her voice known beyond just the stage.
Her victory was a surprise, but one well-earned. She was sworn in on a copy of Malcolm X’s autobiography, per her request, which landed her some national attention.
An openly queer person of color, she was greeted with vitriol by some, but she has persevered.
“Reception has been mixed — a lot of the old white political establishment assumed I’d be pretty militant and have told me straight up to my face, with surprise, how nice and pleasant I am to work with actually,” says Parker. “But it’s like, well duh, we’re all people inherently deserving of dignity and respect, plus I’mma need your help to pass some equitable public policy — so why wouldn’t I be kind?”
She got straight to work. According to Parker, she has already increased government transparency and is looking to help with funding for some capital improvement projects in Athens.
She already intends to run for re-election in 2020 and has her sights set a bit higher in the long run.
“Nationally, I’d love to see a federal jobs guarantee at $20/hour, universal super Medicare for all, free child care and elder care, free legal defense, to see prisons abolished and totally replaced with accountability courts and other rehabilitative recourse, reparations for descendants of slaves and indigenous peoples — to name a few things, which may take eventually running for Congress in order to see happen,” says Parker.
You can catch her performing with Rmllw2llz, dave.will.chris, and Quinnette of The Spinsters Union of Louisville at Kaiju on Friday, Sept. 21. The show starts at 9 p.m. Kaiju is located at 1004 E. Oak St.