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Soulman
King of the Beats
Paying dues early on, Soulman has been an avid beat digger since the late 70's. Primed to stay on top of the game, he recently started his own record label, World of Beats. And yes, he still gets his dig on...

In the World of World beats, Soulman needs no introduction. A veteran of the crate digging scene with a collection large enough to put even the biggest of dogs to shame, he's been collecting vinyl since many of us were stuck on cassingles. Although still a wax junkie at heart, his latest endeavours have involved recording music more than acquiring. In addition to the well received G.U.N. LP, he plans to release a couple Funk and Soul rarities as well as further installments of Phill Most Chill. For more on his work with the Devestating 2, why popular doesn't equate quality and Richard Roundtree, read on...

People may not know but your Father owned a record label in the 70's. Were there any ways in which his love for music translated to you?


Well, his love for music probably did transfer through me, but only through the genes really. I didn't really grow up with my father, he was off doin' his own thing, man, making music and doing shows and understudying for Richard Roundtree in Shaft, even. I was growing up basically just with my mom in Connecticut and barely had any contact with my father. All through my childhood everybody thought I was gonna grow up to be this great cartoonist or whatever, but I guess they didn't know that I had music in my blood from my father's side. I didn't know it myself. It's just when Hip Hop came along and I heard it at these little parties at the neighborhood community center back around 1977 or 1978 I fell in love with what was going on. I can't tell you how lucky I feel to have come up in that era, because since Hip Hop has been on records it hasn't really been the same. In my opinion, as many people as there are worldwide that love Hip Hop and think they know what it is, only a small amount of people really REALLY know, and they're all old muthfuckas like me, ha ha! Even I don't know it like a muthafucka who grew up in the South Bronx- I grew up nearby, but let's face it, Connecticut is not the South Bronx.

Do you see you love for music having an effect on your children?

Only time will tell, I guess. My daughter is definitely a born entertainer, she loves being the star of the show. She tells me she's a singer AND a rapper, and that she wants me to put her on the radio! Ain't that some shit! Doesn't sound like she has any singing talent, unfortunately, but she will perform her heart out. Whatever my kids want to do I'm gonna support them with, as long as it's positive. But I'm stressing education first and foremost... anything after they get that is just gravy, ya know?

For those building their collections you've been known to offer the advice "Listen to the music" as if the urge to create outweighs the desire to appreciate and learn. As you've moved through the game, how has your own appreciation evolved?

One of the most beautiful things about Hip Hop, or at least the kind of Hip Hop I love, is that it's built on samples. People still try to dis the use of samples as not being creative, which is so ridiculous that it's just sad at this point. If you're into this shit like I am, when you hear a dope Hip Hop song you want to find the record that was sampled to make it. Through finding those samples you also discover lost music from back in the days, much of it great music. I've almost always had that appreciation for music, and as I've gotten older and experienced more and more music I feel like I'm just open to more stuff than your average person. When you hear dudes doing a lot of hating on this music or that music, in a lot of cases it's just because that dude hasn't really opened himself up to enough different kinds of music. I know I was way less accepting of a variety of music back twelve years ago than I am now. There's still gonna be stuff that's not really your thing, but I think you appreciate more the longer that you're into music and the more different kinds of stuff that you're willing to listen to.

Hiphop "classics". Will you ever become tired of hearing them?

Oh, hell naw! Greatness is greatness, it's eternal, man. Sure, I'm not trying to be stuck in a timewarp just listening to Furious Five 12"s all day, I need to hear brand new shit too. But when I hear people say stuff like "I used to like that old stuff, but I can't even listen to it anymore", it's hard not to question how much they really ever loved that shit in the first place. But to each their own, you know... unlike some people I have no problem being a played out old dude listening to outdated Hip Hop music! It is what it is, I ain't gonna front and be fake about it just so I can look like I'm still in style or down with what's happening now or whatever. Regardless, though, I keeps my ear to the skreets at all times, mane, believe me. I like a lot of new shit too.

One thing I gotta say about new music, though, and people need to really understand this- just because something is popular and is selling does not mean that it's good or that it's better than stuff that's not selling as much, y'know what I'm sayin'? You can't forget, during the so-called "golden age" of rap, MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice were selling like 10 million copies of their albums, you know, and people like Kool G Rap and Brand Nubian couldn't even sniff gold. To me, that tells you all you really need to know about what kind of music that most people out there really want to hear. I'm sorry to say it and hope I'm not offending anybody by saying it, but in some ways I think the same thing is still happening right now. To some degree, anyway.

Rewind to '84 for a minute, The Devestating 2. What ever happened to the full length?

Actually, that was 1985... 1984 was The Sureshot Two MC's era! That's another little group of mine, ha ha. I did a lot of shit in my day, mane! But the Devestating 2 record was only gonna be a 12". Back in those days 12"s were the preferred medium for rap, few rappers had albums at that point. But we recorded two songs with Hashim for Cutting Records which never saw the light of day due to label politics. A note to random rap historians- our record would have been the second release on NV Records, which was a Cutting Records subsidiary, right after the first Ray Rock & KC 12". I'm kinda glad it didn't come out, though, because Hashim and those dudes were on that electro tip, which was getting played out. I wanted to do some hard Hip Hop type shit, not all these fast dance beats. Once I heard MC Shan's "The Bridge" I was like "THIS is what I want to be doing, right here!" Eventually me and my cousin Rus Ace, my partner in the Devestating, had our little creative differences- he wanted to do stuff with deeper lyrical content, more social relevance and I guess more musical stuff. I just wanted to do some raw ig'nant Hip Hop. I didn't care much about how deep it was at that time, I just wanted people to hear our stuff and be like "oh shit!" So I had to start doing my own stuff after that.

For the past few years you've been on the DL but Phill Most Chill is officially is back in effect. How did the decision to re-release your early work come about?

It just kinda happened. The "On Tempo Jack" 12" was originally pressed in very small quantity and only an even smaller number were ever put in stores- I doubt that it was even 100 records. Maybe not even 50, I don't remember for sure. Years later I actually threw boxes of the remaining records away in a dumpster, thinking they had no value and were just taking up space. Somehow when the "random rap" era began, somebody discovered this record and it became a big deal. So then I started getting offers to do a reissue. I refused for awhile, just because all the offers were pretty weak. But finally I decided to license the record, just because I knew there were people out there that wanted it and would never be able to own an original copy- I've been selling the last few OG copies of that record that I have for like between $500-$600 each. So I'm happy that people got a chance to have some of the stuff I did years ago.
There's still more stuff I plan to put out, too. Another Phill Most Chill 12" will be coming soon, the joint that I played on my "Neva Stop Diggin'" cd and another unreleased record. If that sells well then next will be a full album. I have a lot of music I'm just sitting on. As long as somebody out there is interested I'll keep putting stuff out... why not?

So your label is a one man operation, how has the experience been thus far?

Too damn much for one man, that's for sure! I hope I'll be able to do some things with the World Of Beats label, but if at any point I decide to throw in the towel it'll almost definitely be because I just couldn't handle the workload. Because there is a LOT that has to be done to work a record, man. Sometimes I think a record can come out that just explodes instantly and takes on a life of it's own, but that's very rare. In most cases we're talking about a lot of legwork, correspondence, mailings, promoting, public relations stuff, you know, just a lot. Without having a big budget to take care of this stuff, when you have to do it grassroots style you have to be prepared to work your ass off. So that's where I'm at, bustin' my ass solo with no secretary, interns, nothing. I used to think record companies were just out to rob performers... naw, man. What they do is the REAL work when we talk about the business of selling music. I would tell any artist who thinks that the labels' way of doing business is totally wrong, that they're just jerking artists with these contracts, yo- just try to sell your own record. You'll be rudely awakened when you realize that it's true, that the music biz is indeed 10% music, 90% business.

But I most definitely have a lot of plans for World Of Beats and I'm hoping that I'll be able to handle this undertaking and see this thing out all the way. It's still all a learning process, so with some luck and more experience it'll get easier to handle with time, nahmean?

Any pertinent gripes regarding the industry?

Not really... the industry is what it is. I would just challenge listeners not to be so quick to accept some of what the industry is trying to push on them, because I really think that they insult the people's intelligence sometimes. But, you know, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I give the public more credit than they deserve, I dunno. It's not worth worrying or griping about in my opinion, though. As an artist, I think you just do what you do and let the people decide what they want, and that's it. I feel that even though the big labels who control things with the big money have the upper hand, it's still really up to the people. If the people really want something different than what 's being pushed on them, they will find what they want or push come to shove they will just make their own damn music. And that's the beauty of hip hop, man... it really is the music of the people and you can't stop it from happening.

From an independent artists' standpoint, what would you say is the biggest difference between the 'hiphop climate' of 1994 and 2005?

To me there really is no "hip hop climate" as it was in 1994. I don't think the general public who listens to rap gives a damn about the principals that made hip hop music what it used to be. And I'm not talking about the "elements" or none of that, I just mean the lyrical creativity and the artistry. I don't think people appreciate great lyrics like they used to, they just want something simple and easy to understand more than ever before. Don't get it wrong, though, I can enjoy an empty headed song that sounds cool and has a nice beat and catchy hook just as much as anybody. I don't think every song has to be super scientifical and all that- the bottom line is always gonna be about "giving them something they can feel", to paraphrase Aretha Franklin or En Vogue. A lot of today's Hip Hop, believe it or not, actually is very similar to early Hip Hop, where it was just simple nursery rhymes and crowd participation chants designed to rock the party. Dudes weren't deep back then, they just talked about their material possessions and stuff that sounded cool to the street crowd, just like a lot of popular rappers do now. But somewhere along the line Hip Hop progressed and you had true poets that rose up and made important music. Is the popular stuff right now important music? Maybe it is in it's own way... only time will really tell, I guess.

Regardless, I can enjoy different types of Hip Hop for what it is, even if it's not neccessarily the kind of thing that I love the most. Some of my favorite shit may be deep lyrically and have beats that I think are ill, but could never make fools tear the club up like some crunk or bounce or whatever you call some of the down south stuff.

Yet with the recent G.U.N. EP you've managed to create an amalgam of old & new sensibilities, without overtly delving in to Cristal-sipping club tracks.

Thank you for saying that, because that's totally what I was trying to do with the tracks I did for G.U.N. I didn't want everything to sound like it's from 1994, but we wanted some of that good old feel along with a somewhat more updated sound. It would be totally dishonest for me and G.U.N to try to do strictly 2005 beats with a bunch of keyboards- that just is not us. It's a challenge to try to mix what we think are the best elements of the old and new, but for me that's the goal. If I continue making beats it will definitely be more of the same- if I have my way it could start getting real crazy. I'm feeling like breaking a lot of rules right about now.

After one listen to G.U.N. it becomes obvious that you're a 'sampling' producer. What's good with digging these days?

All of my digging, or most of it, anyway, is done right at the crib these days. I literally have thousands of records that I have never done more than skip through. I find new stuff to sample every time I pull a stack of records off of the shelf. I still hit a record show once in a while, just because it's in my blood to buy records sometimes. But it's not necessary.

Your Father had originally released music by Otis Goodwin, which you're set to re-release. Is the 'rare groove' branch of World of Beats affecting what you check for in the field?

Nah... As I said, I have enough stuff in my own collection that I don't need to check for stuff in the field much. See, my rare groove cds have their share of rarities, but I'm about good music, whether it's shit rare or not. Dudes who climb the highest mountain and swim the deepest sea to find that impossible-to-find rare acetate that no one else in the world has are amazing, I tip my hat to them for sure. But that side of the game isn't real important to me, and I am too busy and too cheap to be bothered with the ultra mega uber rare joints at this point. But you can still knock people out with certain cuts on relatively common albums that have just been overlooked and underappreciated. So I try to give people a little bit of both, the rare and the not-so-rare.

Outside of your mixtapes, do you find that you're keeping your eyes peeled for additional rarities to reissue?

Nah, not at all. The Stroman Fresh Baked Classics division of World Of Beats will basically be mixes, compilations... or at least that's how I'm seeing it right now. I'm planning on putting out the Otis Goodwin album just because he's family and his record came out on my father's label. So since the 45 is now seen as somewhat collectible and they have a whole album from like 1969 that was never released and it's been just sitting for close to 40 years, so why not put it out myself.? That's what that's all about. But if I do come across something else that's dope and deserves a proper reissue, no question, I'll look into putting it out if it seems like it might be a good look. First things first, though- we gonna see how we do with the stuff we have planned right now before even getting into anything else.

Word. Any final thoughts?

I just would like to say that my heart goes out to the people down south in Louisiana, Mississippi and anywhere else that got hit by Hurricane Katrina. A lot of those people were already so impovershed that it was near Third World conditions in some areas, but now the suffering that's going on down there is beyong anything I can even imagine in this country. To see the babies out there, the pregnant women, the old people... man, it's just been like a knife twisting in me since I first saw the footage of the aftermath of this disaster. And now to hear people focusing on the looting that's going on instead of the misery and how fucked up these people's condition is... are you crazy? I'm not gonna go on about it because I could turn this whole damn interview into a rant, but I just wanted to say that the people down there are in my thoughts and I hope the situation can improve as soon as possible.

I guess now's a good time for a Top 5. What's good?

Okay, this can get interesting... I might have to do a top ten, or a few different fives. Let's see...

CURRENT RAP I'M FEELIN' LATELY
1. Kanye West "Late"
2. G.U.N "The Dirt"
3. M.O.P. w/ 50 Cent "Big Boy Game"
4. Ghostface Killah "Milk 'Em (Exile Version)"
5. David Banner "Play"

OLD ASS RAP I'M FEELIN' LATELY
1. UGK "Murder"
2. Yo Yo "Dope Feminity"
3. Nice & Smooth "No Bones in Ice Cream"
4. Legion Of Doom "Live Bait"
5. Original Three "Hellfire"
 

OLD MUSIC I'VE BEEN LISTENING TO RECENTLY
1. The Sylvers "Even This Shall Pass Away"
2. Sly And The Family Stone "Family Affair"
3. Doors "Waiting For The Sun"
4. Dave Grusin "The Yakuta"
5. Smokey Robinson And The Miracles "More Love"
6. Gil Scott-Heron "Pieces Of A Man" lp
7. Marvin Gaye "Time"
8. Father's Children "Hollywood Dreaming"
9. Smith Connection "Under My Wings" lp
10. Bootsy's Rubber Band "Oh Boy Gorl"

 

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