Friday, June 15, 2012

100% Soul Khan (Interview)

            Rappers come from all sorts of backgrounds nowadays, but a good chunk of the world still believes that all rappers do is talk into a microphone, hate on their competitors, fuck every girl they can, and, of course, smoke weed.  You gotta love it when you ask a rapper “what are your plans for the next few days?” and he says “I’m going to Canada tomorrow to visit my fiancĂ©.” 
            Soul Khan is one smart mawfucker.  He doesn’t pretend to be anything that he is not, which is often difficult to find in rappers of this generation.  His self-awareness impacts his career decisions in a much more calculated and balanced way than many of his fellow rappers.  He really knows what is going on and is sure not to miss anything important.  I got Soul Khan on the phone for an interview, and it proved to be a very insightful and educational exchange.  I asked him general to-be-expected questions about his battle rap days and the whole white guy rap thing, but I also asked him about his live setup, and his thoughts on various areas of hip hop.  What was most interested to me was Khan’s resistance to my black and white interview approach. His answer to my probing either/or questions always seemed to provide a polite and satisfying way of saying “I won’t choose, it’s not as easy as that.” Everything can become something else to him, the rules and regulations of hip hop are not set in stone, according to Soul Khan’s book of laws. Hit the jump...

How do you feel about the importance of the group mentality in hip hop?
I wouldn’t be where I am without members of my group, they made me a better artist, enabled me to become the rapper I am in terms of my artistry and where I’m going in my career. I can’t front like “oh if I set out on my own I’d be in the place I need to be.” Its a product of what you see, when you hear my music, basically anything I put out is in some way a brown bag product.

What’s the latest with being a white guy in hip hop? How do you respond to the stigma of the white rapper?
I’ve only been trying to make rap my career since 2008, I haven’t even made a go of it as my day job before 2011. The stigma has already faded away. I feel because of the particular way that I look, I’m not a particularly rapperly looking fellow based on stereotypes, I do get the mileage out of that. Anything about my image is a function of nature, not aesthetics. Maybe I get some novelty, Woody Harrelson thing, but when I’m talking to industry people, or people who are really in the know and clued in, people up to date on what’s going on, I tell them I’m a rapper they’re not surprised at all.

Do you ever get the urge to explore outside of your niche or subgenre of comfort? Do you want to front a rock band or something? Try out new things?
I'm actually planning on one song where I only sing. I sing a lot I sing a good number of my hooks.  Ever since I dropped my first album Soul Like Khan, I’ll do any hook that wasn’t Akie Bermiss. Into new things? Not many other ways to be for me. It keeps it interesting while I make the music.

How often do your tour and to what extent?
We’re setting up more official tours later this year. I’m on the road on average a quarter of every month, it’ll only intensify. Its fun as hell. I couldn’t see myself making headway in music without that. I do a lot to try to win over fans at a live show. Not gonna say I reinvent the wheel on stage, its difficult to do that with rap.  I rhyme on stage, and my friend Akie sings, and my DJ DJ's. Its energetic. Its the same caliber of the recording, and its very crowd oriented. 

How has your career evolved since you moved on from battle rapping?
You know a lot of people ask when I’m gonna battle again, not gonna lie it sucks. Im kind of tired of it.  The majority of people who know about me know through the battle rap. If they don’t follow me along into the music aspect there’s not much I can do for them.  I don’t want to sound like I don’t care about the fans but I can’t do something that is antagonistic to me. It was a fun part of my life but I had to go past it. I’m grateful for the name recognition.  Generally the people who listen stick around, we have a good turnover rate for people who give it a shot. The video stats versus Facebook and Twitter numbers. A lot of fans are feeling empowered by the internet and glad about it, but some fans take it waaaay too far and assume you are a puppet for their entertainment. They assume all music should be free, and you have to make it easy for them, it can be frustrating.  “The fans want it so do it.” Like you’re not the voice of all of the fans. 

So would you say you’re are a fan of the Internet?
It has facilitated a lot for me. It consolidates your fan base, makes you look more impressive. The fact that you can put that number up for everyone to see.  To be able to do that and flash that around is important for artists on the come up.  It helps their career.
Outside of music im not a huge internet dude. I use it for news and I use it for watching TV. Hulu, New York Times, Netflix, political blogs, videogame blogs…

What’s your videogame right now?
Skyrim. It is very hard not to just sit around playing Skyrim.

Do you ever perform with a live band? Do you see any advantages or disadvantages?
If the resources are there to have your own sound engineer, I’d be more comfortable. A lot of sound men are great, some aren’t.  They’re not always on their game. I don’t want to take that chance.  Natural hip hop crowd needs the rapper. My voice is lower than a lot of MCs. The low end in my voice gets devoured by a live band. 

*At this point, I mistakenly referred to Akie as Khan’s hype man. He corrected/schooled me in a very polite and respectful way. 
Akie is not the 'hype man.’ I don’t have someone finishing my words for me. I’m not trying to take shortcuts. When I saw Wu Tang, I didn’t sing every word. When I saw Rakim I didn’t mouth every word.  It’d be like if I saw Miles Davis and tried to air trumpet.

What happened to the art of freestyle? Why do you think focus has shifted to written rap and no one cares how scripted freestyles are?
The definition varies based on demographics. I don’t care whether it is off the head or not. Show what you do to the best of your ability.  It used to be that something on the radio wouldn’t end up on a million blogs, now its like the whole world is watching.  I think the internet helped kill it, because no one wants to make a bad impression on the world.  I really rarely freestyle, I almost freestyle as a joke.  If you ask people what the most important moments in hip hop, a freestyle, a real off the head freestyle, is never gonna enter the conversation.  9/10 guys that radio freestyle is not off the head.  What do you get out of it? People go apeshit.  Its not as hard as people think, its about training. 

What do you think about the relationship between the role of improvisation in comedic TV versus the role of improvisation in hip hop?
What furthered that style of comedy, I think viral media, sketch comedy on the internet, helped do that a lot. Arrested Development, The Office.  Hip hop is fending for itself.  There are some things of that nature, rap sketch comedy.  Hip hop should be fun to make, but its also gravely serious sometimes.  Freestlying is not serious more often than not.  Its tough to generate seriousness, its tough to get behind a meaningful sentiment that you phrase well of the top of your head.  The song is what matters. The freestyle is a beautiful thing, it might be a relic.

Have you thought of doing any sort of concept album?
I can’t reveal that.  I have in terms of the construction of the music, I just need the resources.  I’m trying to do something in the future that will be considered groundbreaking. 

Do you enjoy shooting music videos? Why or why not?
I love it, I do. I enjoy it. It can add to the song a lot. Its essential. You neeeed a video. In the internet market across all demographics, it means a lot less to not drop a video.  You have to. If I could drop a video for every song I would. 


Kendrick Lamar or Asap Rocky?
Very different dudes. They bring a lot to the table in different ways. Kendrick is one of the premier lyricist of the west coast right now. Asap is doing a lot to create a sound.  I like both of them. 

Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones?
Breaking Bad.

Travel back in time or to the future, and why?
It depends on whether I had the means to get back (to the present). If I don’t, if I’m stuck, then the future. If I’m not stuck, the past.  If its a one way trip, the future. 

Mos Def or Ghostface Killah?
Impossible to choose. They are both preeminent lyricists of their generation, but they serve VERY different purposes. 

I have trouble with either or. In the internet your compelled to pick sides. Its unproductive.  That’s not how people were. Hip hop is much more zealous than other genres in playing favorites.