James Poyser: The Soul Innovator

Erykah Badu’s debut album, Baduizm, marked the beginning of a unique blend of old school soul with Hip-Hop sensibility that would dominate and influence the way soul was done from that point forward. Since then, artists like The Roots, Lauryn Hill, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, Anthony Hamilton, Common, Talib Kweli, Bilal, and Musiq have all released albums touched by this evolution in R&B.

The man whose hands have been involved all of those projects is musician/producer James Poyser. He has become the ‘Soul Man’, the go-to creator of that soul that goes bump. Within in the industry Poyser is known and revered, but among fans his name still hides in the tiny print of liner notes.

Preferring the anonymity of his studio to the shine of a video shot, Allhiphop.com Alternatives puts Poyser and his talents on blast. Get to know the cloaked man who has been turning out baby-making music for an entire industry.

AllHipHop.com Alternatives: You are so revered within the R&B realm of things and you’ve contributed to your fair share of Hip-Hop albums as well, but you’ve never become that celebrity type of producer that’s always in the video. Why is that?

JP: That’s not my personality - I’m not really one to be seen. I like to just contribute the way I can and leave it at that. I just love the music. I’m not into the whole glory thing or whatever. I’m not dissing it, if that’s your thing cool, do you. I’m a musician first and foremost and I just like to play music.

AHHA: What was the first instrument you played?

JP: I played drums first and then I switched to bass guitar, and now I’m a keyboardist. I wouldn’t dare call myself a drummer now surrounded by cats like Ahmir [?uestlove].

AHHA: With the immense respect and popular that you have in the R&B world, have you thought about being the first R&B producer since Quincy Jones to do an album the way that the Hip-Hop producers often do?

JP: You know that has be talked about and discussed for year actually. I really didn’t want to do one ‘cause I didn’t want the attention, but lately I have been thinking about doing that kind of thing. Following the blueprint of what Quincy did with The Dude with some guest singers and emcees.

AHHA: What happen to the Soulquarians?

JP: Hey, I don’t know, I still consider myself one. Jay Dilla is working and Ahmir is doing his group thing, and I think [D’Angelo] is working on some things here and there. I’m still friends with everybody, it’s the kind of friendship where you might not speak to someone for a while, but I still consider them friends. There’s no ill will between anybody that I know of. I think what happened was that the thought was out there that everybody who was doing soul music was part of the Soulquarians. Some articles were written about who the Soulquarians were, and I don’t know if everybody considered themselves a part of the whole thing. Initially it started out as us four cats, and we all liked the same music and all our birthdays were around the same time. We all are Aquarians, so that’s were the name comes from.

AHHA: Us four cats? Who are you speaking about?

JP: D’Angelo, Jay Dee, Ahmir and myself, that’s who it was originally. I don’t know how it turned into everybody who was doing some soulful music was a Soulquarian. That’s the way it was portrayed, and I really didn’t see it like that and I think some other people didn’t really see it like that either.

AHHA: You think any bitterness was created because of that?

JP: Ughhhhh, maybe [laughs]. Ya know, there were some established artist themselves that were kind of lumped with us. From my point of view, I was like, ‘Oh no, no, no I never contributed to his success or her success.’ I may have worked with them. Then there were some artists that I had never worked with that were lumped in. It got sort of messy.

AHHA: Do you see a possible reemergence of whatever project was talked about with the Soulquarians?

JP: I would really hope so. Me and Ahmir still work on some projects from time to time, but ya know his main hustle is with The Roots. His studio is right down the hall from my studio, and when he’s around we’re always in each others studios. Me and Jay, I haven’t spoken to him in a while, but we’ve worked on stuff in the past and I don’t see why we wouldn’t work together again. The same thing with D, he’s working on some things and if he would want me to do something with him, I’m there. Again there’s no beef that I know of.

AHHA: Speaking of D’Angelo, the rumors surrounding him are wild. Have you seen or spoken to him lately?

JP: I have spoken to D in quite a while, I really don’t know what’s going on with him.

AHHA: As far as him not talking to anyone, why do you think that is?

JP: I don’t know man, I honestly don’t know. D is a genius in my opinion and there are many other people who would say the same thing. He is doing his thing in his way and maybe that’s part of being a genius.

AHHA: But if you had it your way, you and he would be speaking?

JP: Yeah, but he’s doing it his way and I don’t really know anything about what he’s doing. I do know this, from what people have told me who have heard some of the stuff he’s working on, the stuff is like ‘wow’. I haven’t heard anything myself, but these are trusted people who are great themselves, so if they’re saying ‘wow’, than I can only imagine [laughs]. I can only imagine.

AHHA: What types of music do you listen too?

JP: Everything from Lloyd Banks to Jill Scott to Herbie Hancock to Audioslave.

AHHA: The production on a song like Jill Scott’s “Talk to Me” - is that production already done before Jill does the vocals or is that a collaborative effort to create a song that works on two distinctly different levels like that?

JP: Me and Jill were working on something else and when I’m working my hands are constantly playing the keyboard. I hit a couple of notes and she said, ‘Oh play that again’, and those notes became the essence of ‘Talk to Me’. I built the track around that motif and Jill put down the vocals and the song was done. Then Jill comes up with the idea to do a jazz version of the song, so I called the musicians and we did a rhythm session and we track a full version. Then I thought, why don’t we just put both the songs and styles together. In my mind I was thinking about Frank Sinatra at The Sands.

AHHA: What’s the next musical challenge for you?

JP: I want to score, I want to be the Black Hans Zimmer.

AHHA: Hans is the truth, I love his stuff.

JP: Yeah he’s dope, him and Danny Elfman.

AHHA: Do you have any scoring projects lined up?

JP: I’ve done some really small budget indie projects, but I’ve got lots more to learn. I’ve been going to the movies lately and my friends will be like, ‘Did you see that scene?’ I’ll be like ,‘Nah I was listening to the music.’