A Battle Rapper's MC: Soul Khan of Brown Bag Allstars On "Not F*cking Around"
With fresh new music on his latest EP, Psalm, a new wife, and a whole new world around him, Brooklyn's underground phenom Soul Khan is stepping out of the box and giving it another go-round with a new sound and flavor to his already infamous husky voice.
AllHipHop.com caught up with the brainy member of Brown Bag AllStars for a frank discussion on his previous battle days, his philosophy on what keeps him hot in a rap world full of Ratchetry Worship, and what this latest project means to him. Read on:
AllHipHop.com: Thanks for taking the time out! So let's just start with the obvious. You've finally put the new project out. What was it inspired by, and what was the delay?
Soul Khan: Thank you for your time and consideration. Yes, I just dropped Psalm, my last EP in the Love Supreme series. It is named after the last record on John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, as the preceding Es were named after the preceding tracks on Coltrane's work (Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance). The delay was having to switch producers from my homie Elaquent to a brilliantly-talented young man named Abnormal from St. Louis. Elaquent was understandably busy with his own project (which I assure folks is off the chain), so Abnormal got tagged in and went above and beyond.
AllHipHop.com: What differentiates this new project from the rest of your releases in the series?
Soul Khan: This EP is a lot more synth heavy, less sample-reliant, and leaning toward the future sound of a lot of my music, which is a fusion of the new and old. It's also a lot more vulnerable emotionally. Additionally, there are NO RAP features on it.
AllHipHop.com: Who did you work with on this project? Are there any moments of particular interest that you had while working on the release that you care to share with the readers?
Soul Khan: First, it's remarkable that I have never met the producer of the EP, Abnormal once. Never even talked on the phone. I only know what he looks like because of his YouTube channel. This is what music can do, unite strangers and create once-in-a-lifetime moments. As for my featured singers, there's the always powerful Akie Bermiss, who brought that new New Jack Swing to the chorus of "The Machine," Arthur Lewis' haunting contribution to the hook of "Rusted Ghosts," Nicholas Ryan Gant's sorrowful outpouring on the chorus of "Morning Alone," and all three of them in unison tearing sh*t up on the song "Van Gelder".
I think the most fascinating moment to me in the process of making this record was witnessing Nicholas at work. He really gets into an almost transcendent state, and then when he's done, lets out a hesitant chuckle like, "Was that OK?" Everybody watching was just kind of awestruck and couldn't even answer. It's surreal when such amazing artists are so down-to-earth, which all my collaborators luckily are.
AllHipHop.com: How has the transition from Battle Rapper to MC been for you, and why do you think it is that the fans can't let go of the idea of you battling again?
Soul Khan: It's just a return to form because battling was a digression from music, not a preceding step. I've been rapping since I was 12, so like 15 years, and only battled for two of them. It's actually been a full two years since I last battled, and I cannot say I miss it, though I appreciated it for what it was.
AllHipHop.com: Your music has become synonymous with making a statement. Whether it was speaking on your own life's lessons in "Soul Like Khan", the death penalty and Troy Davis in the United States on the song "Mr. Governor", or the deliberate message about living for today in "Wellstone", you have always found a way to use your voice to address what you see happening around you. Why do you feel this has been successful with fans in a current musical environment that seems to be full of ratchet worshiping? How have world events changed you as an artist?
Soul Khan: I think there's a substantial portion of people who want to hear music that isn't f*cking stupid. There's a lot of apologists for f*cking stupid music in music journalism circles at all levels, unfortunately, as if they imagine they'll be regarded as more culturally savvy or provocative by treating f*cking stupid music with the same critical rigor and straight face as music that isn't f*cking stupid.
That's honestly a sub-genre to me: "f*cking stupid." I feel really bad for folks who want to learn about music that moves or inspires them, but have to wade through the marsh of bullsh*t that's covered today. So I guess my passion resonates with people. (laughter) The world's events are all that I go on when it comes to making music, on the microcosmic or broader level.
AllHipHop.com: What legacy do you hope your music will leave, and what are you hoping the fans understand about you as a result of listening to your music?
Soul Khan: I hope my music makes people happy, fulfilled, motivated, and so on, but I really want people to take away from the music the idea that everything means something, even if you expressly say it doesn't. I want people to hold me, themselves, and everyone else accountable for their ideas, their sentiments, what they include, and what they leave out.
AllHipHop.com: Can you give us five words to describe you as an artist?
Soul Khan: Not f*cking around at all.
AllHipHop.com: (laughter) Wow, Okay, so what's up next for Soul Khan?
Soul Khan: What's next is a full-length album produced by J57 and a free project to precede it, produced by everybody else under the sun. Also, enjoying life with my wife and cats.
AllHipHop.com: Where can the fans find your new project, and how can they keep in touch with you?
Soul Khan: For my music, videos, and more, always, always, always first head to www.soulkhan.com, and I can always be easily contacted by fans on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you, AllHipHop, and thank you, Skyy!