featured interview

Soulstice Soul wandering Workin with the US Government, being married ?nd rap. It's possible. Soulstice, 27 years old, 3 years happily married and workin as an engineer for the Navy, proves it. His debut album 'North By Northwest: Solid Ground' was re-issued/released officially last year (after an independent release in 2003).

Wassup Soulstice, your album has been released a couple of months ago, how?s the reactions/sales?

Whattup fam? The album is doing well! It was released first in Japan and definitely did its thing over there. It was one of the best selling albums to be released last summer through Handcuts/Universal. In the US, the media reaction and critical acclaim has been amazing. The album is doing really well online with downloads through sites like Itunes.

Why did you keep a few songs from the first album on 'NbNw:SG' and didn't make a whole new album instead?

Basically I put the first album out myself and ?sold it out the trunk? so to speak. But the album drew a lot of attention and a label in the US and Handcuts over in Japan wanted to re-release the album with official distribution. It had already been a few years since I?d recorded most of it though, so I didn?t want to put the same album out again. I wanted to make it fresh and more representative of where I am now. So I got back in studio and made some new music and only kept my favourites from the original version.

The connection between you and Oddisee is tight, when and how did you meet?

In the summer of 2002, I was living out in Maryland for a few months. I had one year left in grad school and I was on an internship. I was still new to the East Coast scene so I was hitting open mics and met Oddisee after we both performed at the same open mic in DC. I thought his beats were crazy so I got his math and recorded a few joints with him that summer. When I moved back to Maryland in 2003 we got back in the studio and made a lot more music.

I guess you did a lot of stuff through the Internet for the album?

As an independent artist, the Internet is a big part of promoting and selling my projects. One of the most important things I do is send periodic e-mail updates to my friends, fans and contacts. I?ve got thousands of people on that e-mail list and it keeps everyone up to date on what?s going on with Wandering Soul. I?ve got a Myspace page that I keep up too. Myspace is crazy as far as promoting and making new fans. Then of course, I go for as many on-line reviews, interviews and general promotion as possible. Once the project is released, I make it available for Internet sales and download though sites like iTunes and eMusic.

Is it through the Internet that you connected with Shuko?

No, actually Double J, my radio promoter, introduced us. JJ is up in New York so I have no idea how he and Shuko originally made contact. But after that, Shuko and I built on-line and even met in person a few times in New York during his visits to the US from Germany. He passed me a beat CD with about 30 beats on it and I found the beat for ?Always?. That was the first song we did together and I wound up putting that out as a single because it turned out so well.

How's workin with people from around the globe?

It?s amazing. The Internet wasn?t really around like it is now when I was growing up. When I was kid, I couldn?t even imagine meeting someone from another country, much less making music with them. So far I?ve collaborated with people from Germany, France, Japan, Korea, Australia, The Netherlands, Mexico, Canada, and the list goes on. It?s a great feeling. I?ve been to a few of those places, but my next goal is to actually travel to all of them to visit and perform.

How would you compare releasing an album in Japan to releasing it elsewhere (US/Europe)?

It?s easier! When I release a project in Japan I basically just hand over the master and the artwork to the label and they take it from there. They do all of the distribution, promotion, marketing, etc. whereas for the US releases, I do a lot of that myself. Japan is definitely one of the best markets in the world for hip-hop right now. It?s amazing to get that much support and appreciation from people in a place that I?ve never even seen. Europe is a market I?m still trying to really break into. I?ve got some limited distribution in Europe, but I?m working on making it bigger and better.

How did you hook up with Handcuts rec?

Actually, Oddisee introduced me to Masaki, their international A&R. After that I sent them a copy of the original version of ?North by Northwest? and they immediately got interested and wanted collaborate on some projects.

When and why did you start Wandering Soul?

Releasing the original version of ?North by Northwest?, I learned a lot about the business of hip-hop and releasing music independently. After that, I got really focused and knew that if I was going to get where I wanted to go I would need my own label and my own movement. It allows me to make my own calls artistically when it?s time to make music and it allows me to move freely and quickly when its time to do business. It also establishes a brand for the kind of music that I make. I have a new group called Wade Waters (SoulStice and Haysoos) coming out this year under Wandering Soul. Fans of my music can rest assured that any music that comes out on my label will be of the same high calibre and share that same artistic vision.

How important was it to connect with Raptivism and what do you expect from this collaboration?

Getting a distribution deal for Wandering Soul though Raptivism/Ryko takes everything up a notch. It will still be business as usual as far as making music and putting albums together. But this distribution deal takes the ?out the trunk? aspect out of putting the project out when it?s finished. ?North by Northwest: Solid Ground? was distributed through Universal in Japan, but in the US it was still a hustle in terms of getting the project in stores. Ryko is one of the largest and most respected independent distributors in the US, so as long we continue to create a buzz for our projects, they?ll be in all of the same stores and retail outlets as major label releases.

You work for the US government, what's it exactly you're doing?

Well, I can?t tell you exactly what I?m doing! I?m a signal processing engineer and I write algorithms for the Navy that help with submarine detection.

Do the people who work there know what you're doing?

Actually yeah, at this point a lot of the people I work with know about the hip hop thing. It?s funny because I tried to keep everything on the low when I first got there. It wasn?t that I thought it would be a problem, I just naturally only told my close friends. Little by little it got out though, a magazine article here, a website that somebody found there. My boss actually posted an article from NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers) magazine about me on the wall that?s titled ?Engineer by Day, Rising Hip Hop Star by Night? so people got the idea. The breaking point was when I attended a work function with my wife and there was a band playing. Someone tipped the band off that I was an emcee and they dragged me on stage. All of a sudden I was spitting verses in front of my co-workers and my bosses! The head of my department came over to me afterwards and jokingly told me that I was ?wasting my talent? working at APL. Sure it was all in fun and he had a few drinks, but that was still a good feeling.

Do you think there'll be a time when you have to quit your day job for music and at what point would you do it?

It?s definitely possible. Right now I?m in a very comfortable position, I?m lucky to get to do two things that I enjoy. I?m looking forward to giving a full-time music career a shot, but only if it makes sense financially.

Do you have enough spare time left to work on your music or do you need more hours in a day?

I could definitely use more hours in day, just ask my wife! Some days it?s a real grind, but I always find time to get everything done. Typically I?ll get up around 6am, do an hour or so of music stuff, go to work from 7:30am until about 5pm, hit the gym, and then go back home to write songs and take care of business. Those are the easy days. On the long days, after work I head to the studio or out to do a show somewhere. Sometimes I won?t get home until 1 or 2am and then it?s up at 6 or 7am the next morning.

Did you know there's a group called Soulstice on OM Records?

I started using the name SoulStice back in the nineties and I didn?t hear about that group until around 2002. It seems like we started using the name around the same time. I actually spoke with the group about the dual name usage a few years back. I think people were confused at first but our music is so different, it?s hard to mistake one for the other.

Of the Bionic Six crew there's only two rappers who really seem to float above water: Psalm One and you, what's up with the others, can we expect something from them too?

First of all, it?s bugging me out that you even know about Bionic Six! For those that don?t know, Bionic Six was like a super-group we formed back at the University of Illinois with all the best emcees on campus. It?s funny because there were actually more than six of us as time went on. The original group was Psalm One, Antimatter, Encloypedia Brown, Don Prophet, Klover, SoulStice and my guy Adam Key was our DJ. When my brother, Essohess, came to campus, he joined the group as well. Psalm is definitely doing her thing, and I?m making noise right now too with Wandering Soul. Antimatter, E. Brown and my man Doomsday formed a new group called Cypher Bulliez that performs a lot in Chicago and is doing an album.

I actually did a show with them last fall. Don Prophet is still making music but I haven?t spoken with him in quite a while. Not sure what?s up with Klover, I haven?t seen her since college. Essohess is still laying down the occasional song, but I?m not sure if he?ll ever do an album although I keep trying to get him back in the studio! He was living in Spain when I was working on ?North by Northwest: Solid Ground?, or I would have put him on that album. Adam is in California now doing films, believe it or not.

Psalm One is about to release an album on Rhymesayers, are you involved and would you?ve expected that she would bring it his far?

I?m not involved with Psalm?s current projects, but we keep in touch. I?m very proud of her and hope her album does well. I still think she?s the hottest female emcee out there. She?s very talented and I always knew she could take it as far as she wanted to.

How do you remember your college days?

I?ve got great memories of college. I was lucky enough to party hard, do a lot of hip-hop and extra-curricular stuff and still get the grades I wanted to. The whole Bionic Six and Banarnar thing was just a lot of fun. There were late-night freestyle sessions, mid-afternoon ciphers on the quad, all-night recording sessions and crazy live shows at all the venues on campus. When I look back, I can?t believe everything I did! My man Chris Wu and I used to do a radio show on a campus station back in the day. I used to perform with a five-piece band called Veritas for a few years. I even studied abroad in Russia for a few months one summer. I was lucky enough to go to school with my brother, so we used to hang out. We had a group called The Complex that also used to perform around town. I met Amanda on campus and we got an apartment together during grad school. We got married after we graduated. It was all so much fun, it definitely went by too fast.

Do you produce yourself?

I have an on-going joke with Oddisee and Haysoos that I?m going to start producing one of these days. I?ve always had the urge to, but with everything else I do I just don?t have time. Back in school I bought a Roland MC-307 groovebox and used to make sample-free beats for fun. I wouldn?t dare to rhyme over any of them though!

Thanks to your PC knowledge I guess you can do a lot of engineering/mastering on your music yourself?

The technical knowledge that I have definitely gives me an understanding of the process of making music. From the microphone and the hardware to the recording software and the mastering, I understand the whole process so I always know exactly how to communicate with recording and mastering engineers. But believe it or not, I don?t really like doing my own engineering or mastering. Just knowing how something works doesn?t make you an expert at it. At the end of the day, it?s all about how it sounds. So I pretty much leave the engineering and the mastering to the professionals and just try to do my job as artist.

Is there a vast hip-hop scene in DC, Maryland?

There?s definitely a lot of talented artists out here. There?s a pretty strong independent hip hop scene, but it?s still growing. The problem is that there aren?t really that many hip-hop artists that really represent DC/Maryland on a national level. But there are some artists coming up now that I think are going to put this area on the map.

Do you often go back to Chicago?

Yeah, sometimes I think a little too often – those plane tickets can get expensive! I try to come back every few months or so to connect with family and friends. Plus my wife and I just love Chicago, so we go back as often as we can just to visit the city.

What Chi artists are you into right now?

Like everybody else, I?m on the Kanye West bandwagon. I love what he?s done for Chicago hip hop over the past few years. I?ve been a fan of Common?s work for years and I?m a die-hard Twista fan as well. I?m diggin? Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest. Juice is an all-time favourite and I like All Natural too. Molemen, and of course, Psalm One and Cypher Bulliez.

What's the first rap record you bought?

An early Twista album, Ice Cube?s ?Death Certificate?, ?The Chronic? and ?Illmatic? were among the first albums I actually bought. But I used to dub a lot of my friends tapes and make mixtapes by recording songs off the radio before I ever started buying albums.

What artists except for hip-hop artists are you listening to?

I recently bought ?Best of Stevie Wonder? and ?Best of the Bee-Gees? CDs that I?ve had in rotation. I?ve got ?Best of Sade? in the deck too. I?m also starting to get into a lot of Reggaeton artists like Don Omar, Daddy Yankee and Wisin y Yandel.

You got married in 2005, how's married life feel like?

Married life is great. My wife, Amanda, and I got married back in Chicago last fall and had a great honeymoon in Cancun, Mexico. It can definitely be tough with all of the music stuff that I do in addition to my job, but we support each other so it?s all good. She comes to almost all of my shows and is understanding when it comes to late-night studio sessions and all that. I playfully refer to her as ?my manager? – not for music stuff but for everything else. So if someone asks me if I want to come to a bar or something I tell them I?ll have to put them in touch with my management!

Your next LP is called 'Dead Letter Perfect' what can you already say about that?

?Dead Letter Perfect? is about pursuing perfection in life and in music. It?s shaping up to be an amazing album. It?s too early to give anything away though! Actually, the next LP I?m releasing is with my new group Wade Waters (SoulStice and Haysoos) and is called ?DarkWater?. The way that one?s turning out it?s looking like there are two damn-near classic albums on the horizon for Wandering Soul!

Could you tell us more about the Wade Waters project...

Wade Waters is releasing a mixtape this summer called ?Return of the Kings? with a lot of SoulStice and Haysoos solo material, some exclusive collaborations and a few preview joints off the upcoming Wandering Soul albums. A lot of our music has been released on wax, so this will be the first time that some of that music has been released on CD. This fall we?ll be releasing our album ?DarkWater?. It?s got crazy production by Analogic (an upcoming east coast producer), Shuko, Kev Brown, Oddisee and Speaks and guest features from Cuban Link and the legendary AZ of Illmatic fame.

Any shout-outs?

Peace to my people out in Belgium and my man Sbe Audiologist!

Peace Soulstice.

 

POSTED 05|01|2006
conducted by cpf

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