Ask Musiq (@MusiqSoulchild). Its hard out here for a soul singer. Seems like to hit the charts you have to be the gossip blogs’ latest obsession. Talent is few and far between. And if your single isn’t dance floor ready you might be out of a job. Good old unapologetic R&B isn’t as easy to find when everyone is chasing that Gaga money. In these times you might have to pull a trick from up your sleeve. Or you could just be good.
With a career that’s come from hard work more than wizardry, Philly native Musiq Soulchild has made a name for himself by delivering true Soul music instead of chasing trends. In a world of singers who rap and rappers who want to sing, the artist formerly known as Taalib Johnson might have a little bit of luck working for him as well. It was a chance meeting with producer Swiss Beatz that resulted in his appearance on his lead single “Anything”. “Swizz was around the studio as we were finishing up. He wanted to mess with the song and I just let him. A few minutes later he had a verse.” In this fiercely competitive music marketplace that may be part of the puzzle to grab some attention to his 6th studio album ‘MUSIQINTHEMAGIQ’ in stores now. KillerBoomBox caught up with Musiq and talked about how to keep music and business separated, the rebirth of R&B and what happens when a Soul singer wants to rap.
G. Valentino Ball: Your music has a real strong consistency. Music from your first album feels like it could drop today and work. Is making timeless music a big focus for you?
Musiq Soulchild: Yea. That’s pretty much the secret ingredient. I just try to make stuff that I know no matter what going on, has elements that just appeal to people. I just focus on that rather than trying to make a hit or trying to get put on the radio. I don’t focus on that. It’s in my mind because of the business. That’s the nature of the business that we are in. So it’s only wise to be considerate of that. But I’m more focused on the quality of what I do. It’s the old, “If the work is good, the money will come” concept. I just try to make the work as good as I can make it.
G. Valentino Ball: But in light of the current state of the music biz do you feel the pressure of the business impacting what you do creatively?
Musiq Soulchild: In a way I guess. I don’t wear it. I don’t take that into the studio but I’m aware of it. When you are focused on what really matters you don’t really worry too much about the current climate or what’s going on in the game and record sales. One thing that’s fundamental and universal is people want good stuff. If you focus on making the best stuff that you can make that will appeal to people. In the midst of whats going on I don’t think it’s wise to waste energy trying to chase the trends. All that other stuff fades away. I’m focused on being credible for the moment yet substantial enough to stick around for a while as well.
Anything feat. Swizz Beatz
G. Valentino Ball: The first single “Anything” is you and Swizz Beatz. How did that come about?
Musiq Soulchild: It wasn’t something that I set out to do, believe it or not. I was in Platinum Sounds in NY working on the song with Jerry Wonder. The song was already written and produced. I heard it and I thought it was really fresh. Swizz was around too. He heard it and dug it a lot. And he kinda wanted to mess with it and I just let him. A few minutes later he had a verse. I was like I need you on that intro, you know. Because he got that sound. I don’t care what’s going on. Soon as Swizz gets on the mic it changes the mood. And I wanted that. It was in the process of him being on it that I started thinking I want Swizz on this record. I didn’t even know how to ask for that. And I know when people hear Musiq Soulchild featuring Swizz, it takes them aback. I always tell people that I’m willing to work with anybody. I want to work with anyone that’s passionate about what they do and is really good at what they do. Because I’m passionate about what I do and if I do say so myself, I’m very good at what I do. I feel like when you put two people equally passionate and good at what they do its inevitable that it’s going to be an event. That’s only going to make it better. It just made sense. And people have responded really well to that record.
G. Valentino Ball: So is that an indicator of the new album? Is the album like the song?
Musiq Soulchild: It’s nothing like the song. There is no other record that’s on the album that’s like the song. That was purposely done. If you notice on my other album’s I tend to do that. I never like any song to sound like the next song. I like for people to feel when they listen to my albums you are getting a whole lot more than what you are looking for. Not so much that its overwhelming and you can’t sit through it from start to finish. But it’s a lot like life. No two moments are the same. Even if you reenact it won’t be the same cuz you will be a different person. I like to have everything I do be like the process of life. Life is about evolution. Life is about progress.
G. Valentino Ball: There was talk of you doing some Hip Hop a while back? You actually rapping. What happened with that?
Musiq Soulchild: A lot of it was that if I was going to contribute to Hip Hop I wanted to be a valid contributor. I want it to be authentic. I wanted it to be good enough or close to what everyone else is doing in terms of quality. I didn’t want it to be because I have a little attention that I could just start going around dropping 16 bars. Or to just do it just to say that I am emcee as well. I can rhyme but I am nowhere near where I’d like to be with it. There’s people who do it for a living. I don’t want to disrespect it like that. But I do have an affinity and a passion for it so I incorporate the elements of it into what I do and what people know me for. And part of that is people around me were like you should just stick to the ballads. That’s cool. But there is way too much more to music that to just be singing romantic intimate love songs for your whole career. Understand I love doing them and I plan on continuing with that course but I also plan on incorporating other things as well.
G. Valentino Ball: You’ve always had a Hip hop sensibility while staying in an R&B lane. Was it a conscious effort to not stray too far into Hip Hop?
Musiq Soulchild: As far as having that Hip Hop sensibility that just comes with growing up in Philly. Everyone had that sensibility. Having that unique perspective and choosing to communicate our thoughts and feelings through music. That’s where it comes from. So no matter how you apply it its always going to come across that way. That’s why you hear it so much in my music. It’s not something that I say, “I gotta have this Hip Hop element”. That’s just how it comes out. If anything, I’m thinking “Not everyone is into Hip Hop like I am so let me curb it a little bit”. I want to have something else to offer them than just straight up and down that Hip Hop vibe. But in the future look forward to me contributing because I do love it.
G. Valentino Ball: There is a resurgence of cats who are making true R&B records. Do you think that’s a continuing trend that people are headed that way.
Musiq Soulchild: I like to think so. I think that those things are important. The basics. When you go back to the basics you always win because the basics are the foundation of everything else. I would love to see more people going back to the basics and making the best of that rather than reaching out to start some new shit. You can only do that but so much. Thing about it is I don’t even think it went anywhere. I just think the attention wasn’t on it. A lot of people have been doing it. I’ve always tried to be that bridge to help people realize that this is where it comes from or this is how it could go. The potential of it is so great. Hopefully that will inspire people. Have them think “Maybe I can go in that direction as well and enhance this legacy of rhythm and blues.” You always want to maintain that souful element because that’s our music. This is our thing. We are an expressive people. But it’s not just for the black community. It’s all over the world. I would love to see more people get back in to the elements that started this whole thing.
G. Valentino Ball: As a performer you have an incredible energy level. What makes a great live performance?
Musiq Soulchild: I’ve never really had the resources or the funding (for a big production). It’s always been me and my band or my DJ, some background singers and a just whole bunch of songs. So when you just have that you have to find other things that will be appealing to the audience. You can just be on stage singing some songs. They can stay home and listen to the album for that. I want to give them a real top depiction of what the songs are all about. I try to give them that energy. I try to get them involved so they can touch my hand. So they can see I’m a real person. I might not be the best singer. My band might not be the best in the business but you gone have a hard time finding anybody better than us. And I don’t mean technically. I mean to give you that energy. You are going to up and find this energy. You are going to have to look for it. It’s rare. People don’t approach it that way that much anymore. I’m very serious and adamant about what I do. I have fun with it. We don’t knock people upside the head with anything heavy but I do take it very seriously. I do my best to let the audience know how much love and respect I have for them for being there. I don’t feel comfortable just being on stage and just singing the song. I need to do more and more for the performance.
G. Valentino Ball: Do you need to be in full control of every aspect in order for you to be happy with a Musiq album?
Musiq Soulchild:I can be happy even if I haven’t written every song or produced every track or every thought that manifested on the album was from my head. I don’t mind it being a collective effort. I like it to be. That way people can offer up that variety and that diversity. I want you to discover all these things during that 45 minutes to an hour. And you will see it because I am doing it even more on this album. None of the songs sound alike and I like that. I don’t want people to feel like they are listening to one long song. I also don’t like it when people automatically assume how things are going to go. I kind of challenge you to pay attention. I like for you to listen like a year later and discover something. I do a lot of subtle things. I just present it in a way that it doesn’t seem like that much. I learned that fro Stevie Wonder. Making complicated seem simple. The goal is to give the audience as much as I can give them in a short amount of time.
G. Valentino Ball: But that’s got to be challenging to do that over and over. How do you strike the balance between doing that but giving people that experience that people are looking for when they pick up a Musiq album?
Musiq Soulchild: That part I try not to think about. (laughs). I just allow the spirit of good music to inspire me. I recognize there is some kind of divine order in a way. A lot of stuff happens and I don’t think about it. It’s just a sub conscious natural reaction. Like when I do my rifts and runs. A lot of singers ask me this question. I don’t know. It comes when it does. I don’t sit plot and formulate my process. I don’t think about what I’m going to do. I think about how I’m going to make it fresh. It’s like a graceful freestyle. And I need it to be that way. Once I get on stage I want to maintain that same approach. I don’t want to be on stage and people feel like I rehearsed it a million and one times. I try not to doing that much. I rehearse enough to be about to do what’s on my albums to capture that same emotion. But everything else you are witnessing as I realize it. Sometimes I do stuff and I don’t even know where that can from but I’m rolling with it. (laughs)
G. Valentino Ball: After you release the album what are you plans?
Musiq Soulchild: I try to work the record as long as I can. Try to work it the whole year. But more importantly I plan on getting heavily into the behind the scenes work for other people. Producing for other people. It’s something that I have always been able to do but haven’t gone into because I have been so busy maintaining and solidifying my position. I have enough credibility and enough leverage to entertain that now. I’m planning on taking a step back. Not going away but talking a step back so I can do more stuff behind the scenes. That’s where my passion is. Making music rather than performing it. Don’t get me wrong. I love performing it but not as much as I love making it.