Souleye is an emcee out of LA that has a unique and inspiring brand of Hip Hop. He encompasses his spiritual journey into his music. He focuses on positivity and providing uplifting substance to a genre that focuses on the negative far too much. It’s truly a breath of fresh air to hear Hip Hop from this perspective.
I was able to interview this prolific artist and learn more about his roots, musical influences, personal life, his spiritual side, new music and his journey to where he is today. He has released a new track “Hip Hop Medicine” and has new album coming out titled “Widman”.
We get into these topics and a lot more in the interview.
DJ Sub-T: I know you’ve been in the Hip Hop game for quite some time, so tell me a bit about how you started off. I know you have a pretty cool story about how it all began…
Souleye: I started listening to hip-hop at like 5 or 6 years old when my mom got me my first tape cassette. It was a black cassette that said ‘Rapping Games Volume 1’. It pretty much had like Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and some of those guys from back in the early 80’s. I grew up on the east coast so I grew up with a lot of Gang Starr, Smif-N-Wessun, Buckshot, Black Moon, Camp Lo…a lot of that kind of underground music.
“I grew up on the east coast so I grew up with a lot of Gang Starr, Smif-N-Wessun, Buckshot, Black Moon, Camp Lo…a lot of that kind of underground music.”
DJS: That’s something that a lot of the Hip Hop Authority followers can connect to so that’s great.
S: Yeah that’s kind of how I got my legs under me. Once I realized that you can rap to the beats when other people aren’t rapping it just clicked. It was like, “Oh wait a minute.” It was almost like a magical mystical feeling would take over my body when I would MC. So I kind of just dedicated myself to continue following that feeling. And I had basketball to kind of support me along the way. So Hip Hop and basketball were my two best friends.
DJS: That’s cool because those two things kind of go hand in hand. I’m sure you’ve seen Above the Rim and connected to that so, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
S: Yeah. I almost feel like basketball should be the fifth element of Hip Hop.
DJS: That’s incredible that you actually mention the elements because That’s one thing that we try to express and promote on Hip Hop Authority, a lot of people they touch Hip Hop briefly, they don’t realize the elements you do…the MC-ing, the DJ’s, the graffiti writing and art, and then there’s the whole breaking side of it. It’s really cool that you’re aware of that and know the history.
S: That’s just my style. My style is to invest research and have intention, honestly. If we were talking about a broken ankle you had I would probably go home and Google it and read about what happened, and then read about how to help you with it. That’s just my style and it’s always been like that with music too. I used to run off the school bus and get home before 3:30 to watch MTV Raps and I feel that really was my after school curriculum.
DJS: So you’re from Massachusetts?
S: Yeah, born and raised in Sturbridge which is kind of like mid-western Mass.
DJS: From the time you were growing up there, was there a budding Hip Hop scene? Or is that something that you had to hunt for?
S: Well like I said with the whole basketball thing, I had a focus on something that I could do by myself, so I didn’t necessarily need a whole group of people to do that. It was the same with music. I didn’t necessarily need anyone to sit down and throw on some old Hip Hop when I was young. I could just listen to it and then I could watch MTV Raps or something like that and kind of generate my creativity from there. I had a few friends that were also Hip Hop heads. Dilated Peoples dropped a new record we were all freaking out. So I had a couple of guys that were really into that and they kind of fueled my inspiration. They were the ones to push me to continue. I think having that kind of support as a kid was a big deal.
DJS: Definitely. So I know that you have a very conscious tone to your music and your lyrics. Why do feel that’s important in putting out the music that you do?
S: If I can be what’s in my circle right now…it’s like when you throw a rock into the water and it ripples out…what is this ripple going to be? I’ve always thought that when I’m putting my words into music I always want to have it be positive, uplifting, motivational. I mean there’s times where I’m depressed or I’m in a dark space and I would rather transform it into something positive for somebody; rather than to just put my negativity out there for somebody to dwell in and feel that vibration. I have two kids so I’m always aware of that…but I’ve always been that way before the kids. Like when Biggie Smalls put out that song, “Birthdays was the worst days” I was 12 or something like that…and that kind of triggered the, “oh man, uplifting and positive!” It was actually classy, along those kind of lines. So I was like, “Yeah dude, why don’t I just do that?” And I didn’t really curse when I freestyled so I was like, I’ll just take out the cursing, that way any age can listen to it. I also liked the whole concept of the unknown. Like, you know, death is really scary for a lot of people. But at the same time I find a lot of inspiration from that mystery and I feel like Hip Hop has kind of given me that guidance and takes it to a whole other level.
“It’s like when you throw a rock into the water and it ripples out…what is this ripple going to be? I’ve always thought that when I’m putting my words into music I always want to have it be positive, uplifting, motivational.”
DJS: That’s great because it’s really a breath of fresh air to have a more positive and conscious perspective to hip-hop, because although you can look deep and you can find the commonalities and the people that have the substance…I feel like there is a lot of music out there that is reflective of the negative side. Some of it is, chronicles of what they see, some of it is more on the side of glorifying. So I think it’s really good to see another side of it, so people can also experience.
S: Yeah, I agree with you 100%
DJS: So as well as having more of the conscious side, I do notice in your music and even just the brief conversation that we’ve had so far that you do have a spiritual side to you that is definitely felt in your music. Can you talk about that and what that means to you?
S: I would say that early on in my career when I really focused 100%, I went to school to play basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts. I would freestyle at all these parties and that’s when I made the decision to just put all my energy into learning the craft, the art of rapping. At about 22 or 21 my best friend who is one of the guys that I told you about who always motivated my rapping, he passed away from cancer. When he died I was really shook up and a few months later my brother committed suicide. So I was under the pressure of these two big losses and a lot of grief, and they were two of my biggest inspirations around my music. They always told me how much they liked it; I would make them music, freestyle to them and with them. When they passed, it really empowered my spirituality and optimism and my everyday normal life.
DJS: You definitely have an eclectic style to your music. You incorporate lots of different genres. Obviously Hip Hop but there’s an R&B side, some EDM, and some funk. How did your style develop into what you’re putting out right now?
S: The evolution of my style comes from…you know when I was younger I was just hungry to get up rap whenever and wherever I could. I feel like a lot of MC’s when they’re first starting out, you kind of have to bust your chops like that. And after years of listening and hearing different music I kind of honed in on what my style was and I feel like I wanted to bridge the gap between the electronic and Hip Hop… because I feel like a lot of people who go to those festivals are getting an instrumental experience of what I wanted to put out into words. So they’re there to connect and have a really great time and kind of let loose and feel the music through them. So one of my thoughts was ‘how do I create a sound and the style that can do both at the same time?’ When I put out Iron Horse Running in 2012 my focus was something psychedelic, a little experimental but keeping the Souleye rap style so I put that out and I moved forward from that. And I collaborated with a producer named Stephan Jacobs who is really big in the electronic scene, but also did Warped Tour and a lot of different events. He has more of a dubstep vibe. So I collaborated with him to keep that feeling and connection to that crowd with the lyrics. Then what I wanted to do was put out a more Hip Hop oriented album, so I put out Shapeshifting, and I feel like Shapeshifting really helped connect the art of the rapping, what my main passion is. With that going out, then I decided I wanted to blend so, how do I blend everything I’ve put out so far? How do I take a little of everything I’ve released and put something out. What would that look like?” So to me it looked like Wildman. Even the two titles in a row, you know, Shapeshifting, personally has a young man turning into an adult/ father/ artist that also wanted to stay in touch with the wild side, I wanted to stay in touch with my innocence and all that excitement that you see in a kid, but also become a man with that. So I feel like the sound matches that story. It’s progressive, it’s electronic, but it still got that hip-hop, it’s got the hooks. And it’s more mainstream because I want to carry the underground and the consciousness so the mainstream itself can realize there is no “this or that.” There’s no “this type of music” or “that type of artist” and have it be more neutralized.
“The evolution of my style comes from…you know when I was younger I was just hungry to get up, rap whenever and wherever I could.”
DJS: Exactly. You hear a lot of one style and one type. It would be great to train people’s ears to hear a little bit more of that type of music.
S: Totally. I think Hip Hop in general is moving towards that. All the artists are evolving and it’s nice to watch the evolution of artists pushing the art.
DJS: Absolutely. So I know you’ve done some touring whether that’s in the festival scene or around the world with Alanis Morissette. What’s it like being able to go to different places around the world and spread your word? And what are some of your favorite places that you’ve been able to rock crowds?
S: Performing is very electric, like plugging something into the wall. It lights up this energy because it’s vulnerable, it’s scary and terrifying to be on a stage. Like what if something happens and you embarrass yourself? You want to put on an amazing show for the people that are there, that are taking the time out of their most likely busy lives to be apart of a moment together. When I was younger and I toured a lot, I did around 500 shows in a few years and over 100-something with a producer named Bassnectar. Every show I did with him, for probably 2 years and over 150 shows at least, were all improv. Every show I did, I freestyled. He would literally step on my foot like a pedal and I would rhyme and I would know I would have a four-count bar before the hook would come in, or 16 bars. So, it was really a live experience…pardon the pun. It was really just freestyle vibes. Then I became the lead singer for this electronic band from San Francisco called Boulevard. We put out a record and toured. We did the Filmore, and went all over San Francisco; we toured all around New England, Canada and we did a tour in Australia and performed in Fiji for a few years in a row. It was really fun to have people there that might know the lyrics to the songs…and that’s a whole other experience. When you’re freestyling and you’re live on stage, people are feeling it and they’re with you in the moment, so you get that feeling, which is an exciting feeling. To me it’s a little bit easier and there’s more freedom because you can’t mess up when you’re freestyling. You just jam with the beat. So, some of the memorable ones I would say…I love Colorado. Colorado has always been good to me over the years. As well as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Touring with my wife was a dream for me because I got to perform and have my child and my wife with me. So after the show we would just get in the bus together…and I’m sitting here going, “How…this is everything I’ve dreamed of”. It was the last show we did for the Guardian Angel tour in Israel, in Telaviv. And there were 10,000 people in the stadium, and I just thought, ‘I get to perform not only my Hip Hop music, but for Hip Hop fans in general. I am representing in Israel right now,’ and it was a really special opportunity. For me, I felt like it was the dream I’ve always wanted. I get to tour with my wife…I’m hanging out with my son while she’s rocking the crowd. We get to travel somewhere amazing. It was a great time.
“You want to put on an amazing show for the people that are there, that are taking the time out of their most likely busy lives to be apart of a moment together.”
DJS: Amazing. So I know you have an upcoming track “Wildman” that’s set to drop August 4th. Tell me a little bit about that.
S: I collaborated with a singer-songwriter from Portland, her name is Lynx. I met Lynx maybe 10 years ago during the festival scene. I think we were at a festival in Canada called Shambhala, which I absolutely recommend. And she’s an amazing beatboxer, she can freestyle, she can tune, she’s just a talented artist. I think we connected one night we were beatboxing and freestyling together and we just became friends there. With the title track, “Wildman”; her and I sat together, put together the track, came up with the hook ideas. She laid out the hook beautifully. The song, to me, was like when you’re lighting a candle at both ends. When you’re pushing yourself beyond what you think you can do, and you just push yourself a little bit more because that’s how growth happens, right? Growth happens when we push ourselves a little. So I talk a lot about that throughout the song. I’m really excited to put that song out. It went through a lot of different stages in the production style of it from the original version, which was an acoustic guitar and a drum beat that I played, into what it is now. It’s fun to finally get to release that and have that out there for people to hear.
DJS: That sounds dope, yeah. And you have also released “Hip Hop Medicine.” I love that track, it has a great message. Tell me a bit about that and what drove you creatively to create that song, and what message you’re trying to convey?
S: I think I touched on it earlier with the message of positivity and options of how to put your feelings into words in a positive way with music. To me, with music, once it’s out, it’s not gonna go away. You don’t have any choices. So for me, I feel like when I was writing “Hip Hop Medicine” I wanted to explain a little bit about where I’ve been, how I got there, where I’m going, and what we can do as a whole together to raise our vibrations and stay connected with all the stuff that’s happening. There’s a lot of stories that we all have from our pasts and onward.
DJS: Also, on top of the single “Wildman” you have a full length album coming out in September of the same name?
S: Yes, it’s called Wildman as well. If you’ve heard “Follow Your Heart” or “Hip Hop Medicine” or “Snow Angel”, it’s that same element that I’ve been working on which was bringing in the Shapeshifting Hip Hop style and melding it into a electronic, kind of more mainstream modern style, while still keeping the raw elements of Hip Hop. There’s also a video coming out for “Wildman” which I’m really excited about. I got to work with an amazing director. Dennys Ilic is the director and photographer over at CPG Gallery in Los Angeles (Cinematic Pictures Group) so I’m excited about that video I think it’s going to be really beautiful. Lynx flew down from Portland to film it with me, so I’m really looking forward to that.
DJS: Tell me a bit about the process of creating this album. I believe you were out in Vancouver recording?
S: We were actually off the coast of Vancouver on a little island. I flew up Jesse Molloy who is half of Crush Effect. It’s David Veith and Jesse Molloy. We originally made “Wildman” with Lynx at his studio and just had a really great time doing it. The flow was amazing…if I have an idea in my head he can really pull it out well. Then I said “Hey man I’m going to set up a studio in Vancouver here if you want to come up for a couple of days” and he flew up. We just worked from 8 in the morning until we would fall asleep. We made a bunch of tracks. We did that for a couple of days in a row. On the last day he had to wake up early at around 7 to go to the airport because had to catch the ferry, but I got up earlier and got the kayaks out on the water and made him go kayaking with me at about 6:30am, so that was a good way to end it. Yeah so I had a bunch of rough drafts and I wrote a bunch of lyrics for tracks, and titles for tracks. He went back home with his producer partner David and they would listen to everything and put instruments around it, and they would send back their notes and we would kind of go full swing like that for a while.
DJS: Do you have any final words you would like to say? Anything you would like us to know about before we head out?
S: I want to give the appreciation back to you for representing Hip Hop. The arts, the elements. There’s some really great people you’re interviewing. I’m just pumped to continue making music and being creative, and providing what I can provide. We’re all like little flames in the sun, right?
For more on this amazing artist, check out Souleye’s site.
Stay tuned for Souleye’s upcoming album “Widman”.