Interview: Soulo (of The Sound Providers)

Interview: Soulo (of The Sound Providers)

They’re critically acclaimed for their jazzy productions, but since 2006 lots of music fans lost track of this San Diego-based duo. But there’s good news: Soulo and Jay Skills, better known as The Sound Providers, are back with a new 7″ record! After a hiatus of four years, The Find Magazine hooks up with producer Soulo to talk about the new 7″ record, producing music, collecting vinyl, what they’ve been up to, the current music scene and of course we asked him about upcoming releases by the one and only Sound Providers!

The Sound Providers is a leading crew in the jazzy hip hop scene. Flows by affiliated emcees like Profile, Surreal, and Grap Luva merge beautifully with the golden productions, resulting in An Evening With The Sound Providers, Looking Backwards: 2001-1998, several collaborations and a bunch of 12″ records. Now Soulo and Jay Skills are back with a new 7″ vinyl record!

Music: The Sound Providers – 5 Minutes (ft. The Procussions)

How did you get hooked up with Diggers with Gratitude and what is it about them that compelled you to release this record with them?

Rare Dave from Diggers with Gratitude reached out to us a while back regarding one of our songs that was supposed to drop on our second 12 inch (off the True Indeed LP).  The single never came out and he was inquiring about when, or if, it would ever be released.  The song was ‘Nuff Said,’ and I replied back that we really didn’t know what was to become of the song, because our old label dropped the ball on the release.

He hit us up again a bit later and asked us if we’d be interested in releasing the song on a 7 inch with them.  Seeing as the song was just sitting in the vaults, and I was already a fan of and following everything they had been doing over the years, I said let’s make it happen.  The Diggers with Gratitude crew is always associated with authentic hip hop music, and that’s what we stand for as well. It just seemed like a natural fit, and we were glad they hit us up about the release.  Shout out to the Dave and the DWG crew!

As a long-time fan, I think it’s great that you guys are back with a brand new 7”. But after this, can fans expect more releases by you two as The Sound Providers?

Well, we’ve been working on a new LP, called ‘The Sound Of Music,’ with Surreal off and on for a year and some change now.  Surreal has been pretty stretched out trying to get his film career in effect, so it’s been tough finding the time to get together for music these days, but we’re slowing chipping away at that project.  Although we’d like to have it done and out to the fans sooner than later, at this point, we’re really not in a hurry.  Our only real priority is making sure the music is fresh.

As for The Sound Providers, Jay [Skills] and I will always be in the lab working on music.  It’s kind of tough when you’re a producer though, you’re only supplying half of the whole.  An emcee is needed for a joint to be complete, and we’re real picky with vocalists.  We’ve never really been the type of cats to record songs just for the sake of doing so.  As fans, our taste for top-notch hip hop sort of bleeds into the creation of our own music, and because of this we only want to make high quality stuff.  It’s good because we really scrutinize everything we do, but on the flipside it kind of limits our output.  But that’s the way we’ve always done it, and that formula has never failed us.  When it comes down to it, we’d rather have a smaller catalog of dope music than a large discography of good to average stuff.

It’s been a while since The Sound Providers released something. Can you tell us what you and Jason Skills were up to the past couple of years?

Just lounging, listening to music, buying records, hanging with family and friends, and looking for inspiration.  Just lounging and enjoying our lives.  That’s really what we’ve been up to.  Once we found ourselves with our very own ABB Records horror story, we kind of took a break from music and just sat back for awhile.  You release music for long enough and your almost sure to run into some shady situations, and sure enough our number came up too.  We’ve had so much fun releasing music over the years, and we did it the way we wanted to and pretty much never had any problems.

We’ve been real lucky in that sense, so when things took a turn it left a real sour taste in our mouths.  It sort of tainted the whole magic of making music in a way, but fortunately that feeling has eventually started to fade.  So now we’re back in the lab creating again.

We never really touched on our situation with our label before, just because we’re not the type of cats to air out behind the scenes stuff.  But I feel it’s important that our fans know that we didn’t just step off with no regard for all the support and love we always received over the years.  It has been greatly appreciated, and personally kept me working on music while I felt like maybe it wasn’t worth the effort anymore.  So for that I really thank you.  But yeah, after that we definitely needed a break to get the love of creating back.  I wish that hadn’t been the case, but it’s just one of those things you kind of have to go through to get to the other side, you know?

What happened to Profile – are you still in touch? And can we expect you guys working together again?

I’ve known Profile for like twenty years, we’re from the same neighborhood.  I grew up with him and he was one of the cats who influenced me, musically, back in the days.  We didn’t really share the same work ethic as Profile, though.  He was always more leisurely with it, whereas Jay and I were really serious about making a name for ourselves and trying to get on.  That issue eventually led to us parting ways musically.

I see him occasionally, and when I do it’s always all good.  Profile will always be my boy even though I don’t really keep in regular contact with him these days.  He and I always had a kind of friendly competitiveness back in the days growing up, which was good because it always pushed us to be fresher.  But once we parted ways musically, I think that lead to a little tension between the two of us.  That was years ago though, so like I mentioned everything’s straight now.   I wish he would have gotten more into production though, because he would have definitely made a name for himself with beats.  The cat really had a sharp ear for music.  As far as working together again, we don’t have anything on the drawing board but who knows what the future holds.

Soulo, Jay Skills & Profile

What would you call your proudest achievement, musically?

Probably picking up the initial pressing of our first single, which was Dope Transmission on the A-side and The Field on the B-side.  We were just three cats chasing a dream, spending long hours in the lab trying to figure out everything from A to Z.  From making beats, to writing and then delivering rhymes, to recording, to mixing, saving up the dough for the pressing, everything.

We didn’t know the first thing about anything related to actually making music, we just knew what we liked because we were huge fans.  So anyway, we press up 300 copies at Disc Makers and drive up to LA to pick them up.  And once we cracked open the box, it was like a ray of light broke through the clouds and shined right on the vinyl, harps started playing gently in the background and the whole nine.  I’m exaggerating but you get the idea, it was just the greatest feeling ever.

We went from having an idea, to spending long hours figuring out the lab and creating songs, to waiting for what seemed like forever, to picking up something physical on black wax.  We floated back to San Diego with our little secret project and it was just a great feeling of accomplishment and pride.  In addition to that, I’d have to add that hearing DJ Premier was rocking doubles of our test pressings live on the air was pretty fresh too.  Honestly though, we were pretty proud every time we released something.  Each time it was like a dream materializing, and that never really changed.

Thanks to the internet a lot of people can call themselves ‘producers’, with a lot of instrumental (digital) releases as result. What do you think of this ‘digital revolution’?

I like it as long as it’s quality.  There isn’t a fine line between good music and bad music.  It’s like night and day.  Really, all I’m judging is what’s coming out the speaker, if it’s dope I’m on your side.  I’m from an era that was doing it a certain way, so of course I’m partial to the process we’ve grown accustomed to, which is vinyl and physical product.  But really, that’s just preference.  When you break it all down, what I’m really after is good music, if that’s what I’m hearing, then word up, we’re on the same team and I’m a fan.  Those that know me might disagree, but I’m really easy to please.  Just make the music dope and I’m straighter then six o’clock.

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to get started with (jazz-orientated) beat making?

My advice is always the same: just be original.  Figure out where you’re coming from and try to develop your own sound.  Be original and creative and you’ll never go wrong.  And lastly, put in your time and polish your skills.  Making beats is a lonely sport, and it takes a huge amount of time in the lab learning the basics.  The learning curve is long, but once you get down the fundamentals your time invested will pay off.  And then the real fun starts, which is being able to recreate the music playing in your head.

Soulo at work

I’m originally from Southern California, and although hip hop is everywhere, San Diego just isn’t one of those cities that necessarily lives and breathes hip hop. How did you get interested and involved with hip hop culture and music?

I really wouldn’t say interested, hooked is really the word.  Once I heard Rappers Delight that was it.  I had all the rhymes memorized in about a week, and I was mad young.   Right off the bat I was mesmerized by that song and the whole vibe and feel.  I just knew that this music was for me.  The next song that I remember having a big impact on me was when The Message dropped.  That song completely blew my mind; it was harsh, intelligent, funky, and soulful.  I loved the party feel of ‘Rappers Delight’, but I really got hooked on the idea that so much more could be expressed through rhymes with ‘The Message.’

From there I started breaking, and eventually continued on participating in pretty much every facet of hip hop with the exception of graffiti.  From buying records and tapes, to breaking, to spinning, to making beats, to occasionally rhyming, to finally releasing records.  I tried to do it all, really just to be a well rounded hip hop cat.  San Diego may not be known as a hotbed for hip hop, but trust me, when I tell you that it definitely had it going on in the early years of hip hop’s migration out West.  At least in National City, which is the section of San Diego where I’m from.

It was definitely fresh out here, and I never forgot those early years, or the feeling I got watching cats get busy in a circle with a box blasting Planet Rock.’  That was my beginning, and I’ve always tried to tap into those memories and feelings whenever it came time to work on music.  That’s the foundation I stand on, and I’m real grateful I was there to catch a glimpse of it unfolding in San Diego.

Are there any albums that you have in your collection that would shock people?

Nothing really too shocking, I think.  I have a little of everything minus country and classical.  Maybe people would bug at the fact I like such varied stuff.  It seems that cats just think we have a bunch of Jazz records and that’s it.  That’s not really the case.  I love Jazz, don’t get me wrong, but I also love tons of other genres.  I think what might shock people is what I don’t have, and that is a bunch of really rare records.  We were never the type of cats to throw down crazy dough on the really sought after records.  We just grabbed what was around back in the days in San Diego.

I’m not saying we don’t have quality records, I’m just saying, compared to most cats we’ve ran into over the years, we’ve always kind of looked at the record game differently.  The only time we really threw down money was on drum breaks. Aside from that we pretty much just bought regular records around the way with the hopes we’d find cool stuff to hook up and it always worked out for us.  We never had trouble finding the sounds we were looking for, but if you come into the lab you’re probably not going to find the standard big name records cats are on the hunt for.  Although if anybody has a copy of Whatnauts ‘On the Rocks LP, I’m willing to spend some dough so please hit me up!

The SP’s ‘Looking Backwards: 2001-1998‘ in a Japanese record store

There has been constant talk about how hip hop is dying since forever ago it seems. What do you think of this statement?

Well I think I understand what it stems from.  I like to consider myself a progressive cat, and I like to stay abreast of what’s current and make an effort to do so.  Change is good and so is evolution, especially with art.  And while I certainly dig some of the current artists that are creating hip hop, I can see where the argument that hip hop is dead has arisen from.

In my opinion, the spirit of the music has changed quite a bit.  And by spirit, I mean energy, vibe and, for lack of a better term, the sort of intangible magic of the music.  I’m not the type of guy to run around complaining about the state of music, but if you’re asking the question I’ll give you an honest answer.  I personally wouldn’t say it is dead, but I definitely feel the element of creative enthusiasm and yearning for originality is lacking.

Music: Surreal & The Sound Providers – Walk In The Park

I read that you’re working on a solo project. What can you tell us about this and when do you expect to release it?

That is true, although it’s a ways away.  Really, I’m just starting to organize my ideas for the album, which basically amounts to me having all the records I want to use for the LP together.  I already have a handful of beats that will definitely make it on the album, but really I’m just starting to blueprint things at this point.  The album will be sort of an exotic version of our first LP, with me on production featuring fresh mc’s.

Because it’s so early in the creation process, I really don’t want to say much more than that.  I will say that I’ve had this album idea floating around in my head for a long time though, and I’m really going to try to put everything into it.  My main goal is to express more, artistically, with this record.  Don’t get me wrong, it’ll still be straight up hip hop, just going to kind of spread my wings creatively.  Because it’ll only be me on beats, the pressure will definitely be there, but I look forward to that kind of challenge.

Besides that, do you (and/or Jay Skills) have any other stuff in the works?

Right now, just the two projects I mentioned.   But we’re always making beats and staying creative.  It’s kind of a weird time for both hip hop and the music business right now.  No one really knows where the industry and artform is going to go from here.  The labels are dying off, and so are record stores and music sales.  Things are getting reshuffled, and nobody really knows what the deck is going to look like when the dust settles.

But rest assured that we’ll be ready with some dope new music when everything swings back around, so be patient!  In closing, I just wanted to thank ya’ll for the interview, and also say thanks to all the fans for their support over the years.  It has been greatly appreciated.  Stay on point people, peace!

The Sound Providers and Grap Luva after recording ‘Who Am I

The ‘Say What / Nuff Said / Who Am I (Remix)‘ 7″ is officially sold out at Diggers With Gratitude. Remaining copies are available at Rare Kind Records (UK), Vinylism (Germany) or Disk Union (Japan).

Just an ordinary guy always on the hunt for extraordinary music. Not just as the founder of The Find Magazine & Rucksack Records, but also as a freelance music journalist (bylines at Tracklib, Bandcamp, Wax Poetics, DIG Mag, among others) and—above all—out of love for all kinds of good music.