Soul Khan, one of the fastest rising stars in the New York hip-hop indie-ground, is preparing to add one more entry to his already prolific catalog with his Psalm EP. It’s the fourth and final part of his Love Supreme series, with this installment produced entirely by Abnormal. It’s out today, and tomorrow Khan’s celebrating with a release show at Brooklyn’s Public Assembly. We spoke to the Brown Bag All Star about the one-producer one-MC dynamic, life after battling and where he would be if Fat Beats were still in business.
Was doing a four EP series your plan from the jump?
Yes. The Wellstone EP [Khan’s most recent release prior to the Psalm EP] was not what I envisioned as being a part of that series. The original intent was just having an uninterrupted sequence of Acknowledgment, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm. It was always supposed to be a tribute to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. It’s funny because I don’t know if you can even find too many shades of the corresponding parts of A Love Supreme in the EPs [of] its namesake. You might find some here or there, but it’s not like a one-to-one ratio.
What made you choose which producers to enlist for the series?
I really wanted to work with producers who I had yet to devote a lot of time to collaborating with. I started with DJ Element as that was the first project he ever really worked on as a producer. Luckily, he provided a great pallet for the production. I worked with Marink because he already proved his distinction on songs like “Fahrenheit.” I worked with the Audible Doctor because he and I had never worked before on a solo basis. This new producer Abnormal had approached me if I wanted beats in the past, and at that time I wasn’t looking for any, but I needed someone to come through in a clutch and [he] provided an incredible selection [of beats].
Do you recall your first time hearing A Love Supreme?
Yes, I was a very young kid and I heard it on, I think, NPR’s “All Things Considered.” I was a wee lad, and it was before my music sensibility has matured to the point I could really get into Coltrane.
You’re from L.A. originally, but you’re identified by most as a New York artist. Do you feel more comfortable being placed within New York’s hip-hop lineage?
I think because I established myself in New York, it makes more sense to identify myself as a New York artist. That may upset some people back home, but I didn’t really come of age as an artist in L.A. That may trouble some in New York who see me as an outsider, but if you do what you do well enough and you’re part of a scene, you’re part of it. You can’t de-legitimize that by saying “you didn’t come out of a vagina in this city.” It’s sort of a ludicrous standard either way.
As a former Fat Beats alumnus, where you met and founded your group Brown Bag All-Stars, do you think your life would be much different right now if the store was still open?
I think I would be making a lot more money on CD sales if Fat Beats was still open because I would have a constant influx of people to sell it to. Granted, I think it would be tough not to think about that when you are a hip-hop artist in an institution like Fat Beats that is no longer here. I think another meaningful way it would be different is that there would be a nexus, a meeting point for the independent hip-hop community in New York that centers around that type of space. You can tell, I don’t think people feel as connected as they used to as when Fat Beats was around.
What do you think it was about your rap battle performances that made a larger part of that audience follow you into your musical endeavors that so many battle MCs have been unable to do?
I think it might be because I’m very acutely conscious of the pitfalls that other artists might fall into when crafting music. I’m very audience sensitive. I don’t make music for myself, I make music for the audience. It’s not cathartic for me. It’s not my journal. I also try not to do what other people have done. If it resembles something others have done, I recognize it early enough and infuse my own mild slant and put a twist on it that makes it sufficiently distinct. In terms of the battle audience, I don’t think I captured that much of it. I may have captured, 10-percent generously? My biggest battle has about 1.6 million views. I certainly don’t have 1.6 million anything on social media. I would never go as far as to deny my battling getting people to notice the music, but there’s still a huge percentage of people who don’t even take the first listen. I don’t think at this point it’s about a stereotype or a stigma, but a taxonomy issue that people don’t place battle rappers and musicians in the same quadrant. Can this person paint my house? Sure. I’m not going to ask him to paint an abstract expressionist piece for a museum. People are never going to make that leap.
Is prepping for an EP release show, like the one you have at Public Assembly, different than how you prep for other shows?
Yeah. I try to make the release show more fan-oriented as I know a substantial amount of the people there are there to see me. I can at least count on the fact that they’re aware of what I do and at least know my more prominent material. I can go into that performance exploring moods and angles I don’t always get to bring and take risks I don’t always get to [take] when I open for another hip-hop artist.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 11, 2012