THE SOULMAN INTERVIEW
Many of you already know who the Soulman is: the beat-knowinest, knowledge-sharinest, record-collectingest beat-miner that ever lived. He's been DJ'ing since he rode in a schoolbus, and he's gonna' speak out here on subjects from DJ Shadow and Puffy to shoplifting. For you who know him, this will be a good opportunity to find out more about him and what makes him tick. For those of you who don't already know him, here's your chance to catch up and learn all about the master.
If this interview whets your interest, please check out Soulman's phat new website (redesigned and compiled by me), at www.WorldOfBeats.com. There you will find over a dozen awesome articles and interviews he's conducted for the Rap Sheet mag (with monthly beat-lists), and a means to order his series of mad mixtapes (HIGHLY recommended, yo).
The complete interview follows, quoted exactly as it was written via email:
Okay, Soul, take a breath, man, here's the questions, in no particular order: When did you start collecting records?
I started buying records way back as a little kid in the late seventies. I was a P-Funkateer and I'd buy all the new P-Funk records as soon as they came out. There weren't any rap records back then, but I'd go to the parties and check out the mc's and dj's. Whatever records the djs played that were dope, i'd buy them. Joints like the Brothers Johnson "Ain't We Funkin' Now" and Herman Kelly's "Dance To The Drummers Beat".
Around 1984 I got some equipment and started spinning in the crib. That's when I really started to collect beats- Esther Williams "Let Me Show You" lp, all the rock beats like Aerosmith and Billy Squire, and the Bob James beats. My man Scratchmaster Rob from the South Bronx hipped me to a lot of old school beats, and I tried to get everything.
Did you start collecting beats or music first?
Definitely music. I was on some club shit in the early 80's... Howard Johnson "So Fine", D-Train, Kashif, Chic, all that NY dance shit, as well as the P-Funk shit. Beats became the focus in 1984- that's when I really turned my back on R&B and became an all out B-Boy cat.
What were some of the first (or THE first) things you bought specifically for the breaks?
Dance To The Drummers Beat, back in 1977 or 78, I forget which. That summer, it was the HOTTEST record around my way. No radio play, but everybody knew it. You play that shit, and people went BANANAS. I did a pause mix using the 45 version, and I'd play it on the back of the school bus.
What other aliases might we know you as?
I was once Phill Most Chill, but that's dead. Other than Soulman, I now also go by Phill Spectre and Digga Phelps, among other alter egos (Thuggy Murray, 5 Finger, etc.)
What is the meaning in this for you?
I just love beats, man. I love good MUSIC, of all genres. And I want to share it with the world, because there's just so much good shit out there that people don't know about.
From a hip hop perspective, I feel that breaks are the backbone of hip hop music. Live musicians are cool - after all, that's where we get the samples from - but I think hip hop is about jackin' sounds from records, plain and simple. I hate to hear people saying that those artists that sample aren't being creative. That's bullshit! It's just a different kind of creativity, closer to dj skills than musician skills.
I just want to do my part to help keep this breakbeat thing alive, so people never forget what real hip hop is and where it comes from.
Has it lost any meaning over the years?
Not to the people that care about it. To the general public, of course. They don't give a rat's ass about a breakbeat. But it definitely hasn't lost any meaning to me. I never planned on being a beataholic, but it's pretty much become my life, so it means more to me now than it ever has.
What are your goals with collecting/what were your goals when you started?
It started out just trying to find dope beats to use for demo tapes and for spinning at parties. But what happens is you go from being a beat seeker to a record collector. I'll buy records now just for the cover, or for a ballad I like, or just because a certain person produced it, even if the music's wack. For awhile I just wanted more and more records, but not now. Quality is more important than quantity. The more records you have, the more problems you have with storage. And if you've gotta move.... forget it! Man, when I moved into my house last year, I damn near killed myself carrying all those boxes of records! Fuck talkin' about "I've got 15,000 records"... at that moment, I wished I had about 15!
What is your favorite type of beat? Loud, fast, rock, soul? Favorite beat?
I like variety, but I guess I really go nuts over the slow, hard "Get Out Of My Life Woman" type drums. A really simple pattern, just a dope sounding kick and snare.
I don't have one favorite beat, there are too many that are just bananas.
What did/do your parents think about this?
Well, my mom died before I got into beats. My dad has a "Beach Music" (whatever that is) record label down in Tennessee and he hates rap. Plus, I'm not too close with him anyway, so his opinion means next to nothing to me.
My wife, she tolerates it. She'd probably be happy if I sold all my joints, to tell the truth. But she knows how important my records are to me, so she respects that.
How do you afford it all? How did you afford it at first?
When I first got my equipment, I was working in a little corner market in Harrisburg Pennsylvania. I was robbin' the store blind, taking money and groceries! I was smart, though, I didn't get too greedy. So they never knew what I was up to. But by the end of the week I'd have a couple hundred extra dollars and I'd make trips to Philly or New York every other weekend and buy breaks and rap records.
Funkomart in Philly was dope back then, DJ Tatmoney worked in the store. They had a section with albums that had breaks, like the Chicago Gangsters and the Dolemite soundtrack. Mad shit, and for cheap! I'd go down there and get doubles of everything.
Nowadays, I get extra dough from selling tapes, records, producing beats, whatever. I really wish I had superstar producer money, though, because I would go out of my fuckin' mind! I'd go to record conventions and clean people out. That would be real nice.
How did you know what to buy, as a beginner?
Well, I knew about most of the old school beats. Like "Daisy Lady" by 7th Wonder... that was the shit, so everybody around the way just knew it. Later on I'd just take chances and end up discovering joints. Like the SOUL album, that sat in a record store here in Philly for about 6 months. This was back in 1986 or so. I passed it up many times, buying shit like Maze albums and Commodores albums instead. Finally I took a chance on it, for only $3.98! Years later I find out it's a sought after record.
What are your feelings about people listing/not listing sample sources?
If you mean like the Sample FAQ, I don't have a problem with it, but I can see why some people would. It could cost the rappers who used one of those samples a lot of money if their secret beat is revealed. But that's the chance they take, you know? That's just the way it goes. I personally like the FAQ, it's put me up on a number of joints I didn't know.
Why didn't you list the sources on your tapes?
For various reasons. It's actually illegal to sell somebody else's music on a mixtape. So if I list artists and titles, that would just make it easier for someone to come after me if they wanted to. I also don't name names as a respect to the rap artists who sampled the music. Plus, I think it's more fun to try to find things on your own sometimes.
You have to understand, I've put in MAD hours and loot compiling my collection. Blood sweat and tears. I don't mind giving up some secrets, just to help get somebody's juices flowing so that they might get the crate digging bug. But some people want it too easy, they don't want to do the investigative work. And that's the part of it that's the most fun! There's no feeling like putting the needle to a record and discovering something you didn't know about. Getting knowledge from others is cool, but I encourage people to do some exploration as well.
Why are the Drum Crazy producers so anonymous and ashamed? Are they seen as losers within the culture?
The Drum Crazys were done by [censored by me: sorry, he wants to be anonymous], a cat who, last I heard, was working at Luv And Haight. Is he anonymous and ashamed? Don't know about that, but I think the cat's a little flaky. I thought he was cool, but he got kinda bugged out on me a few years ago. I don't even speak with him anymore, really. It's not beef or anything, I just don't know what's up with the dude. And don't really care, either.
Why are people who reveal samples afraid of being labeled as losers? Who cares?
Are they afraid of being labled losers? I don't know about that.
What is the significance of buying original vinyl only?
It's just a prestige thing, that's all. I buy everything- comps, reissues, whatever. Buying originals just seperates you from the dime a dozen kids who can easily go down to the neighborhood record spot and buy the breakbeat albums. Digging for originals, I feel, shows a deeper commitment to the music. But shit, no doubt... if all you can get is a comp, by all means, get it! I do it all the time.
What are your feelings about reissues and compilations? Is buying them cheating or a good way to hear the music cheap?
Like I said, if that's all you can find, get it. It's stupid to deprive yourself of dope music just because it's not an original pressing. Another thing, it's like Beni B has said to me... if you're djing somewhere, it can be wiser to use comps instead of possibly fucking up your valuable originals.
How about sampling: is it only acceptable to sample from originals, or whole songs...?
I prefer sampling from originals, but I've taken shit from comps. Fuck it, if it's hot I'll use it.
But one thing I will NOT do, I will NOT sample a beat from right off another rapper's record!!! That is the WACKEST shit you can do, and cats do it all the time! I have NO respect for that!
I also think it's wack to sample off of beat tapes like the ones I make. I have some friends who've done just that. They're cool with me, but I still think it's a wack thing to do. That's why I purposely don't make my tapes as clean sounding as possible, I want to discourage sampling from them. Just listen and enjoy the music, and if you find the records yourself, cool. But jackin' shit straight from a tape? Ugh!
Any thoughts on mixing samples with live (or original music)? DJ Shadow hates it; I, personally, disagree.
All depends on how it's done. I'm open minded, I like a lot of shit you probably wouldn't think I like. A lot of Puffy shit is hot to me. I have to speak on this, yo. A LOT of that Bad Boy, Puffy, Hit Men shit is dope, fuck what anybody says. People get so caught up in hating Puffy that they don't even listen objectively anymore. I know hip hop from 1977 to 1998, so I've seen it go full circle and back again. Hip Hop has many faces, and people need to understand that.
One prime example is the way Puff got raked over the coals for sampling Diana Ross on "Mo Money Mo Problems". Yo, they used to cut that shit up at hip hop jams back in the days! "I'm Coming Out" was the shit! When people try to say that isn't hip hop, they just don't know what they're talking about. A lot of Puffy's shit is like that. And "The Benjamins"? Please! The hottest beat of 1997, no contest!
The problem isn't Puffy, or people mixing live instruments with samples. It's the idea that that's the ONLY thing that's relevant. Let Puffy and the commercial cats do their thing, but don't forget the underground raw shit. It's all hip hop, let it all be heard.
What types of musical projects have you been involved in?
I've recorded a few under-under-underground records over the years. I produced a single by my man Soma called "You Ain't Ready" that did pretty good earlier this year.
Do you make music yourself?
I've got any album coming out in early 1999 called "SOULMAN - WORLD OF BEATS: THE ALBUM VERSION". I'm doing all the beats, and it'll feature a gang of underground mc's, plus hopefully some known cats. Right now I've got Soma, Bishop, Sennes, High Council, The Warriors, Soul Son, High Stakes and a few others. I'm trying to get some cats from the Roots camp- they said they'd do it, but until it's on tape I'm not gonna get my hopes up. Also possibly some cats from New York, but dudes be wantin' loot for doing cameos, and loot I ain't got right now.
The album's gonna be dope, though. I'm taking it back to straight loops and dusty ass breakbeats, kid! If you dig hip hop, you gotta dig this one. And I'm putting breakbeat interludes between each song, so if nothing else it'll be a hot breakbeat album.
Do you sell beats to producers/rappers? Have you contributed the beats for anything we'd know of?
Yes, I sell beats to almost any top NY producer you can name. I hooked producers with the records they used on a lot of joints. The Lox "Money Power Respect", some stuff on Biggie and Jay-Z's last albums, and lot of other shit too.
Do you ever feel like you're overlooking the music just for the beats?
I NEVER do that! Never. I buy records now for listening pleasure more than anything. I don't even like making beats anymore, I'd rather just listen to the originals. That's why I started making my tapes, really. Just to listen to them myself when I'm in my car.
Don't you get sick of beats after awhile?
WHAT?? Hell no! If you really love it you don't get sick of it, man!
How much is enough? Does it ever seem absurd sometimes?
Collecting beats is a sickness. You never feel like it's enough, so sometimes you just have to check yourself. It's absurd when you're neglecting your responsibilities just so you can buy more records. As long as you can afford the habit, I guess it's all good.
About how many records do you have now?
Between 15,000 and 20,000 would be a good guess, but I'm not really sure.
How much have you spent on your collection so far?
I have no idea, but I'd bet I could buy a very nice brand new luxury car with all the cheese I've spent on wax.
About how much money is your collection worth now, excluding sentimental value?
I'd say $250,000 or so. Put it like this, I wouldn't even consider selling it for one cent less than that.
How many new beats do you get nowadays per week?
It varies. I really couldn't put a number on it.
Did you ever just give it up/take a break?
Oh, sure, I've tried. But that's like a cat trying not to chase mice. You are what you are, and I'm a beat fiend now. It's in my blood. But I at least stay level headed about it. If my money's funny I don't even go out to my spots, I make sure the bills and the mortgage are paid. When the dough's flowin' like crazy, though, I rack up. Simple as that.
How do you organize/store all your shit?
I have a room in my house that's all records. Some are on shelves, some are in record boxes. I try to keep them organized by genres... soul, jazz, rock, etc. But most of em are all mixed up. If I ever get some time on my hands, I'll get em all organized. I guess.
What turntables/gear do you recommend for listening/sampling vinyl?
Well, the 1200's still the only turntable to fuck with. I have an AKAI 950 and an AKAI MPC 2000. Both are good machines. People swear by the SP 1200, but I never liked it myself.
What were some of your favorite finds ever? Best buys? Best trades?
My best finds have been the ultra rareties I found for a dollar- Marva Whitney "It's My Thing". Jean Jacques Perry "Moog Indigo", Carl Sherlock Holmes "Investigation", Bob Azzam & The Great Expectation. I'd rank the Marva Whitney first, because I got that on the street from this wino family that was selling all their belongings so they could go buy some Colt 45! And the shit was unplayed, clean as hell!
What are SOME OF the weirdest beats (or weirdest USABLE beats) you ever found? THE weirdest?
Damn, that's the question I used to always ask! Let me think... okay, I guess the weirdest joint I can think of is this Israeli record I have. It's dope, a bassline beat with a piano tinkling. I have some childrens records that have beats, too, but everybody does now.
What were some of your worst collecting experiences or trades ever?
This dealer that I interviewed for Rap Sheet had a Ramp that he said he'd sell me for $100, which is the most I'd ever paid for a record. I'd been looking for that for years, so I didn't care. When I got to the record show, he wasn't there, but he instructed his wife to sell me the record for $150! Now, after I was nice enough to interview him and give him some exposure, he's gonna shit on me like that? I ended up getting the record for $100 after nobody else would pay $150, but I don't fuck with that joker to this day because of that.
There's also this cat that has a shop in Stroudsburg, PA. He's the king of the assholes! I really thought I was gonna have to physically assault this guy after he repeatedly insulted me, inferring that I didn't have enough money to afford certain records. I had to leave the store before I flipped on him, and it's a shame becaise he had a TON of rare records. If I was still a thief I'd go back and rob his ass!
How do you find time to listen to all the music you acquire in search of beats? Especially when it sucks...?
I don't buy much sucky music. I have a collection of portable turntables, so I try to listen before I buy. As far as listening goes, that's a problem. There's really no time to listen to everything, so I miss a lot of shit. That's why I make tapes, so I can listen to the music while I'm driving around.
What happens to your collection when you leave this world?
It goes with me, goddammit! Seriously, I hope i'll have time to put a decent resale value on it for my wife and kids. I don't expect them to keep all these records for sentimental value- fuck that, sell them! I doubt that my wife could sell them for $250,000, but I just don't want her to give them away for a song, either. It would be cool if my son or daughter (my wife is expecting in April 1999) becomes a dj, then he or she can just take the records. That would be cool.
And, MY last question... Did you first hear about "From The Head" by St. Clair Pinckney from my site?
Nope, I didn't bite your shit, man! I've had that record for a few years. I got it from a dealer I know that specializes in breaks. The copy I have is the only one I've ever seen.
And here's some questions Dave [of DavesRecords.com] would like to ask you:
What about the Strata and Tribe labels out of Detroit? Tell us more about them...
I wish I could say I was a historian when it comes to labels like those, but unfortunately I'm not. All I know is that they're two of the most collectible funky jazz labels, their shit is rare and pretty expensive (especially Tribe). There are compilations out for both labels, and I think the liner notes contain a lot of info. You should seek out those comps.
How many records from those labels do you have and what are some dope records from those labels?
Some dope ones would be Marcus Belgrave "Gemini II" (Tribe) and Lyman Woodward Organization "Saturday Night Special" (Strata). I don't know how many I have, but I try to pick up everything on those labels if the price is right.
When are you going to sell your records and become a millionaire?
You got a mil for me? We can do this right now, jack! Ya heard?
Does Beni B still reign in the crate digging world ?
Beni B will always reign, that's my muthafuckin' dog right there. Beni's ahead of cats, he's a true conniseur of MUSIC, not just a beat man. Before I met Beni i had records, but I didn't know what the hell I had. Beni was the first person to really hip me to the game and give me some insight to what was going on. but that's Ben, he's a natural born teacher. Up to then, people played coy with the beats and wouldn't really say shit about shit. But I'll always have love for Beni for schoolin' a brother back when nobody else would. And Mr. Supreme up in Seattle, that's my dog, too. You can't mention the kings of beats without mentioning him, he's in the elite without a doubt.
There ya' have it, y'all, beat mining 411 from the master and some tips on how to rip off your employer. Consider yourself enlightened, I sure as hell do. Special thanks again to Soulman for takin' time out his busy schedule to do this interview. It's appreciated by many, man.