Today, it seems as though there are two main arenas within the hip hop realm. One of which is dominated by auto-tuned formulas of regurgitated slurs about making money and partying. The other, is characterized by thought provoking lyrics about relate able experiences that promote the bettering of societies and leading more fulfilling lives. Luckily, Seattle hip hop artist Sol fits much more appropriately into the latter of the two.
Sol sat down with Oh So Fresh! Music Friday night before his show with hip hop legend, Nas.
You’re about to announce your winter tour dates with Zion I on Monday. Can you give us any hints as to where we can expect you? Will this be your furthest reaching tour yet?
This will be my furthest reaching tour yet, and I can say that they’re 5 shows in Colorado, so I’m super excited about that. This is a part of the country that I’ve always wanted to come out to and do more shows. We have a long history between Seattle Hip Hop and Colorado and Denver so I’m glad that I will be back soon.
Tonight is your second performance in Denver in a little more than a month. Is there any reason for this? Do you see any similarities between the hip hop scene in Seattle and Denver?
Yeah, well firstly, shout out to Adam Stroll for bringing me out. He was the one that brought me out here so quickly. There’s a lot of parallel history between western Washington and this part of the country. Weed is legal in both places, we’re surrounded by mountains, I think that the people have a very similar vibe to them. I haven’t been out here that much, but I’ve been hearing about it my whole life and now that I’m here, everything that I’ve heard is true.
One thing that stands out in your live performances is your energy on stage and your ability to engage the crowd. How important is it to you that the crowd is fully engaged? Does it help that you have a live band to perform with?
Well, I think live music with a live band is always preferable. Every chance that I get I play with my live band. Tonight I’m just with my DJ (DJ Nphared), but I played with a DJ for ten years and that’s hip hop. I personally love to rock with a band. I grew up on stage and I’m very comfortable there. All I really need is a microphone and for the audience to be engaged. I think that as an entertainer - because really that’s what we are as performers and musicians, we’re entertainers - it’s super important for me to make sure people are having a good time. To meet people half way, regardless of what the crowd is. My first show was in front of 12 people and I’ve played in front of 9,000 people. Your job is to engage with the audience and leave an impact on them. I treat every show different, but with the same priority and I always give it 100%.
One of the main themes of your music seems to be to not let the fame get to your head. Why is this so important to you and how do you ensure that it doesn’t happen?
I think it’s so important to not let fame get to your head because at the end of the day we are people. If we lose our connection with people we love, if we lose our ability to meet new people and connect with new people on a very genuine level then I think that we stop living real life. We stop being in touch with how the world really is and how people are. I think it will have a negative impact on you as a person. I want to be able to have a family. I want to be able to raise kids. I want to be able to spend time with the family that I do have and I try to make time for my friends. I try to make time for new life experiences because those things are what feed into me as an artist. That’s the support system that I have and without my life experiences I don’t have anything to write about. I become someone that just talks about rap or touring or just the music grind, and that’s not what real people live so I think that there’s a disconnect at that point.
You mentioned that your music is influenced by your experiences and your surroundings. Do you believe that your experiences in other countries influenced your style of music in a way that makes you more popular internationally?
That’s a good question. I think it’s really hard to tell why people listen to your music. Everyone has their own personal reasons why [the music] registers or connects with them. So especially on an international level or just outside of my surroundings, like outside of Seattle, the music has really just spread on it’s own. You don’t really choose where it goes, it just happens. I think that the Internet is a huge reason that my music has been able to spread. Stylistically, I think the biggest thing about my music that connects with people is just the personality behind the music. The fact that it’s me, that it’s not an act. I don’t have some alias or some character that I play. It’s just me and it’s real life and I think that people dealing with shit, dealing with life, connect with my music for that reason. I think that’s a universal thing. As far as my content goes, I’ve traveled a lot so a lot of things I talk about are not necessarily localized issues. They’re things that people deal with no matter where they are, all around the world.
All three volumes of Dear Friends were released for free and Yours Truly reached #1 on the iTunes Hip Hop Charts without a record label. What’s your opinion on record labels and marketing firms?
I think that depending on where you are in your career and who you are, a record label may make a lot of sense. If you don’t have a strong team around you, the right label can do huge things for you and help you take your career to the next level. Or, if you’re at a point in your career where there’s so much going on that you have to expand and you don’t have the means to expand at certain avenues that you want to, then the right label would make sense. For me, when I was working on my album Yours Truly there weren’t labels calling yet. There was nothing on the table, but my career was right in front of me and I had to take it into my own hands. That’s why I built my fans through the free EPs and then when it came time to drop the album, people were ready to support. That was just my approach because I was doing everything on my own. You can’t just sit at home and wait for something to happen. You gotta do it on your own. That’s how I handled things.
Did you get a lot of labels calling you while you were traveling overseas?
Not while I was [traveling] because people knew at that point, that was the story. I just peaced out. But before I left, when the album dropped, there were different record labels calling but I was about to leave the country for a year. I wasn’t really thinking about signing. I had different priorities. It was really just about moving forward with my life and my career, and I’m still moving in that same direction. The journey continues. I don’t know anybody that has the same career path that I do.
In The Making of Eyes Open you mention that you “feel more comfortable as an artist and as a person” and that you know what kind of music you want to make and what kind of message you want to have. Does this mean that we can expect your future albums to sound more similar to Eyes Open than Yours Truly?
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I don’t think that Eyes Open is really that different sonically from Yours Truly as far as the way that we compose and the way that we put the music together. I think that my songwriting has grown and changed a lot. I think musically, working with The Zillas – which are Nima Skeemz and Elan Wright – we were building off of the groove that we were getting into right before I left with songs like “2020” and “Paint” and “Stagedive”. Really just playing our music and stopping with the sampling. We were kind of defining that sound beginning with Yours Truly. Now as I grow and as I evolve, the sound will always grow and change. If people listen to my really early music, before Yours Truly, that sounds a lot different than that and I hope that my next album will be clear growth. As an artist, you always want to experiment and try new things. That’s when I’m having the most fun. So…hopefully it doesn’t sound like Eyes Open.
You and The Zillas are creating, recording, producing, and performing the music all yourselves. Whereas other bands and artists may have multiple outside influences, such as somebody else doing the writing or recording or producing. Tell us more about this process and how it translates into your live shows.
I think writing, composing, performing and recording the music all with the same group of people creates a certain type of chemistry and consistency that you can’t get elsewhere. The fact that my bassist is the guy that played the bass on the track just means that when you see a live show the music is going to come that much more alive. It’s not somebody that’s just memorized what happens on the record, it’s the person that came up with those ideas and they get to build on those ideas and they also get to improvise and change things because they’re comfortable within that music. You know? We were there the whole time – from beginning to end. It’s just a lot of fun and the music comes to life when I play it with a live band.
It seems that each song is a characterization of you at a certain point in time. Which one of your songs most closely characterizes you right now?
If I had to choose one song that really defines me right now, it would be either “Jump in” or my song “Tomorrow”. They’re both on the new EP. Positive, happy songs that just kind of represent where I am. I think being positive has a certain stigma around it, and I understand being too positive is just not realistic. Life is not like that. But right now I’m extremely blessed and I’m happy so I think that my music reflects that.
Originally, you were going to be sharing the stage with Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), but since he had to pull out, Nas will be performing instead. How do you feel about that?
Man…either way. I grew up on Nas, I grew up on Black Star, you know Black on Both Sides. Mos Def/Yasiim Bey would’ve been super dope. I’ve seen him a bunch of times but I’ve never played a show with him and same story with Nas. When my manager told me ‘I’ve got bad news, and I got good news. Mos Def cancelled, but Nas is performing.' I was very happy about Nas, but also sad about Mos. Either way, I’m on stage with a legend and I’m gonna tear it down.
Is there anything that you can share about upcoming projects?
Right now, still pushing the EP, Eyes Open. Focused on shooting videos right now. We got some videos that we’re putting out. Some more videos that we’re going to shoot. I got a big Seattle show at Showbox in a couple weeks. I’m doing the tour with Zion I. Once I come back from that tour, I think I’ll be able to start thinking about the next album. I’ve already been writing because it’s just part of my process. Every morning I write. I’m just inspired sometimes - I write randomly. There’s already been quite a few songs since I finished recording the EP back in August that I’ve written. As far as coming up with the concept and really pushing the pedal to the metal on the next project – not quite yet. I’m still processing everything that happened with the last record before I can move forward to the next one.
Last question, would you rather have one person come see you live, or 20 people buy your album on iTunes?[Laughs] Twenty people buy my album on iTunes because they’re gonna like it! And then next time I come, all twenty of them will come to the show.
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