Musiq Soulchild earned his first platinum plaque with his December 2001 debut album Aijuswanaseing, with hits like “Just Friends (Sunny)” and “Love.” But more than 15 years and 11 Grammy nominations later, the veteran hip-hop/soul artist is still pushing himself to his artistic limits. His eighth solo studio album Feel the Real is an ambitious 24-song double disc with guest appearances from vocalist Marsha Ambrosius and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson - and it relies on his hip-hop influences as much as it does his R&B influences to get its message across.
"Feel the Real basically means that I make real music for real people in a real time," Musiq said during a visit to the REVOLT offices in midtown Manhattan. "I always want to remind people that we are living in a reality, and that should be respected."
Although Musiq Soulchild jokes about wanting to reach a point where he can say he has released 20 albums, he doesn’t want the lengthy Feel the Real to feel like a personal triumph just because of what number album it is or how many songs it has. Promising that every song, topic and concept was placed on this album with purpose, he wants listeners to understand that the project is less about the numbers and more about the music and the message. “Basically, it’s the stuff I don’t really hear people talk about," he explains. "These are the things I want people to talk about, because these are things that I think about when it comes to relationships.”
Below, Musiq Soulchild talks Feel the Real, his experience working with Rapsody and Bootsy Collins, and how he and Fabolous were essentially traded between record labels.
There’s normally about a two-year gap between your albums, but Feel the Real comes only a little over a year after your last album, Life on Earth dropped. What caused you to release albums back to back this time around?
I always tell everybody I never take a break. That’s just the timeline and how it happens. It’s not like I just be chilling and I wake up one day like “now I’m going to work.” That never happens. Usually, it has to do with label scheduling, working with different producers and personal shit that is going on in my life, but I’ve never taken a break since 2000. It was just a blessed situation that I was able to put another out.It was cool and refreshing. I really just be working, working, working. I got other full songs and full videos from the alter personas I have that y’all just haven’t seen yet. There’s always stuff that I’m doing. Stuff gets canned, stuff gets pushed back and I start over and I do it again. Y’all just don’t see that process. It’s nothing new for me, but I can get how for y’all it’s a little different.
Was it a challenge to narrow down the list of songs that made it onto Feel the Real?
It wasn’t difficult. I always have a lot of songs that haven’t touched the light of day. Some of these songs I’ve been sitting on for a little while. I thought these were fresh and that it would suck to not put them out. The last four records I came up with within the last five months, while I was trying to work on this next project. I did want the album to be fresh. I didn’t want it to be a bunch of old joints that I breath new life into. I kind of wanted the project to feel like it was a work of art that I did spend time with.
What made you develop your sticker-based emoji app, Denimoji?
I needed to come up with a concept for the album cover. The album is Feel the Real, and I wondered how do you portray a feeling and an image. I thought emojis, because we all use emojis and then with me doing the whole denim thing I was like let’s do a denim emoji. My manager said we should make it an app. You can use these emojis for any situation you may need to use emojis. These are just in denim [laughs].
Why do you feel hip hop soul defines your sound so well?
Just growing up in the hip hop generation, and being raised on soul music. Hip hop soul is an accurate depiction of the type of music that I make. I feel like if you just call it R&B, you’re robbing yourself of the full experience. All you’re going to look for are all the R&B songs. Yeah, I make R&B music, but that’s not all you’re going to get from my music. I’m basically a rapper, but I sing.
How did you connect with Rapsody for “A Rollercoaster Jam Called Love,” from her album Laila's Wisdom?
I’m a huge fan of Rapsody. Shouts out to 9th Wonder. I went out to North Carolina, because I got love for 9th. He said he was working on Rapsody’s project and asked me to hop on it. From there, me and Rap got to chop it up. She’s a really cool chick. I’m actually looking forward to working with her some more in the future. We don’t necessarily have anything in the works, but I’m wide open, because she’s definitely onto something. I really would like for people to look out for Hurricane Rapsody, because it’s coming.
You’re also featured on Bootsy Collins’ World Wide Funk track “Hot Saucer” alongside Big Daddy Kane. How significant of a moment was working with two legends like those two for you?
It’s just validation, you know what I’m saying? When cats that have been doing it for as long as they have, who are people that I grew up listening to and being inspired by all across the board, take time out of their life to say to you that they like what you’re doing, it’s dope. They are OGs in this game. They don’t owe me nothing. So anytime they need me I’ll just reach back out.
Rumor has that a label-to-label trade involving you and another artist had something to do with you leaving Def Jam for Atlantic Records in the early 2000s.
Yeah, with me and Fab.
So the rumors are true?
Could you give us a little of the background behind the trade?
Well, you’re going to have to talk to Kevin Liles and Shawn Carter for that. I was just sitting on the bench waiting.
Was it something you wanted to happen?
No, it wasn’t something I wanted to happen or something that I didn’t want to happen. Kevin Liles had left Def Jam and was like “yo, why don’t you come over here with me.” I was happy over at Def Jam, but didn’t have a problem being over there with Kevin. He told me to just give him a minute to figure it out, and then next thing I knew the swap was happening. For more details on it, you’d have to talk to them.