While many critics and fans agree that the state of hip-hop is in a downward spiral, there are a good number of artists and producers that are keeping good, intelligent, soulful hip-hop alive and well. The Sound Providers are one such act. Once a 3-man group consisting of Profile, Jason Skills, and Soulo, eventually Profile left and the group became a duo.
Using jazzy samples and some real instruments, the Southern California duo have been creating some beautiful hip-hop music for the next generation of intelligent hip-hop heads. In 1998, they recorded their first single in a small San Diego apartment. That single, The Field b/w Dope Transmission got them a deal with ABB Records. Their debut album released recently, An Evening With The Sound Providers on ABB Records, is truly like a live show. With introductions and guest appearances, the listener can almost feel the smoky nightclub atmosphere.
On a hot evening in the spring of 2004, Pixelsurgeon had a conversation with both Soulo and Jason Skills.
PIXELSURGEON: Great to meet you. What are you up to?
SOULO (SO): Just keeping busy, making tracks and putting together more music. We’re working with an emcee out here in San Diego named Blest, so we have some stuff on deck with him. Were just re-grouping right now and laying out plans for the next project.
How long did it take you to record your album, An Evening With The Sound Providers?
SO: It took about a year and a half to record and complete the album. It took a while because as soon as we started, Jay bounced out to school in Florida. So, we had to piece it together on the long distance-tip. Me being in San Diego and Jay being way out in Florida kind of delayed things a bit, but we were able to work it out and make it happen. We learned a lot in the process though, so things should move a lot quicker from here on out.
What song took you the longest to do? Why?
SO: Probably the Maspyke song, because of the choruses. It took me a while to piece together each of the three choruses, so that they recapped the theme and rhymes of each verse. So, it was kind of like putting together a scratch chorus for three different songs, because each verse had it’s own distinct message. It took a while to piece together something that was cohesive and clear. I literally sat and listened through about four crates of classic hip-hop 12-inches, trying to find the right samples to cut. It took some time, but I eventually found everything I needed to make it work. But that joint took a little more time than the rest.
What song took you the shortest to do? Why?
Jason Skills (SK): I’d say Braggin & Boastin with Little Brother. I sent our beat CD to Phonte, and a week later. he called back. I figured he was calling just to say that he got the CD, but when I talked with him, he said they were finished and that he was sending all the vocal tracks to me.
Besides the obvious reason, how is making an instrumental track different from a track with vocals? Do you approach it differently? What makes you add vocals to it?
SO: There really isn’t any difference. We usually just try to make a beat as musical and funky as possible. We don’t sit down with any real intentions, in terms of whether this will be an instrumental or a beat that an emcee will get busy on. We just sit down to create, and what comes out, comes out. An emcee picking a track is pretty much the determining factor for what gets the rhyme treatment. We make all our tracks with the hopes that rhymes will eventually be kicked.
Originally, you guys were a trio with Profile as an emcee. Why did Profile leave the group, and how did his departure change things?
SK: We were just headed in different directions. It started becoming more apparent as time went on. All three of us, being grown men, we just moved on to what we all wanted to do. That decision left Soulo and Myself working on tracks, and really becoming more of a two-man production team. It has changed things. Producing tracks outside of the typical group setting is different. You really have to know when to say something, and when to let things slide. In a group setting, you know each other so well that it is intuitive. You don’t have to think about it. That is the major change. It is more behind the scenes stuff. It has also changed our focus a bit. For every door that closes, new ones always open. The change has been for the best, and has put us in a dope situation to make things happen.
How did you guys meet and eventually for the group?
So: I had known Profile since way back. I met Jay while working on a project around 1995. We both were making beats, buying wax and all that, so we started connecting and building on the production-tip. Anyhow, I knew Profile was messing around writing rhymes, so I thought we should all get together and see if we could put a little something together. Jay and I on beats, Profile on the rhymes, and myself on cuts. I introduced the two of them on the strength of trying to record something. The three of us all hooked up at Jay’s and started building on a cut. This song eventually became Dope Transmission, off of our first 12-inch release. The first joint came out kind of cool, so we kept on and ended up recording another joint, which became The Field. We received some positive feedback from that single, so we decided to try and record some more stuff. So, without us really ever realizing it, we became a group. We just went with the flow and continued to try putting songs together.
What equipment do you use?
SO: I use the MPC 2000, 2 Techniques, and wax. Real basic set-up.
SK: I use an SP1200, MPC2000, pair of techniques 1200’s and a bunch of records.
Which instruments are your favorites?
SO: Man, I love all instruments but I’d have to say that piano, vibes, and horns are my favorite. There’s so much soul in those three.
SK: Rhodes, Electric guitar, and Vibraphone.
When did you first begin making music? What was it like?
SK: I played piano as a kid, but it was dumb. Reading one note at a time. That was back in 1981. I’ve played some piano since then. I’ve always been fascinated by good music. I think I learned to appreciate music from my Pop. Back in the day, he used to push this VW Bus and would rock out to the radio whenever he drove us around. I started collecting records sometime around ’92, and eventually started to make beats within a year or two of that. Producing beats was frustrating and exciting for a long time. I didn’t know anyone else who was into fresh things. So I was pretty much self-taught. By the time I had linked up with people, I pretty much had things together. These days, it’s really enjoyable. There’s nothing like putting a beat together, and having it come out just the way you envisioned it. I’m always the most hype on whatever beat I just finished. It’s an ever-evolving thing. You learn to do different things, to get things to sound the way you want them to, and it’s always changing.
Who are your biggest influences?
SK: Musically, I’d say late 60’s, early 70’s jazz cats like Ahmed Jamal, Cal Tjader, Mike Longo. From hip hop, all the greats like Pete Rock, Premier, Ali Shaheed Muhammed, Diamond D.
What is the biggest mistake you have made in your career?
SO: Not starting to make beats and buy wax sooner.
What advice would you give to an up and coming hip-hop producer?
SO: Go back and listen to music of the past. There is a nearly unlimited goldmine of dope music you should absorb and be familiar with before you start. Having that solid foundation and understanding of music’s past is the best thing to launch off of. Also, do what you feel. Forget about what everyone else is doing. Last but not least, keep your ears open and be original.
SK: Start buying records yesterday. Stakes are high these days on records. It’s amazing how hard it seems to be to find records that were everywhere ten years ago. That, and listen to good music. Not just hip-hop. You have to have influences that go beyond hip-hop. Listen to all the records you pick up. Understand them. Figure out why they are so fresh.
What do you think hip-hop needs these days? What is it lacking?
SO: Three essential elements. Soul, creativity & originality.
How do you approach remixes? Do you strip the songs down? Do you just add it? What?
SK: I think you should tear the building down and rebuild it. I think dope remixes take the song somewhere different. There is nothing worse than a remix that has the same feel or vibe. Take it somewhere different.
What CDs or LPs have been in your CD player or on your turntable recently?
SO: Brand Nubian’s All For One.
SK: Funkia by Mike Longo. I’ve also been listening to De La Soul Is Dead a lot lately too.
Are you for the legalization of marijuana?
SO: I don’t think I want to have my future kids have access to weed, like kids these days have access to cigarettes.
SK: Against it.
If you could remake any classic hip-hop song, what would it be?
SO: I Know You Got Soul by Eric B & Rakim.
What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out?
SO: Talk to children. They always show you how insignificant your problems are.
SK: Drive. Get away from everything and just listen to music on the open road.
In hip-hop, what kind of styles of production do you see coming in the future?
SO: I’m not too sure. I just hope that sample based beats stay in effect.
What is in the future for The Sound Providers? Remixes? Collaborations? Tours?
SK: We have a new 12-inch about to come out that we produced for an artist in San Diego named Blest. It should be out by the end of the summer. We’re also making plans for a new project. Being producers, we’re always looking for something funky to get into, be it remixes, or collaborations, or production for someone else. We’re just trying to make things happen.
Any final words for the people who will be reading this?
SO: Thanks for all the support people, we really appreciate it.
SK: No doubt. Thanks for all the support. We’ve been real fortunate to be able to keep putting out records and have people support what we’re doing and we appreciate that to no end.
Thank you very much!!!