Consume & Assemble: An Interview with Soul Position
Before completing his monumental Def Jux debut Deadringer, Columbus DJ Rjd2 teamed up with a comparatively obscure local rapper named Blueprint, known mostly from promising cameos on Aesop Rock's Daylight EP and Eyedea & Abilities' First Born, to make Soul Position. They recorded the bulk of the forthcoming 8,000,000 Stories (Rhymesayers) in early 2002, but put it on hold and released some of its outtakes as a six-track appetite-whetting preview, the competent but disappointing Unlimited EP. Rjd2's multifarious production felt restrained by the presence of live vocals, while Blueprint's lyrics revolved around the same tiresome themes. Fortunately, both members' talents have room to stretch out on the full-length, RJ exploring different moods like he does so well and Blueprint spinning engaging narratives with the occasional battle rap thrown in for good measure ("You got beef? / I got vegetables!"). 8,000,000 Stories hits stores on October 7th.
Daniel Levin Becker: Your production comes from pretty diverse places; you've sampled not Wu-Tang and Ice Cube but Elliott Smith and Brian Eno. What do you look for in a sample and how do you find it?
Rjd2: I just go through shit until I find something that sounds interesting. Being a producer demands that you train yourself to listen for any usable sound at all times. The more things you have catalogued, the more you can accurately do what you\\\'re trying to do. It's a mixed blessing, definitely, you know.
DLB: How so?
RJ: I say it's a mixed blessing because while the analytical process helps you when it comes working on music, sometimes you kill the mystique about certain things. There are a lot of chord progressions that I used to recognize by emotion—I related them to songs that i knew—now I only see them as just an arrangement of chords in a specific order.
DLB: The liner notes on Deadringer have references to finding vinyl in Ohio (I presume). Do you have a philosophy to speak of when it comes to digging?
RJ: Those aren't directions, they were pieces of paper that I had from record trips. I would end up with all these scraps with phone numbers and addresses on them—I have a hard time staying organized. I thought they looked interesting, so I kept them. Did they get re-typed? I don't remember.
DLB: Yeah, they're listed under the headings "Hunt," "Gather," and "Consume & Assemble." What\\\'s a record trip like for you? Do you go in blind, or do you have an idea of what you're looking for?
RJ: Unfortunately, things have been crazy—I haven't been on a record trip for almost two years. But if I'm just out digging, I just look for my type of shit, you know, that piece that says "hey, sample me and you might get sued," that type of shit. Back when I took trips, it was fun. I'd go by myself and just rough it—sleep in the car, camp out, whatever. Then you can be thorough and nobody's bitchin' about not being in a hotel or something.
DLB: What sort of limitations or requirements do you impose on yourself when producing for an MC collaboration rather than your solo work? Do you have a preference?
RJ: I don't really limit myself, although I feel like the pressure is off when I'm working with an MC. I don't have to be all technical and shit; I can just have fun, do whatever I feel like. I don't prefer either one, I prefer not doing one or the other too much.
DLB: How was Soul Position conceived?
RJ: I was at a show in Columbus—Print had just played, and I always thought he killed shows. I asked him if he wanted to do some shit together. It just ended up snowballing into a group.
DLB: When was this?
RJ: Ummm, I'm bad with years and time. 2001? Seems right. The album was finished maybe early 2002?
DLB: What's the collaboration process like between you and Blueprint?
RJ: I send him the beats, and I write the lyrics, and then send him the lyrics, and then I let him figure out which of my rhymes he wants to kick over which of my beats. It's a very democratic situation.
DLB: Is it different than working with other MCs?
RJ: Yeah, it's easier working with him in ways, 'cause we get along good. Sometimes it's no good though, 'cause he produces, and you know, you're working with a rapper and he might come at you with "move the blah blah over to blah, nahmean, son? Yo god, you need to, umm, like, make that hi hat more like a snare, nahmean?" And I'll just be like, "I tried —- the machine won't let me," but with Print, he knows what's up, so, you know, then it just comes down to a straight up fight -— "Dog, turn the horns up, my vocals are drowning." Plus, I'm real finicky.
DLB: You've said you tried to capture a different mood with each song on Deadringer. Was there a similar intention with 8,000,000 Stories?
RJ: I don't remermber. I was drunk thgough that enturre ablum.
DLB: What are you listening to these days?
RJ: Outkast, Bubba Sparxxx, White Stripes, Joni Mitchell.
DLB: What's still out there for you to conquer?
DLB: There's a greater focus on narratives on this album than there was on the Unlimited EP and on your cameos; you seem to dabble a bit in disses and abstract raps, but stick mainly to songs with real plotlines (hence, I'm guessing, the title). Were you going for any underlying theme throughout, or is it just a celebration of storytelling in general?
Blueprint: I don't think I intentionally set out to make it an album full of narratives, but as the album started taking form that's what it turned out to be. As I would go through the beats that I was hearing from RJ, the ones that inspired me the most were the ones that felt like beats I could tell a story to, as opposed to those I could kick a battle rhyme to. So, I knew it would be better to stick to it. And since it's really my first solo album it also defined my style as an MC, and telling stories is something that I think I'm pretty strong at.
DLB: There's sort of a lighthearted/contemplative persona that comes through more on 8,000,000 Stories than on any of your previous stuff. Do you think there's any influence from your work and/or touring with some of the MCs on Rhymesayers, or was it just where you were at?
BP: I don't feel I was influenced by anybody on Rhymesayers, especially since I wasn't with Rhymesayers when I did the album. In general, I think most people that hang out with me would think that I'm a pretty funny dude, but it doesn't always get to come across in my music because almost everything I did before this was a very short body of work, so I couldn't really show all sides of me. Everyone also knows me to be very serious and quiet sometimes as well. I guess I feel a lot better about life and I don't mind making fun of myself or situations that I go through anymore, and I really don't care what people think.
DLB: What's the collaboration process like between you and RJ? Do you have any input as a producer, or are you strictly the MC?
BP: I had input as a producer, but I don't think I was necessarily standing over RJ's shoulder. I was pretty focused on what I wanted, and he had things he wanted to get across as well, so there's obviously got to be some compromise. I think the advantage I have over a lot of MCs he may work with is that I've produced many albums myself, so I can explain what I'm trying to do a lot easier than them.
DLB: Can you talk a bit about your Weightroom project?
BP: The Weightroom album came out in April of this year on my own label, Weightless Recordings. It's a production compilation that I did in the same vein as Pete Rock's Soul Survivor record, where he produced all the tracks and rhymed on them with guests. I had a bunch of guests on there that I do music with and it also had a couple of solo songs from me on it. I felt it was important for me to put that record out before the Soul Position album came out because a lot of people who heard of me through Soul Position didn't know that I have been producing for years and take it just as seriously as my emceeing.
DLB: What are you listening to these days?
BP: I've been listening to a lot of rock, R&B, and instrumental stuff lately like The White Stripes, Radiohead, Anthony Hamilton, Quantic, and D'Angelo. I'm also listening to a lot of older hip hop like Nice & Smooth, KRS-ONE, and Public Enemy.
DLB: Is there any relation between Soul Position and soulDecision? You can tell me.
BP: Who is Soul Decision? Never heard of 'em...
By Daniel Levin Becker