In my attempts to continue to educate the masses on the instrumental side of hip hop and also the vast world of hip-hop that exists outside of the United States. Today I sit down with Canadian hip-hop artists Soulfistikato who’s coming off the release of his instrumental album “The Head Nod”. We talk Canadian hip-hop, the varied sounds across his project and more.
Dead End Hip Hop: Tell me who Soulfistikato is for those who still don’t know?
Soulfistikato: There are many roles I play but in this conversation, SoulFistikato is a musical creator, bender of frequencies, nurturer of vibes, a builder of sonic shelters and spring boards. Simpler labels like producer or beat-maker don’t always feel right to me but I’m cool with their uses too.
DEHH: How did you get into hip-hop, more so what got you into doing production?
Soulfistikato: My parents exposed me to all kinds of music early on that made me want to create. And I was a basement kid growing up. There was a time when hanging around my brother and the guys he spun records with was all I wanted to do. They spent hours messing around digging through crates, building their routines, and I sat there taking in the vibe and dissecting the techniques. The call to start producing reached me through listening. It was “T.R.O.Y.” and “The Chronic” that captured me the deepest. Pete Rock and Dre made me hear hip hop in a completely different way than I was used to up to then. The degree to which it was different revealed creative possibilities and made me realize I had a voice somewhere in there. A couple years later ‘Runnin’ by The Pharcyde drops and solidifies it for me. It blended a bit of what I knew and a bit of what was taking me by surprise and married them perfectly. Hearing the way Jay Dee (now better known as Dilla) pieced it together made me want to create, by any means necessary. It started with two tape decks, then a Tascam 4-track, then beyond. The final push came when I couldn’t find anyone making the type of beats that inspired me as an emcee because I was always writing and freestyling too. These were the signs that kept me motivated to stay focused on the journey to where I find myself now.
DEHH: I know I’m not supposed to ask about secrets, but what equipment do you use?
Soulfistikato: True, those are secrets. But I’ll share the progression, mostly in hopes of inspiring someone out there. I made my first beat with a borrowed Yamaha MIDI keyboard and a handful of sounds, recorded on a Tascam 4 track tape machine. I made what I was comfortable calling my first full mixtape with an Akai LPD8, and a quarter crate of records.
By the time I started making ‘The Head Nod’ I had reshaped my process a few times and sampling alone wasn’t enough for me anymore. A handful of hardware pieces went into it but at the core, it was my Maschine MK1, a bunch of instruments, and a few really carefully chosen records. Like we always say though, it’s not what you got but what you do with it. That’s true no matter your set up. The only limits you’ll have are the ones you seem to not want to let go of. Some of them will help, many will cripple you.
DEHH: Let’s jump into “The Head Nod” how did that idea come about?
Soulfistikato: It’s a project I started working on spontaneously. There was no big plan or vision for it in the beginning. I just knew I was working toward something. The vision came as the track list grew. And as it grew it drove me to want a group of tracks that evoke your inner pendulum no matter what you’re doing when you hear them. I wanted to make something that put you back in touch with the different layers of your personal momentum. All of which manifest themselves physically, where I come from, in a head nod.
DEHH: One thing I absolutely loved about “The Head Nod” is that you didn’t just give us a couple fire beats, I genuinely feel you gave us an experience, what was the creative process in making “The Head Nod”
Soulfistikato: Thank you for that, means a lot. In short, I made a batch of about 20 complete beats and a few really tight grooves, then I cut it down to the eight tracks I felt were both the best and fit best together. The fit part is where I think the experience comes from. I wanted each track to pick the conversation up where the last left off. Ultimately, every track had to engage you immediately, get heads nodding, and keep them there. Some dope beats that didn’t accomplish this didn’t make it.
DEHH: I wanna branch out just a bit, tell me a bit about the hip-hop scene in Canada
Soulfistikato: There are diverse scenes here from Vancouver to Halifax and we even have a Francofone scene in Quebec that has always been strong and unique. Toronto and its surrounding areas have always had tons of talent. It really differs from one area, and then province, to the next. Not different from the scene in the US. It has to be said though, the rise of the trap sound has made things more uniform than they once were. I grew up, and have been creating, between Toronto and an outskirt city called Brampton. The Toronto scene is always changing and can sometimes go through unpredictable turnovers, which many people hate hearing and love to argue about, but it was what it was. You could go hard and be in demand, then go away to record an album and come back to a very different scene. As for Brampton, it’s packed with talent. Most of which people in the city itself don’t even know is from there. Classic small town story. Even when they think they know the next up and comer, there are many pioneers still living in the city and creating that go unnoticed. It’s a challenge I’m engaging but it takes time. Long answer, I know. Things are looking up over the last 10 years but there’s still work to do that many of us are constantly at it.
DEHH: What do you want people to walk away with after listening to “The Head Nod”?
Soulfistikato: A vibe. The kind of vibe that leaves something imprinted on you that you can always go back to. Maybe it’s something they’ve always known and are reconnecting with or maybe it’s something brand new and it’s helped them transition. I want people to walk away nodding their heads, smiling with the experience, and asking what I’ve got for them next.
DEHH: What was your favorite track to make on the EP and why?
Soulfistikato: Concentrated feeling is integral to my process. Once it becomes too much about pushing squares around and adjusting percentages I’m disinterested. Every track was a trip and I loved the unique shape each one took on. I don’t think I can pick just one. It’s a tie between ‘Give Back’ and ‘Holding Fire’. On ‘Give Back’ I went all in and put down all the instrumentation live. It’s all me. The ‘Holding Fire’ process started out differently but ended in a similar way. It came together over a few studio sessions that were each all about intense experimentation. The track has a lot of nuances. On the last session I actually meant to just go in and clean things up. Inspiration hit and I ended up recording a bunch of live instrumentation around the core sample to finish off the track. Then I wrote two verses and a chorus. I wrote and recorded vocals to a few of the tracks because it still just comes naturally to me but only left the chorus on this one. It’s so important to go in to every session focused but also completely open to almost anything happening.
DEHH: For those looking to get into production, what tips can you offer them?
Soulfistikato: Mostly unpopular ones. Always have fun, and love every minute of what you do. Stick to your vision, without apologies. Learn from as many people as you can, as often as you can. Go out to shows when you can. Learn what makes other producers’ beats move audiences. Study as many forms of music as possible. Start with whatever you can afford but get at least one mic. Learn to play at least one instrument. It will give you a deeper understanding of how instruments move through music (and it will keep you sane and creating when the power grid goes down for the final time). Spend more time experimenting than you do emulating. Influence is great but I’m a believer in doing your own thing and not trying to sound like anyone at all. The influence of music you love is already within you. Intentionally trying to sound like someone else is redundant. Make your own sounds, even if you think they suck at first. Keep at it because this is what will lead to you having a style listeners can pick out of the soundscape. And finally, care of John Cage, “do not try to create and analyze at the same time. They are different processes”. Go all in when you’re creating. Save editing and analyzing for the day after.
DEHH: I know 2018 just started but enlighten me on your plans for the New Year
Soulfistikato: Lots of plans in motion. There’s always room to add a project here and there if it’s interesting enough but between producing and mixing, plans for most of the next couple of years are made. My next few projects will be with a wide range of artists from vocalists to spoken word artists to dancers, so stay tuned. Special stuff coming. I’ve also been patiently waiting for the universe to send me the right female voice for a project I’ve got tucked away. Lastly, I’ll be looking to get back out and perform a bit more later this year. Other than that, I stay learning and experimenting constantly.