Published Mar 14, 2014"I've always wanted to open a cafe," says the artist-producer known as Slakah the Beatchild. And so he did: In between putting the finishing touches on new album Soul Movement Vol. 2, Slakah (real name Byram Joseph) became co-owner of a new coffeehouse in Toronto's east end.
"Oh, I'm making drinks, I'm a barista, I'm in marketing, I'm washing dishes, I'm doing everything," he says. "I've always been someone to do what you want, what you feel."
The Sarnia, ON-born "performing producer" insists that there are parallels between running a cafe and being a recording artist. The connective tissue is the hustle, the drive to be successful at something. Within a relatively short period of time, the Juno-winning artist has done just that, producing for folks like Melanie Durrant, Shad and Drake (before he was "Drake"). While in love with soul music, his musical styles range from hip-hop (via his Art of Fresh group work with rapper D.O.) and the Slakadeliq's "psychedelic rock" of his recent Other Side of Tomorrow LP project that helped to open up his fan base even more.
Soul Movement Vol. 2 is the sequel to 2008's Soul Movement Vol. 1 and the sound is more soul-oriented in a way that seems so fresh, so clean, and so unlike anything on the radio at the moment. Exclaim! connected with Slakah the Beatchild to discuss Soul Movement Vol. 2, how it differs from his Slakadeliqs work, and his current musical mind state and process.
With the new album out, are there any parallels between running the cafe and creating the music?
It's the hustle man, the hustle. I love working hard and this is a lot of work. Both are a lot of work. Right now, my music energy is going into Soul Movement Vol. 2. It's been kind of a crazy past year, to tell you the truth.
With my original studio, I had drama with my landlord, which put a damper on my creativity. I had to move studios and it was a really bad situation. Then I ended my six-year relationship with my management. That was hard. But I have new management now whom I'm really happy with. It's actually DJ Premier's manager. And things are really moving well now. Fresh blood. Got to keep things moving you know?
What did you want to accomplish with this record?
First thing, I really wanted to have more soul songs. What I found is that when I went on tour, half of the songs (on Vol. 1) are features so it's hard to do the songs without those artists. You know what I mean? So mostly more soul songs. Secondly, I wanted to explore my growth as a songwriter. So when it comes to lyricism, I made sure that I took my time. I'm always trying to improve as a songwriter. I think it's really unique art and a lot of people take that for granted.
And how would you define the Soul Movement sound? On Bandcamp, it's listed as "experimental R&B." Would that be accurate?
I would classify it as soulful hip-hop. Soul hip-hop. I think that's how to describe. Vol. 2 doesn't veer too far from what feels good. Whereas something like the Slakadeliqs, I'm more like into experimenting. At the same time, Soul Movement is about no boundaries on the soul side of things. I'm not listening to what's hot on the radio to influence what things sound like. I just do what feels good. I wanted to approach the instrumentation different with this album. With Vol. 1 there were a lot of samples and drum machine; with this one I wanted to do more bass guitar and live drums to capture that vibe with live groups and sounds. And songs like "Us Theory" [and] "Want to Do" have that live instrument vibe. Even the fast songs like "Endurance," it's live instruments. I find it's a different vibe and I wanted to capture that.
That said, how different is a Soul Movement record compared to a Slakadeliqs record? What's the crossover between audiences?
Personally, I think it's very different. But I think when people hear my music they tell me I have a signature sound. But I don't even know what that signature is. I just make music but to me they have very different identities. When I'm writing a Slakadeliqs song, I'm in a different mind state compared to when I'm writing a Slakah the Beatchild song. What do you think?
Well, you definitley have a distinct sound, where one can clearly distinguish that it's your production. And that's whether it's a Slakah the Beatchild track or a Slakadeliqs song.
Right. It must be that I have go-to sounds, maybe sounds that I feel comfortable using. Maybe that's a bad thing (laughs). Oh well.
So taking a step back, when did music start for you? You've been doing this for a minute now — you've worked with people like Drake — so how did you get your start?
It started when I discovered multi-track recording. I was about nine or ten. That changed my world. There was no longer just one idea in my head — I could loop and layer different things to create a whole new idea. It was just a cool thing. And then there was the dream of doing this as a job. It only became realistic as a job when I started interning at [Toronto's] Phase One studios. I was in the environment and surrounded by industry professionals. That was in 2002 or 2003. That was a turning point for me. I was in the industry, I've got great mentors, and I'm meeting talented people.
So how do you define success for this record?
Success for me is people's reaction, whether that's ten or 10 million. If I'm waiting to go platinum with a soul record, then I would be disappointing myself as I know it's a genre that doesn't have the largest audience. But that's not why I make music. Success for me is having people enjoy it.
When you say "people" do you mean people in Canada or the world at large?
Oh, at large. My fan base is worldwide which is really cool and awesome. I have fans in multiple countries and I never imagined that happening.
That said, what are your thoughts on R&B music in Canada?
It has to be international. It's impossible as there is no market. You've got to go elsewhere. Even big companies don't have product in one country. They have products across the world. Music is the same thing.
What was the collaborative process for this album? What was it like working with a relative newcomer like Tanika Charles versus a veteran like Glenn Lewis?
Each individual has their own way of working and writing. It's like never the same process and there are so many ways the songs come to life. Glenn has a very specific way he likes to work; he's a perfectionist. He's knows that he wants to hear. With Tanika, she asks opinions and is open to changes. It's a different process. Experience has a lot to do with it. And I think I'm kind of bossy when it comes to my soul projects. I really have an idea of what I want and I kind of nudge things in the direction that I want it to go. And I let their identity come through on my idea. I think something kind of awesome comes from that. But when I create an instrumental, I almost always hear options for different things or people that could be on it.
How did you curate the album?
Well the tracks that didn't make the album are actually the bonus tracks. There were tracks that I was wishy-washy about. But when I put them into the playlist beside the other songs, they didn't sound right. I'm big on track listing and flow. Even if it's a decent song, if it doesn't flow with the other songs it can't go on the album.
Do you consider yourself a vocalist in general?
I don't consider myself to be a singer. I'm a performing producer. As a songwriter, I think I've definitely grown. I think I think so. I'm curious to know what people think of the record. I always get nervous when I put out an album. A lot of people say when they put out an album that they don't care what people think but that's a lie. Especially when there's Soul Movement Vol. 1 that they are comparing it to. I just hope that it's good experience, coming from Vol. 1.