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 were 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, “An Evening With The Sound Providers” on ABB Records, is truly like a live show. With introductions and guest appearances, the listener can feel the smoky nightclub.
ABB Records gained worldwide acclaim with their release of Little Brother’s “The Listening”. Little Brother also makes an appearance on “An Evening With…” LP on the incredible “Bragging And Boasting”. Other guests include Wee Bee Foolish, Asheru Of The Unspoken Heard, The Procussions, and Maspyke. It is an LP that can be listened to without skipping one track.
On a hot evening in the Spring of 2004, I had a conversation with both Soulo and Jason Skills. The Sound Providers are not living in the past. They are using the past to live. Hip-hop should be grateful for The Sound Providers because the sound that they are providing is helping to save hip-hop.
MVRemix: What goes on? Soulo: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. That and sending beats out to cats, trying to connect with dope emcees.
MVRemix: Your debut album, ‘An Evening With The Sound Providers’, just came out. Tell us about it. Jason Skills:It’s called ‘An Evening With The Sound Providers’. It’s a production album that features a bunch of our favorite artists as well as some instrumentals.
MVRemix: How long did it take you to record it? Soulo:It took about a year and a half to record and complete the album. It took a second 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.
MVRemix: What is your favorite song on the album? Soulo:I'd have to say that the Wee Bee Foolish joint, ‘It’s Gonna Bee Alright’, is my favorite. It's just a real uplifting song with a timeless message. The beat, the rhymes, the vibe. I love everything about that song. Jason Skills:5 Minutes’ with The Procussions.
MVRemix: Can you explain the songwriting process? Soulo:The only song that I've ever completely written was ‘Never Judge’. The process for that song was more of me just having a topic I wanted to address. It is about how you should never sleep on someone by their appearance or demeanor. Then, you hear the CL line from ‘I'll Take You There’, from ‘The Main Ingredient’ LP. That fit the topic perfectly. Once I found the vocal sample I wanted to cut, I just started writing the rhymes. Once I had the rhymes done, I just looked for the beat that best personified the vibe and feeling of the song. When I heard those slick guitars Jay hooked up, I knew I had just the right track for the song. So I laid the rhymes down, sent Jay a copy, and he dug it. It wasn't something that was absolutely recorded to be placed on the album, but Jay really dug it and convinced me to put it on there. Honestly, I was a little intimidated by the thought of having a song next too a bunch of really dope emcees. All things considered though, I think it's a nice song with a fresh theme. Ultimately, I think it's a nice little addition to the LP.
MVRemix: What song took you the longest to do? Why? Soulo: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.
MVRemix: What song took you the shortest to do? Why? Jason Skills: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.
MVRemix: 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? Soulo: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.
MVRemix: Originally, you guys were a trio with Profile as an emcee. Why did Profile leave the group? How did his departure change things? Jason Skills: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.
MVRemix: How did you get involved with ABB Records? Jason Skills:Back in 1998, we put our first single ‘Dope Transmission’ b/w ‘The Field’ by ourselves and had it at Fatbeats in L.A. Beni B happened to stop by and heard the record. He called us and we worked out a distribution agreement. We’ve been here ever since. It works out real well for us.
MVRemix: You did an amazing track with Little Brother called ‘Braggin & Boastin’. What are they like to work with? How are they different than other artists? Jason Skills:Like I said earlier. They were real proficient, and on point about the whole thing. 9th Wonder recorded the vocals and sent me the files. It came together real effortlessly. It seems like they are a pretty tight knit crew.
MVRemix: How did you guys meet and eventually for the group? Soulo: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. So anyway, 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.
MVRemix: What is the meaning behind the name The Sound Providers? Jason Skills:It’s really a dual meaning, the obvious being that we provide sounds. The other is that we are ‘sound’ as in ‘that guy gives sound advice’. So we are Sound Providers.
MVRemix: What equipment do you use? Soulo:I use the MPC 2000, 2 Technics, and wax. Real basic set-up. Jason Skills:I use an SP1200, MPC2000, pair of Technics 1200’s and a bunch of records.
MVRemix: Which instruments are your favorites? Soulo: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. Jason Skills:Rhodes, Electric guitar, and Vibraphone.
MVRemix: When did you first begin making music? What was it like? Jason Skills: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.
MVRemix: How were you making a living before or outside music? Jason Skills:Both of us are working stiffs. I worked for a while as an audio engineer, and am currently teaching at a college in Florida.
MVRemix: How has your live show evolved? What is your favorite part of your live show? Jason Skills:Both of us started out as DJ’s back in the day, but being producers, we really don’t have a live show.
MVRemix: Who are your biggest influences? Jason Skills: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.
MVRemix: Abortion. Pro-life or pro-choice? Jason Skills:I don’t believe that abortion is right. Both pro-life and pro-choice groups seem to have such radical people. I don’t know that I can associate to tough with either side. I just don’t want to be a part of an abortion.
MVRemix: Death penalty. For or against? Jason Skills:For it, but only in the most extreme cases. An eye for and eye.
MVRemix: Where were you on the September 11th terrorist attack? How did you deal with it? How has it affected the music industry? Jason Skills:I was in a class. The class was left out, and no one was ever really explained what had happened, except that New York had been attacked by terrorists. As I left the parking lot, I listened to the radio trying to make sense of it. I went to a friend’s house and watched it all unfold. Chaos. It had a direct impact on the recording side of the music industry. Lots of studios in NY had to shut down temporarily, some permanently. The impact on the economy has affected the music industry as well. I don’t know that it’s actually affected the music too much though.
MVRemix: How do you feel about the U.S. involvement in the Middle East? Jason Skills:The Middle East has some serious problems. It seems that our involvement there only seems to worsen situations. The U.S. seems to be the world’s version of the local bully, who tells everyone what, why, and how to do things. Our current situation in Iraq is catastrophic. American soldiers are dying everyday. The news of more deaths in Iraq is so commonplace that no one even flinches when they hear about it. I think it’s imperative that America gathers some sort of international community to take over with the healing in Iraq. The longer that we are there, the more inflamed the situation will become. As much as the government tries to steer clear of this, we really have re-lived a mini version of Vietnam. Declaring war in Iraq without international support might single handedly be the worse wartime decision ever made. The ramifications of this single act will play out over the next several decades, I’m sure.
MVRemix: Word association. I am going to say the name of a group or an artist or a person and you say the first word that pops into your head. So, if I said ‘Public Enemy’, you may say ‘Revolution’ or ‘Fight The Power’. If I said ‘The Beatles’, you may say ‘Revolver’ or ‘Yoko Ono’. Okay?
Jurassic 5. Soulo:Authentic. Jason Skills:Powerful.
MVRemix: 50 Cent. Soulo:Over hyped. Jason Skills:Jig.
MVRemix: Eminem. Soulo:Pop. Jason Skills:Comedian.
MVRemix: Jay-Z. Soulo:Business minded. Jason Skills:Money.
MVRemix: Little Brother. Soulo:Proud of these dudes. Jason Skills:On the move.
MVRemix: Dead Prez. Soulo:Outspoken. Jason Skills:Socialism.
MVRemix: Wu-Tang Clan. Soulo:Genius. Jason Skills:36 Deep.
MVRemix: Phife Dawg. Soulo:Queens. Jason Skills:Five footer.
MVRemix: Gil-Scott Heron. Soulo:Fallen poet. Jason Skills:Revolutionary.
MVRemix: George Bush. Soulo:Texas. Jason Skills:Evil.
MVRemix: What artist would you like to work with in the future who you haven’t worked with yet? Soulo:De La Soul, Pete Rock, Juju from The Beatnuts, Masta Ace, Tony Touch, Kevin Brown, J-Live. There are a bunch of cats.
MVRemix: What is the biggest mistake you have made in your career? Soulo:Not starting to make beats and buy wax sooner.
MVRemix: What advice would you give to an up and coming hip-hop producer? Soulo: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. Jason Skills: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.
MVRemix: What do you think hip-hop needs these days? What is it lacking? Soulo:Three essential elements. Soul, creativity & originality.
MVRemix: How do you approach remixes? Do you strip the songs down? Do you just add it? What? Jason Skills: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.
MVRemix: What remix are you most proud of? Jason Skills:We haven’t really done too many of them. The only one that has been released as of right now is the ‘The Throwback’ featuring Maspyke. That remix that we hooked up. It’s going to be on the second single from this album.
MVRemix: Production-wise, what is the best produced album you have ever heard? Soulo:I'd have to say ‘Illmatic’ by Nas. Not only did that album have production by the best cats to ever do it, but also they were all at the top off their game at the time. I don't think we'll ever see an album that will duplicate that level of hip-hop production bliss. Jason Skills:That and ‘The Main Ingredient’ Pete Rock and CL Smooth.
MVRemix: What CDs or LPs have been in your CD player or on your turntable recently? Soulo:Brand Nubian’s ‘All For One’. Jason Skills:‘Funkia’ by Mike Longo. I’ve also been listening to ‘De La Soul Is Dead’ a lot lately too.
MVRemix: Favorite drug? Soulo:Music.
MVRemix: Are you for the legalization of marijuana? Soulo:I don't think I want to have my future kids have access to weed, like kids these days have access to cigarettes. Jason Skills:Against it.
MVRemix: Favorite movies? Soulo:The Shawshank Redemption & Do the Right Thing. Jason Skills: I don’t watch too many movies, but I really liked We Were Soldiers. I read the book before I had seen it, and they put it together real well.
MVRemix: If you could remake any classic hip-hop song, what would it be? Soulo:‘I Know You Got Soul’ by Eric B & Rakim.
MVRemix: What do you do when you are incredibly stressed out? Soulo:Talk to children. They always show you how insignificant your problems are. Jason Skills:Drive. Get away from everything and just listen to music on the open road.
MVRemix: What are some major misconceptions that people have of you? Jason Skills:Man, I don’t know, probably that we only mess with jazz records. We actually have all types of records, and use them. The things we sample just end up having that type of feel I guess.
MVRemix: How do you think that you have matured, evolved or changed as a group? Jason Skills:We’ve gotten to a place where I kind of know what Soulo is going to like, and what he’s not, and vice versa. We have subtle differences to what we do, and the ability to recognize, and appreciate that has helped me a lot.
MVRemix: In hip-hop, what kind of styles of production do you see coming in the future? Soulo:I'm not too sure. I just hope that sample based beats stay in effect.
MVRemix: What is in the future for The Sound Providers? Remixes? Collaborations? Tours? Jason Skills:Like Soulo said, 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.
MVRemix: Any final words for the people who will be reading this? Soulo:Thanks for all the support people, we really appreciate it. Jason Skills: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.