Hip-hop music was born from innovation; a consistent and progressive need to reinvent communication through rhythm and entertainment. This core sounds has evolved into many iterations and conquered the world to transgress music. Hip hop duo, Soul Science Lab‘s latest album explores a new dimension to this cherish genre which is a plan for paradise.
The group proudly describe themselves as innovative Afro Futuristic griot and you can certainly feel the energy with which they seek to blend african history with modern narratives over steady baselines, serenading sax chords and refreshing lyrics. Indeed, it is their thematic content that is most striking as ordinary artists would not necessarily describe their album as a plan or come up with augmented reality installations to complement the music. We spoke to Asante Amin and Chen Lo, the seasoned musicians who make up Soul Science Lab (SSL) to learn about their music, unique perspectives and ultimately where the plan for paradise takes us.
Dandano: How would you describe Soul Science Lab to a potential fan in one sentence?
SSL: We’re Innovative Afro Futuristic Griots. We’re the next chapter several chapters of global hip hop music and the current continuum of the Black musical tradition.
Dandano: You were both independent artists originally, where did the chemistry to record a project together as a duo come from?
Chen Lo: It was really organic and natural. PFP wasn’t the first time we worked together. We had connected in other ways on previous projects. PFP was just the most focused and comprehensive album project we created as a team. I think the fact that we lived under the same roof and had similar vision and dreams set the stage for us to collaborate on this level. Not to mention that the combination of our gifts created something fresh and new that I had never experienced before.
Asante Amin: First and foremost we are both inspired by many of the same things and are creative kindred spirits. We met initially not as performers but as educators working for the same arts organization. From there, as fate would have it we became friends and constant collaborators. Chen had a band called the “Lo Frequency” and I had a jazz band called Sankofa Souls. We collaborated frequently, but in 2012 we became room mates and the musical collaborations manifested quite organically and naturally. We started creating a body of work with no particular goal in mind other than synthesizing conversations and social observations into music, one song at a time. After both of our solo albums came out we new it was time to really step up the momentum with the tracks we had created together and flesh out a concrete concept to manifest this idea, that would go on to become “Plan For Paradise”. The inspiration for the album was social, spiritual, political and affirmative of our collective purpose.
Dandano: I first encountered Soul Science Lab at the Chale Wote Street Arts Festival 2016 , how was the festival experience for you?
Chen Lo: The Chale Wote Festival experience was a milestone for us. We were releasing our first album together on the international stage and presenting some special tech features of our project in an installation. We built an Augmented Reality immersive experience for PFP that we presented for the first time in Ghana at Chale Wote. This was even before the release of our album in the states. The reception was incredible and the inspiration of the other artists and work at the festival are still with us. We hope to be back again this year.
Asante Amin: The festival was absolutely amazing for us. It was the first time we had the opportunity to put into play ideas that we’d been thinking about but up until that point didn’t have the ideal scenario to try them. So it presented a really amazing opportunity to step outside the music and create a world and an installation that was more immersive and stimulating. It was also highly inspirational to be amongst so many great artist who gathered from all over the diaspora in Jamestown, Ghana to share with each other. Jamestown is actually where we filmed major segments for the video for “Gimme Dat”. It felt amazing to come back to the same community, blocks from where we filmed to premier the video for the first time in that neighborhood for some of the locals to see themselves and their community represented.
Dandano: Your installation at Chale Wote 2016 bore the same name as the album “Plan For Paradise” and incorporated augmented reality which was an electrifying experience. Was that a physical manifestation of the album?
Chen Lo: It was the physical manifestation of the album and so much more. We were seeking creative ways to immerse people into our album listening experience. Plan for Paradise is more than just and album, it is an ecosystem of values, a way of being. It was important to use emerging technology with what we think are ancient messages and ideas that we are pushing forward. We were really fortunate that our work was right in line with last year’s theme, Spirit Robot.
Asante Amin: The Chale Wote Soul Science Lab installation was absolutely inspired by the concepts on the album and bringing them to life. In our music we are asking people to Plan for Paradise and we outlined 4 pillars of paradise as we see it that all of the music, stories and concepts of the album developed out of. We wanted to extend our creative reach beyond the music to a more immersive experience, so that people could get even closer to our intent and creative environment in creating this album. We have the pleasure to work with Rapport Studios, a creative consulting agency, in building out this installation. But its about using the music as a conduit to allow people to have engaging and immersive experiences that hopefully impact them and inspire and help them to reimagine life as we know it.
Dandano: How difficult has it been to not only record and perform but also come up with such sophisticated installations to promote your music?
Chen Lo: We work hard everyday, but it is truly a labor of love. We are all about manifesting our ideas and bringing them into reality. That takes consistent effort, but it’s always worth it. Everything we do is important part of the legacy we are building and the interactive installation that accompanies PFP was created with that in mind.
Asante Amin: Well, the way we see it….the immersive component to the music is very necessary in the age in which we live. People are desiring to go deeper into the experiences they are having through music and all forms of entertainment and education. We live in a time where consumption of content has come to mean multi sensory immersion in the content to a large extent. What we do is tell stories and we want to always engage in innovative and sophisticated ways of telling stories so that people are inspired and affected. Not saying you need the latest technology to always do that, but it definitely enhances possibilities that might not have been available to previous generations. It is challenging to conceive productions of a high quality and then execute them on very limited budgets (lol, very limited) BUT….with will power, creativity and a skilled team committed to artistic excellence, the final products speak for themselves and make the challenges worth it.
Dandano: Your sound seems to be rooted in hip hop but incorporates many other sounds from all over, just as your lyrics focus on many themes from Afrofuturism to ancient history. How do you then go about translating all that knowledge and emotion into a 14 track album?
Chen Lo: That’s an amazing question. Some of it is natural because that is just who we are, but it takes time and devoted intention to translate a lot of this emotion and information into good music. We don’t succeed every time, but we keep refining our process. This music has to stand the test of time, so it has to sound and feel good first. Then we find ways to incorporate themes that are important and that resonate.
Asante Amin: Great observation! Well as a producer of the entire album….i was really focused on creating a very unique sound for this album, unlike anything i’ve created before. I was focused on 4 words, which has guided this project and its aesthetic: INNOVATE. AFRO (BLACK). FUTURISTIC. GRIOT. Each one of those words unleashes a world of meaning and together they create the Soul Science Universe. After a certain point, we did vision boards about the pillars of Paradise as we understand it, catch words, song titles and the stories we wanted to convey. These things were the road map and we just sought to bring it to life. But it must be stated, this is our lifestyle and world view so it wasn’t a stretch to create this music, it was basically putting music and a score to our historical understand, perception, purpose and life mission. As a musician I’m versed in various style but I’m a child of Hip Hop, so Hip Hop becomes the glue that connects all these different styles for me
Dandano: Where do you think the Plan For Paradise leads to?
Chen Lo: Hopefully to Paradise, or at least what that looks like to us collectively and individually. We would love to tour this project more on a global scale and continue to push the envelope when it comes to fusing technology with our work. More than anything, we hope to share our gifts, do what we love, make a difference and take care of our families in the process.
Asante Amin: Great Question, i hope it leads people to the highest vision and version of themselves, whatever that means to them.
Dandano: For your use of certain sounds and lyrical flows one can tell that you guys are hip hop purists and located your sound in the golden era lyric-heavy 90s hip hop. With that in mind how do you feel about Trap music, or how commercially successful such brands of music have become?
Chen Lo: I hope that our sound is a bit more rounded and evolved. It definitely has golden era elements, but it’s not intended to stay there at all. In terms of Trap music, I think it’s misunderstood as much as it is misused. It’s powerful and is having a heavy impact around the world. Sometimes I wonder what trap would sound like or what impact it would have if there were more thematic variety. We use some trap elements on PFP because we are aware of its potency and understand that is tuned to the vibration of now.
Asante Amin: I love trap music. Anytime any music becomes solely about commerce and its being controlled and curated by entities that don’t spring from the communities that produced the music you’re gonna have problems. Hip Hop is dealing with this phenomenon, but its no different then what we’ve been confronted with, with all of our cultural creations that revolutionize the world. Theres the real, then there are perpetrators and culture vultures….We don’t fuck with the culture bandits. #GimmieDat!
Dandano: What was your favorite moment in creating this album?
Chen Lo: I have favorite moments connected to this project on a daily basis. It has given us so much. But if I had to choose one moment, I would have to say holding the collector’s CD in my hand after the first pressing. It felt like I was holding some sort of artifact that would inform future generations about the times in which we live. In that moment I realized that when it’s said and done, we left something here that will hopefully inspire others for many years to come.
Asante Amin: There were a lot of dope moments in creating this album. My favorite was when it was finally done and i held the entire package in my hands with the artwork, stories, and the music. Felt like i was holding a new born baby in my arms.
Listen to Plan for Paradise here.
Conducted by Hakeem Adam