“Battle rappers can’t make good music” — or so the age-old hip-hop saying goes. First off, I’d imagine Soul Khan would hate to be lumbered with such a simplistic, catch all term as “battle rapper” — not least because of the negative music-related connotations it carries but more due to the fact battle rap is not his primary concern, nor his long-term career focus. What a lot of occasional dabblers-in-a-bit-of-hip-hop, new jacks and battle rap nerds might not know is that Khan has long been an active musician with his NY-based crew Brown Bag AllStars as well as an out-and-out hip-hop enthusiast since way before he even started battling on camera. Indeed, he has even recently intimated to his fans that he vows to distance himself from the battle arena so as to avoid having the much (and somewhat unfairly) maligned label of “battle rapper” ascribed to him and his music. Despite now being widely considered a veteran of the battle arena and having performed in virtually every major battle league out there (most recently at Don’t Flop’s flagship event in London where incidentally, I caught a glimpse of him for the first time in person), Soul is adamant that it is his music that will ultimately take precedence over anything else.
“Soul Like Khan” is the LA-raised, Brooklyn-based rapper’s debut solo outing — and not for a single second of the album’s 37 minutes running time does it disappoint. In fact, it’s sheer aural pleasure from start to finish — but, before I risk gushing unrestrainedly over but one man’s efforts [[PAUSE]], I’d like to especially sing the praises of beatmaker/producer J57 who is responsible by and large for the album’s production. Indeed I almost feel like this is a joint effort; the input of J57 as producer easily being as important as and a massive compliment to Khan’s intelligent lyricism and those rich, smoky rapping vocals of his. The beats are tastefully lo-fi and expertly crafted so as to stand out but not overpower the primary focus of the album, namely Soul Khan’s raps which, as he puts it, are “full of deep, poetic lyrical shit.”
Lyrically, it’s good, it’s honest and it’s clever, but not overly verbose, cryptic or confusing to listeners at the risk of alienating them. Easily relatable themes like family relationships, the importance of the places Soul has connections to and the state of Hip Hop in general are explored with occasional acerbic Jewish wit but more so with a warm sense of self-contentment and a down-to-earth level-headedness. Nonetheless, I do sense Khan is an egotist at heart – which by the way is hardly a bad thing for an emcee to be. Indeed, he often gets by just bigging up himself and his hip-hop credentials (albeit very articulately), but if you’ve watched the guy enough, you’ll understand why he has this quasi-license to do so with justification: “Gotta food-chain gun and the Wu-Tang’s lungs.” and other such examples of rap hyperbole are aplenty in this album but are somehow dissolved of any loathsome egotism-teetering-on-arrogance by Soul’s mesmerizing vocals, which can leave the listener drifting into a gentle reverie at times (definitely a great album to light a zoot and chill to, but not so great if you’re driving long distances on the freeway!)
Songs on the album are relatively short and to-the-point; the album’s stand out track being “Fahrenheit” (see official video below) featuring a haunting, boldly minimalist piano loop, a high-pitched boy’s choir vocal sample and a wonderful hook sung by Brooklyn-raised jazz-singer and musical sensation Akie Bermiss. Other bangers include “Fe La Soul” which is so chilled it’s positively Antarctic and on it, Soul imparts lovely little lyrical nuggets like “I’m so old-school that my molecules got monocles”. “For That” is also a charming little ode to hip-hop’s Golden age in which Soul extends his sincere thanks to the old-school for inspiring him but at the same time admitting that he isn’t strictly bound or “handcuffed to it”. On the same track, he even does an accomplished job of singing the hook himself.
I don’t want to get too into the nitty-gritty analyzing of each track as it’s a very cohesive, complete album that need not be broken down into tiny minutiae for the sake of giving you the reader a decent impression of it. Overall, it’s a celebratory old-school style affair that has all the elegance and sophistication of timeless jazz, the cool factor of Miles Davis and most importantly, a deep-rooted understanding and appreciation of Hip Hop’s essential principles. Oh, and did I mention it’s also free?
Overall, it’s well deserved 9/10.
Download “Soul Like Khan” for free @ http://2dopeboyz.com/
Also, make sure to check Soul Khan out @ http://soulkhan.com/