We recently caught up with the legendary Musiq Soulchild on the 20th Anniversary of his debut album “Aijuswanaseing”. During our conversation, Musiq took us through the creative process of the entire album. He touched on his journey to getting to that point, some of the songs on the album, how he viewed himself at the time, and much more.
Musiq Soulchild: The glaring thing that I can never seem to get past about the creation of this album is the fact that for me, I can’t speak to anyone else who contributed, I wasn’t trying to make an album. I was just trying to record songs. I was only recording songs because the opportunity presented itself. It wasn’t in my life at that time where I was trying to do something with this music thing and I could call people. It was through the decisions of people who saw the potential in me that decided to put forth the effort to see what was good with it and what could happen with it. I was definitely blessed in that aspect and I’ve always recognized that as a blessing. I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity because it didn’t have to happen. The plan was, if I was going to sing a song or do something that someone would hear, I needed them to understand where I was coming from. I needed it to be relatable. I didn’t feel comfortable singing a song that I didn’t believe. I don’t care how it may have sounded. That’s not real, that’s not my life, that’s not even how I feel. I was always that dude, I was the awkward one in the bunch. That got me in to trouble a lot of the times because that would make me the oddball out, people wouldn’t want to hang with me. I never knew how to go along with things and reading the room. It’s just the way I was set up. Don’t be fake, don’t go out like a sucker. I needed to be able to reconcile with myself, I kept it real that day. When it came to these songs, that was just an extension of myself. So If I’m going to represent myself to people, I wanted it to be as right as possible. Even for my writing partner at the time, Carvin Haggins, shout out to him for respecting that. A lot of people were saying things a certain way because that was the tradition of R&B singers. I never considered myself an R&B singer. I just considered myself someone who could sing good. I wasn’t in R&B singer mindset. I had a lot of singers I would sing with at the time in Philly who had that traditional mentality and they’d be dope. But I’d cringe because they didn’t want to sing about much. We could talk about so many other things! They just wanted to sing about smashing! Okay! There is more to life than just smashing! That’s how you get “Just Friends” and that was my attempt at letting it be known we could do that, but I actually want to get to know you. I’m attracted to you not just because of the way you look, but again, that was my weirdo way of trying to relate to people. I didn’t realize at the time I was searching for something. To identify with a certain type of person who thought and felt like me about life. I was never the type to just go with the crowd. If I was courting a girl, I wanted her to be someone I could talk to about stuff and not just do the regular stuff everyone else was doing. I was kind of emo and needy back then.
YouKnowIGotSoul: When we heard “Just Friends” we knew we had an artist unlike any we’d heard. I mean, you were beatboxing on there!
Musiq Soulchild: I didn’t know that was anything! I guess in hindsight I get it now. Nobody else was doing it. At the time I didn’t know the big deal, everyone knew me for beatboxing. I didn’t get the concept that Philly wasn’t the whole world, it was a big world out there. People don’t know who I am, that’s kind of a big deal.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Even seeing the video for “Just Friends”. You weren’t like other R&B singers who were always trying to be so smooth or on a pedestal. You were just like a regular guy we could relate to.
Musiq Soulchild: Bro when I tell you I had no game! I could say that now, but back then if you would have told me I had no game, I would have got mad about it! But I wouldn’t have had a reason. It would have been true. That was never my mentality, it was never to run game. It was: “I want to talk to you, I think you’re pretty, what do you like to eat? What type of movies do you like?” I literally legit wanted to know, I didn’t want to know so I could have ammo in my arsenal to use to do my thing. I actually wanted to legit know. Maybe she’d feel the same way about the things I like. I took the pure and innocent approach. Unfortunately I learned the hard way that’s how you get your feelings hurt. I had to learn how to sort of protect that which I didn’t know how to do for certain reasons, unnecessary to get into right now. When you don’t know, you don’t know. Nobody put you on game, you gotta learn the hard way! It all carried over to my music without me even realizing. When I wanted to do the video, it needed to be something that was closely parallel to my right life. Everything in that video was something I would have done in real life. You would have saw me on the corner in a cypher full of people, that would have been real. What’s a little Hollywood is me actually hollering at the girl, I probably wouldn’t have gone that far! If I did muster of the courage to holler at her, then it would have went like that. At that time that was my sort of perfect world scenario so to speak. Especially now that I had the brand to make it look like something.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Want to shout out some of the producers and songwriters involved in the project, Carvin Haggins & Ivan Barias, Andre Harris and Vidal Davis, Keith Pelzer, Jazzy Jeff and your managers at the time Jerome Hipps and Michael McArthur.
Musiq Soulchild: They definitely took a chance on me, they didn’t have to. Redman! I know that sounds weird, but he was in the office when I was talking to Kevin Liles, bigging me up. That was dope. It was a lot that went into it and it happened so fast! I didn’t even have time to see it coming. Especially because I was pre-occupied with my real life. Not really having a place to stay. Trying to find out who I could lean on at that point in time. Bouncing back and forth between Philly and Atlanta. It was a weird time for me. Trying to figure out what was going on with myself and life. I had just had a nervous breakdown, that was new. I had mental health issues that I wasn’t even aware of that is connected to a lot of trauma I never addressed. It was a whole bunch of stuff going on. So the last thing on my mind was trying to get a record deal! Can I just figure out how to eat today? It’s crazy because I remember watching rappers, and thinking I wanted to do that. I didn’t have any bars, but I had great ideas! I hung around a lot of MC’s all day, I thought that that was magic. You could find words and throw them together and make them sound fly. I’m trying to catch a thought let alone words. I just wasn’t thinking about what it became. I started recording in November 1998 and got a deal in February 2000. There was no process of talking to a whole bunch of people. Maybe my managers did at the time. Somewhere along the lines that had to have happened and met with people to get attention and people to buy into it. I wasn’t part of that process. I was just recording records that sounded fly. I could play it for people from a CD. I would just play it for people and get their reaction and at that time it was enough. It was confirmation I knew what I was doing and I was good. There was no artist development process. There was no shopping around and understanding of the business. When it happened, I know that a lot of my movements looked like I was sort of fighting people or bucking back. I just didn’t understand what was happening and nobody was telling me anything. Everyone expected me to know. I had great instincts. But that came from being in survival mode my whole life. You learn to figure stuff out. I think that’s what gave people the impression. Just waiting on somebody to tell me I didn’t know what I was talking about! Don’t get me wrong, people were trying to put me on game. But it wasn’t getting through because I didn’t understand the context. Then I had a big problem with people telling me what to do, I didn’t like that! I’m still dealing with that! It happened so fast. My whole career was me learning. With all of my successes, what a lot of people don’t understand, there were a lot of L’s that came with that! I can’t even begin to get into what went with that. I had a bad habit of not talking about it so it gave off the impression life was great for me. I just don’t like to complain. It was rough. I appreciate the fact that people still support me. You have no idea what it means to me that people still care 20 years later about something I did that I wasn’t even trying to do. I was just moving with it because it looked like a way out and it worked.
YouKnowIGotSoul: There were so many songs on this album that could have been singles. This is an album you can play from front to back. “Girl Next Door”, “Just Friends” and “Love” were the singles, but you could have gone any direction.
Musiq Soulchild: We could have a conversation about what could have been a single, but I’ve since let that fight go. I was in my feelings for a couple of years. Like we were just going to move onto the next project? I wanted to flush out the whole album! I just wish I could flush out other ideas, that it would have helped fully explain the true narrative of what a Musiq Soulchild is. People got to know the whole R&B element of it. It may look and sound weird to certain people when I say I’m not an R&B singer. But they point to my singles. But if you listen to the albums you would hear there is so much more going on that never got the light shined on it. I had beef with that for many years. I wanted to be my authentic self but I couldn’t because everybody was expecting this thing, and it wasn’t a bad thing. That’s a frustrating space to be in but I didn’t have time to complain, I was winning and being productive and making money. People knew my name and I was inspiring people. It would have been cool in my mind, not to discredit what happened, if I was able to do the whole soul singer thing and also the whole hip hop thing too. That’s why if you notice in my later years, I tried to be aggressive with it, and it didn’t go over so well!
YouKnowIGotSoul: One of the dopest things about this album is the lyrics. Such clever wordplay. Songs like “Love” or “Paparatzi” for example.
Musiq Soulchild: Yea with “Paparatzi” I wanted that to sound like a legit argument. I wanted to embody the whole mood of what that moment was. I got that concept from Biggie. He was so visual with his lyrics. When you can provide enough so they can see the whole thing in their mind, that is magical. So that’s what I wanted to do. That’s why “Paparatzi” starts out with an argument. Little trigger moments that make you feel a certain way. My approach was you might want to calm down because you might lose this girl. You could try to be right, but you might lose this girl. If she would just calm down, maybe we can get somewhere. I’m coming from a dude’s perspective. I wanted to identify with any person who has ever been in that moment. Not a fairytale version of it. I wanted to come at it from as it would go. Those are the feelings a person would have in that moment.
YouKnowIGotSoul: And that’s another great thing about this album is the vulnerability. A song like “143” just being so in love with a girl, that you find unique ways to show her.
Musiq Soulchild: I can’t take credit for that one, that was actually Carvin. It was putting 143 in the beeper to say Love. I think people have to take consideration for what was going on in those songs. People would tell me they were listening to it since they were a kid. That’s mind blowing. I am old! Not in the negative sense. I’ve been around and that definitely means a lot. But Carvin would always come up with these hair brained ideas and I think I was experimental enough to try it. Not to say nobody else would have done it, but I don’t think he ran into anyone else who thought it might be a cool idea. There were probably people who would have said they weren’t sure. He had his ambitions of being a rapper, he had some songs, I thought they were cool. “L’s is Gone” is one of them. If I remember he stopped me after I got out of the booth and stopped me in the hallway and he said he’d rap it to me and he wanted to know how I’d sing it. He started rapping the lyrics to “L’s is Gone”. So I did it how I’d do it. He wanted to record it right away. That’s how a lot of the songs started in the beginning and then I started warming up to the concept of what songwriting was. I didn’t have that. I didn’t know how to do that. I would freestyle stuff and it would either be dope or wack. But most of the time I’d sing other people’s stuff. I didn’t have my own songs to sing. I learned how to write songs and be a songwriter from that process of working with Carvin. I learned how to put a song together from working with him. That’s why I’ll always give him his. If it wasn’t for him I’d have never known how to unlock all of this crap in my head.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s crazy to think about how during the year this album came out in 2000, you and Jill Scott really put Philly on the map from an R&B perspective. Not sure if you even realized that.
Musiq Soulchild: Nah! I was so busy chasing trying to be somebody and relevant and get people to notice what I was doing. Jill was one of the first people that told me I was good. She almost really cussed me out one time! I think she was so passionate about my potential that she wanted me to go after it and be great. I was very insecure back then. I didn’t believe in myself. It was moments like that which helped me recognize what could be. When I saw this Musiq Soulchild thing happening, the more I start realizing it could become something, and then I kept going along with it. I knew it uncomfortable and weird, but I kept going, it was working. I didn’t have time to sort of assess the affect that I was having on anybody. I was trying to not drown where I was. So to answer the question, no I didn’t. Of course in hindsight I can see it now.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What do you remember about being in the moment of achieving such great success? For example when “Love” came out and became the biggest single.
Musiq Soulchild: It was weird because I didn’t now how to be! Really. You gotta understand for me it happened so fast that nothing changed. I got bread, I was able to get my own place, so little quality of life changes happened. I was trying to adjust to that. I never had my own place before. So I get to come and go whenever? I don’t have to make sure I don’t bother nobody or wear out my welcome or think about somebody saying I couldn’t stay there anymore. I got ahead of that a lot of the time so I did my best to make sure I never wore out my welcome, you never know when you’d need someone. The last thing you need them to say is they can’t help because they are tired of you. Things like that, having my own stuff, being able to make my own moves. That was an adjustment. The bigger adjustment was to understand that I was somebody to people now. It was a huge departure from my life, I was super anonymous, nobody cared about me! I appreciate the people who cared about me in the capacity that they could, which I appreciate and am eternally grateful for. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how I would have been able to survive. There was no sense of love, I didn’t have no sense of love. Not to put it on anybody, everybody was in their own space and it wasn’t their responsibility to care about me. They did what they did and I was grateful for that, it was their version of looking out for me. It’s not their fault that I need more. I need to feel somebody really got my back no matter what. It was very conditional. So that’s what the concept of “Love” came from. I was dealing with this concept of love that was being told or shone to me and that I was experiencing that I didn’t understand. It was all of these boundaries and parameters around it. It was weird because that just didn’t feel like love to me. It felt like people taking advantage of an opportunity. They knew how nice I was so if they did a little bit for me, they could get a lot out of me. I was that kind of dude. You gave me sandwich? I’ll run to Mars for you! That was the compassion I had. I would do anything for anybody, that’s how I wanted somebody to feel about me. I had to learn the hard way you can’t be that way with everybody because that’s how you get finessed. That’s what happened a lot, I got finessed and I didn’t like it, and I wanted to know what I was not getting. When me and Carvin started writing the song, we had already wrote 3 or 4 love songs. I didn’t want to write another love song. I wanted to write a love song that wasn’t a love song. But a song about love. That’s how the idea started. If you’re not talking to a girl or say things people would recognize as a love song according to R&B standards, the Motown treatment. I don’t know if he came up with the title or I did. Ultimately, the decision was to call it “Love” but let it be a song where not only you are talking about love, but also to love. If you were talking to love, love itself, what would you say? How would that conversation go? Then that’s where the idea started to come and we started forming out the words. That’s where that song came from. I didn’t realize that song would have such a big impact on people. I didn’t. It was just another one of those ideas that I thought was cool. So when it came out and people thought it was the greatest song ever, I said thank you, but I didn’t think it was. To be honest with you, I didn’t really think much of it. Not to take away anything from it. People get in their feelings when you don’t speak highly of your records. I’m not trying to kill your dream. I’m just being honest, this is how it was. I had to learn how special that song was through you guys. With most of my songs, they are special to me because they are special to you. I’m the kind of person once I do something, I’m onto the next, I did that already and had my moment, now I want to move onto the next. The thing about this business I didn’t understand is people want you to keep doing this. I don’t know how to keep doing that, no more than you knowing how to be the person you were yesterday. So I did my best version of reconnecting with all of those emotions I was so far beyond now, and through the years that got more and more challenging because it took me back to a dark place. People don’t understand that’s a really heavy song! That’s not a wedding song to me. Everybody has a right to have their own takeaway for what these songs mean to them. That’s a very emotional song for me and sometimes I don’t feel comfortable singing it. I don’t because it’s a trigger song, but you have to push past the trigger. It had its own impact on me I’m still dealing with. I didn’t realize how important that song would have ended up being for people, especially at that time I didn’t get it. I knew there was some sort of special quality to it because it was different than anything I’ve heard before. It was more like a Gospel song than an R&B song. For the record, that wasn’t the intention. Later it got taken and remixed into a Gospel song by a group called Trinity 5-7.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Reflecting back on this body of work, how does it feel to have been able to create an album that changed people’s lives?
Musiq Soulchild: That’s so massive for me to fathom. I don’t know to really contain that into a complete thought. That is so huge to me! I almost feel guilty or embarrassed. How? What do you mean? These are just songs, ramblings of a emotionally challenged individual from 20 years ago. You sure you want to be listening to that guy! In hindsight I guess I can appreciate that when you create out of that space, it has stuff in it that you don’t have to intend, that ultimately becomes something for somebody else. It’s actually better that you don’t. It keeps it pure. I’m just grateful that I could have been some kind of a vehicle to inspire somebody or assist them in their journey in life. What it sounds like to me is it represented for them what I wish I had for me. I find a huge sense of appreciation in that. I find a sense of accomplishment that I can’t manufacture or make that up. Even right now I’m searching for the words to respond to that question. It’s so far beyond what I can conceive. It’s big. I’m looking at my life like I need to get it together, people are looking up to me! I appreciate it. It just looks different from this side. That’s my response.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Just gives us your final thoughts on “Aijuswanaseing” looking back for it’s 20th Anniversary.
Musiq Soulchild: I guess I set out to do what I intended to do which is the namesake of the album “Aijuswanaseing”. I’m grateful that I was blessed with an opportunity to do so and people responded to it very well. So much so we are still talking about something I did 20 years ago. I’m grateful that I can say that I did something or played a big part in something that meant so much to so many people. That really helps me a lot especially right now. I’m in a space where I’m literally reaching trying to get a grip and hold on to things that keep me motivated. I do get extremely discouraged a lot. I lose my way, I don’t see the road, I don’t even want to do it anymore. To have today turn out as well as it did and the outpour of appreciation for something I did way back then, that has a different effect on me. That is what that is. I’m able to sort of hijack your guys experience with it. It’s almost like the universe is working with me because I’m legit been going through it in so many ways. Which is why you don’t hear a lot from me. I’m grateful and I appreciate everyone that showed up today and even the ones that didn’t. I know they are rocking with me in spirit. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep giving you guys more. I’m looking forward to finding a way to get the vibe back and I’ve been trying. Doing things here and there to get the vibe back and I’m going to keep working on it. Today definitely helps. So thank you.