Ascension: Clear Soul Forces

Clear Soul Forces
Matt Nedwicki, December 22, 2012

Clear Soul Forces’ 2012 full length release, Detroit Revolution(s), is more of a declarative statement of their necessity to hip-hop, rather than a timid introduction of themselves to new listeners. It’s a 55 minute lyrical assault accompanied with stellar production that harkens to Detroit’s musical talismans of old and new – Motown and J Dilla. The Detroit quartet’s album is overfilling with unrelenting energy brought verse after verse by each of the members. Yes, Detroit Revolution(s) isn’t CSF politely introducing themselves, it is them unabashedly showing the Hip Hop world what it has been missing. The four members: E-Fav, Ilajide (pronounced ee-lah-juh-day), L.A.Z., and Noveliss cohesively bring together their wildly differing styles to create a sound that is both nuanced and fresh. They have influences, sure, but what results is something entirely unique; an aesthetic that demands to be recognized as great.

I had the chance to sit down with them before a Detroit Hip-Hop Showcase at the Magic Stick, a legendary Detroit venue that is above the oldest operating bowling alley in the country. I was shuffled backstage to meet with the group in what was essentially an equipment closet filled with patio furniture. As I began the interview, the closeness of each member’s personalities to their rap styles was blatant. Noveliss exuded a quiet confidence without mincing any words, while L.A.Z. was always ready to launch into seemingly wordy monologues that are filled with poignant insights upon second look. E- Fav’s answers contained a preciseness paralleled by his exact phrasing in his verses. Ilajide, who produces the majority of CSF’s work, would consider each question carefully before answering with a sincerity and earnestness seen also in how he attacks each and every word while rapping. We talked at length about their influences, the group dynamic, life in Detroit, and their future plans. I was a fan before the interview, but left that backstage closet absolutely convinced of their greatness.

Tactile Tracks: Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys first became a group?

E-Fav: Ilajide is my cousin. L.A.Z .is one of my frat brothers; we met in college, and when we first started doing stuff–the very first show we ever did, we met Noveliss. The very first show we ever did. And we was all impressed and we’ve got to work with him. Just been working with each other since then, man. When we went to the studio with Royce and he suggested we be a group, that’s when we really took being a group seriously.

Tactile Tracks: Did anything come out of that night of recording?

Noveliss: A lot of tracks, random shit—none of that shit was on anything.

Tactile Tracks: Before you guys got together, when did you decide that you wanted to make music? That it was what you wanted to do for your career?

N: That night when we was in the studio with Royce.

Tactile Tracks: That was the defining moment you would say?

All: Yeah, definitely.

N: We rapped for him for like, a million hours.

Tactile Tracks: So do you guys still keep in contact with him?

N: We cool with him when we see him around, but we don’t be, like, texting him or anything.

E: He took the time out to come and do an interview for a documentary on us [last Fall]. He knows who we are and his people know who we were. Shout out to Royce for that.

Tactile Tracks: Okay, so where did you guys get the name Clear Soul Forces? Where does that come from?

Ilajide: The music just fit the name and everything just fell into place with the name; that’s the honest truth.

Tactile Tracks: Can you talk about the album title, Detroit Revolution(s)?

L.A.Z.: That shit–me and Ilajide used to stay together. We were roommates, right up the street from here actually, and there was a mural on the side of the wall and it had a picture saying “Detroit Revolutions: coming this summer.” We was sitting outside, smoking, singing and was like, that’s it. It was supposed to be called The Force is with You .

E: That’s a working title.

L: Yeah that’s the name of our site though.

Tactile Tracks: Name for the next album maybe?

N: Nah.

E: Maybe, the problem is, we’ve just got to find the right music to fit that. We want it to be perfect and it wasn’t coming together to fit the title, so we were like, “let’s change it to something else.”

Tactile Tracks: So what are some of your musical or non-musical influences? Who influences you; who do you look up to?

N: Eminem. I think Em is the greatest fucking rapper of all time. I hate that I never got to see him live because I was just a little kid and shit. Him and Black Thought from The Roots are my two favorite rappers. Both of them have some of my favorite albums of all time, like Illadelph Halflife and The Slim Shady LP.

L: For me, my biggest influence is definitely Outkast. That’s my favorite group of all time–and just my upbringing, more than anything else. My step father was a DJ and, you know, he used to set up his records and spin and sell his mixes, so I grew up listening to all kinds of shit. I don’t know–I was just raised with a lot flavor from my step pops and shit.

E: for me, musical influence–from the rap side of it–all the Detroit stuff, the good stuff, the legendary stuff. It’s all inspirational. Personal inspiration, like non-rap, I used to listen to Bob Marley a lot. It’s crazy sometimes how you lose those types of memories, but I was just thinking about it the other day because I found one of the records at my mom’s house and was like, “Damn, I used to listen to this shit all the time.” It was one of my dad’s Bob Marley records, with “Buffalo Soldier” on it and “No Woman, No Cry;” I used to put my ear to the speaker and listen to the record a lot. It just sounded so good on wax. It’s amazing. [He’s] definitely one of my inspirations.

I: My influences, a lot of them were said.

Tactile Tracks: Okay, but as a producer, from a production standpoint, who would you say?

I: Well, I listen to a lot of rap, so my top five [influences] would probably be Dilla, Busta, Redman, Eminem, and Q-Tip. From a production standpoint, I like to listen to a lot of jazz. You could give me anything and I would probably like the shit. I don’t like to say that I just like one type of genre.

“Just to do something because I’m probably going to be the only success in my family. So I need to make some shit happen for the last name. That’s probably one of the biggest influences.” – Ilajide

Tactile Tracks: Yeah you sample from a lot of different genre. It doesn’t just come from one place.

I: My favorite genre would probably be Jazz though. I really like the Rotary Connection. Minnie Riperton was in that group before she got out on her own. I really like Heatwave too, and The Free Design – they’re really like vocally driven and it’s like a cappella type. Yeah I like a lot of shit (laughs).

From a non-musical influence, my mom passed away in ‘06, so that’s always kind of like my main influence to really make it. Just to do something because I’m probably going to be the only success in my family. So I need to make some shit happen for the last name. That’s probably one of the biggest influences. That’s actually what “Half as Long, Twice as Bright” is about on the album. The saying goes, “The candle that burns twice as fast, lasts half as long,” so I felt like we doing our shit and it all fits. “Half as long twice as bright this time, twice as bright half as long they always jipping us on the first time.”

Tactile Tracks: So obviously your guys’ hip-hop influences are rooted in the ‘90s, but how do you feel about the current state of popular hip-hop?

L: For me, you know like, honestly, I’m the type of motherfucker to just be like, “Whatever dude, I hope you save your money.” So when these cats come up now, I don’t give a fuck, you know, because more than likely, we’re not going to cross paths anyway. So who am I to just patronize them? I was thinking about that shit the other day. The only motherfuckers that are saying, “Fuck another part of hip-hop,” is underground niggas. You don’t see niggas standing at the top saying, “Fuck underground hip-hop.” They don’t do that shit. So it’s like if they don’t give a fuck about me, then I don’t give a fuck about you. I can get money with my people, so I’m going to just do that. But they don’t make music for careers, they make music for runs, so in their 6 months, when you can charge 50k a show, I hope you not spending it on jewelry, homeboy. I hope you saving some of that, ‘cause it’s going to end, soon. And do what you do. Fuck it, I don’t care. That’s me.

E: For me, I feel that there’s a time and a place for everything. I do feel like the radio has no balance though. There’s nothing for eighteen and under. I put the shit on this morning, and it was a stripper anthem! Eight o’clock in the morning, my little nieces are riding to school, my sister has the radio on in the car, and this is what the fuck they have to listen to before they go to class? There’s no balance, the radio stations don’t even offer variety. This is what the fuck we got. That to me is unfair, but, you know, get your money.

I: I don’t feel like there is mainstream hip-hop, the only person to me that would have been mainstream to me, is Kendrick but I feel like he switched his shit up too. Commercial rap, is that a good word for it?

N: there’s no such thing as mainstream hip-hop anymore.

Tactile Tracks: Yeah I was going to ask you guys about good kid, m.A.A.d city, which is one of the more highly acclaimed rap albums in recent memory.

N: My thing with shit like that, is I feel people do that shit just to sell records, like I’m aware of how talented Kendrick is–more than anything he can rap like a motherfucker. But at the same time, it’s like the album is an industry album. It’s good for what it is, I guess, and I like a couple joints on that, but it’s an industry album, not some shit I can listen to a ton of times.

“Like, there’s still people in the crowd that haven’t heard this shit, or haven’t seen it, or don’t understand it. So it’s my best opportunity; to do it, I have to leave it all right here.” – E-Fav

Tactile Tracks: Ok so going back to you guys, you’re known for a high energy, electric live show. What is it about playing live that brings out the energy for you guys?

N: That shit’s fun man. We definitely feed off each other, but we just love doing what we do.

E: For all those same reasons, but also for me, personally, I kind of have a chip on my shoulder when I’m up there. Like, there’s still people in the crowd that haven’t heard this shit, or haven’t seen it, or don’t understand it. So it’s my best opportunity; to do it, I have to leave it all right here. And I think that’s the attitude I take when I play live.

L: Man, I be waiting to rap, dawg. When we do that shit, I’m always just anxious to get to it.

Tactile Tracks: So do you guys like performing better live, or do you like being in the studio, where you’re able to perfect it and make it sound exactly how you want?

I: I would like it 50/50

E: Yeah, I think whenever you’re in the studio, you need to come out with the best sounding quality you can. When you’re on stage, you need to do the best you can, flat out, live.

Tactile Tracks: OK, so when you listen to hip-hop, do you guys focus on the lyrics, the production, the technique, or is it the entire picture?

I: Everything!

L: The shit is the whole picture!

I: I’ll tell you exactly why I don’t like something. Like the beats could be dope as fuck, but I don’t like this part right here. But that’s just the artist in me, that’s not the fan. Because I pay attention to fans and I don’t try to impose my will onto them. I’ll ask them, you know, “How you feel about this?” before I say anything. I won’t go too deep and pick apart shit, because they don’t know it, they just see the whole picture. Even if they just like, “This shit is cool”, they don’t know what the average artist knows.

“…I just take different sets of ears to different records. Like, my first favorite rapper was Project Pat, like, for real.” – L.A.Z.

Tactile Tracks: Yeah so you guys definitely have more insight then an average fan.

I: Totally agree with that.

L: With shit like that, I just take different sets of ears to different records. Like, my first favorite rapper was Project Pat, like, for real. So, you know, it’s not like I’m listening to him and be like, “Man this motherfucker don’t rap as good as Nas.” I’m aware of that shit. You just bounce, just feel it. There’s a time and a place. I mean I don’t want to hear some other songs in the club either.

N: I fucking can’t stand the club; that shit sucks.

L: And you have the choice to stay home!

E: Man, the radio is the club.

L: And you have the choice to avoid that too! All this technology out here, I’m getting away from that shit! That is not what I want to here. I’m fighting back. Fight back!

E: (Laughs) Yeah I play music from my phone in the cup holder so it’s loud in the car.

(Laughter ensues.)

Tactile Tracks: So there’s obviously a group dynamic between all four of you. When you’re recording, how does that work? Do you each record separately? Or do you jump in one after another in one take?

E: It’s piece by piece man. This is the magic man right here (gesturing to Ilajide).

I: We record the songs how we write them. If somebody writes four or three bars and wants somebody to come after them, they think about the next person, they think about the song. We view each back and forth as one verse, not your verse, then my verse, then his verse. Like, that’s the first verse.

Tactile Tracks: Okay, so in “Get No Better,” I think that’s a great example of that. It makes for a really cohesive song. Do you ever write for someone else? Or is it all written separately and then brought together?

I: The most we ever do is write for ourselves and then suggest, you could go this way if you wanted to. But man, we always do our own shit anyways (Laughs).

E: But it’s kind of different though, because when I wrote my verse for “Get No Better,” “Take a hit (see space) / Take a listen did mention we the new freebase (get laced)… I wrote that part and wanted you to say that [directed at Ilajide]. We’ll do stuff like that, where I want this part in here and I want to hear your voice saying that.

Tactile Tracks: It’s nice with the group, it keeps you all fresh; you don’t need to bring anyone else into the record because you all have different styles .

I: So many different styles.

Tactile Tracks: but if you could bring anyone in on the next record, producer/rapper, who would you bring in?

N: Joey Bada$$.

L: I like Kendrick.

E: I like Kendrick too!

I: That’s hard man, just one person?

Tactile Tracks: It could be more than one. I won’t limit you guys.

E: Well, we’ve got some shit cooking up with Slum [Village], so that’s going to be good.

Tactile Tracks: Is that coming up in 2013?

E: Hopefully!

I: There’s so many people man I’d want to work with.

N: There’s too many producers man.

Tactile Tracks: (Laughs) Alright, I’ll move on to the next question then. So you’ve been performing Detroit Revolution(s) for almost a year now live, on the road. How do you feel about it still as a record? Does it still feel fresh to you guys?

N: We got so much shit that we haven’t put out that we’ve been working on. So I still love Detroit Revolution(s) as an album and I like performing the songs off of it, but as an artist when you get new shit you just want to do that shit.

L: Hell yeah.

E: I love the album and still like doing shit off it. We got a remix of the album. It’s going to kind of give new life to the album.

Tactile Tracks: When’s that going to be released?

E: We working on that. It’s “to be announced”. And then we got Fab 5 too.

Tactile Tracks: So you’re working on new stuff then. Is it going to be an album?

N: We working on Fab 5 EP now.

Tactile Tracks: Who’s the 5th?

N: Nameless: He produced “Keep it Movin,” and “Knuckle Up,” too. We’re doing an EP with him, so that’s what we’re working on right now.

Tactile Tracks: Cool stuff. So switching the focus back to Detroit a little bit–it’s kind of a Detroit showcase tonight–are you guys close with other artists in the area? Can you talk about the Detroit Hip-Hop scene a little bit?

L: For me, I spend so much time trying to keep my life in order. I show support to the artists and I support everything that everyone’s doing and I feel that it’s beneficial to do shows in the city and show love, but shit, it’s hard out here! I ain’t trying to be no starving artist forever. It’s like, I’m focused. I operate off respect for other artists. I respect everyone that works, if they’re really working. And I’ll leave it at that. If you don’t see me at shows, it’s because I’m working on my shit. And if you can’t feel that, then…

“It’s, like, really scattered. There’s a lot of talent, but it’s just scattered.” – Noveliss

Tactile Tracks: I actually read an article recently about local Detroit artists that had to move elsewhere to make a living. Do you agree? How do you feel about local shows in Detroit? Is it possible to make a living?

E: I don’t think it’s possible to make a living in Detroit making the type of music we make because it’s not widely acceptable. Detroit always follows the trend. Musically it follows everything that’s trending. Even down to the clothes nowadays. If you ain’t making the kind of music that belongs in commercial radio, then you can’t make a living.

I: I agree. I look at it like, people have jobs. This is a job. People relocate where the money is, and there ain’t no money in the city. There ain’t no money in these shows and they’re not bringing in the artists out here. It’s not a scene like it needs to be. We need to be where people are, where they’re open to hip-hop. If you’ve got to go to Europe and get ten times as much, I’d do that shit.

N: Detroit is so cliquey though man. Everybody just teams up. You got the trendy rappers, the hood rappers, the hip-hop niggas; you know what I’m saying? They just do their own stuff and don’t support the other dudes. It’s, like, really scattered. There’s a lot of talent, but it’s just scattered.

L: I think it’s like that because nobody operates off the concept of respect. Focus on you! So many people look up to see what the fuck everybody else is thinking about and shit. Keep your head down. I don’t even feel like it has to be like that. People just need to get out of that mindset. The artists that are serious and the ones that are really doing it: street, hip hop, all of that; break bread together. That’s how you get some money. Nobody wants to cross paths though. We’re too different.

E: I think that’s what’s good about what’s going on tonight. It’s a spectrum of Detroit hip hop on one stage. It should be good man.

Tactile Tracks: from a non-musical standpoint, what do you think about Detroit as a city? Do you think it’s getting worse?

E: It seems like it’s getting worse man. The city don’t have no money. They talking about raising taxes. It’s like, I walk out of my house–I look to my left, I look to my right. What is my incentive to pay more money to the city? It’s why people are trying to leave.

Tactile Tracks: Yeah, it can kind of be disheartening at times as a Detroiter, but I do feel that Detroiters have a lot of pride in the city.

I: Yeah.

Tactile Tracks: Do you guys ever feel on the road that you have to defend Detroit a little bit?

N: I actually feel like Detroit gets so much love and respect out of town. When we go out of town, people fucking love Detroit, man, because it puts out so many good emcees and artists.

E: The only time I feel that we have to defend Detroit is when people say “It’s so cold in the D. That’s your shit, ain’t it?” No motherfucker! It’s not! (Laughs) It is cold, but damn it, not that cold.

L: I gotta defend shit all the time because I’m not from Detroit. I’m from Colorado. People are like “you ain’t been shot yet?” “Oh, you still alive?” yes motherfucker! So I’ve always got to go up to bat for the city, on some positive shit. Man, you can make it here. If you can make it in Detroit, you truly can make it anywhere.  The city itself will test you, financially, emotionally. Period. I catch this bus to work, standing in the cold. Everybody’s out there toughing it out.

Tactile Tracks: One more question for the group, what’s next for you guys? You said you have the Fab 5 EP, but are you guys planning on touring in 2013?

All: Yes!

E: We really want to go and try to hit Europe man, try to get out of the states. Out of the states, we have some people in Australia contacting us too.

Tactile Tracks: So it will be posted up on your website/Facebook/Twitter then.  I’m worried though, that if you guys go to Australia, we’ll never see you again.

E: (Laughs) You right as fuck man. That’s shit’s the top 13 places to live in the world! If you have your baby in Australia, your baby is going to be smart and healthy (Laughs).

Tactile Tracks: What is your favorite Album?

N:  Eminem’s Slim Shady LP.

L: Outkast’s Aquemini .

E: Slum Village’s Fantastic Vol. 2.

I: A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders.

Tactile Tracks: Who is your favorite artist of all time?

N: Eminem.

L: Andre 3000 and Big Boi.

E: Bob Marley.

I: Redman.

Tactile Tracks: What is your favorite album of 2012?

N: Joey Bada$$’ 1999.

L: Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.

E: Too tough to call.

I: Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city.

What is the best show you’ve ever played?

N: Dally in the Alley 2012.

L: SXSW showcase 2012.

E: Brooklyn Hip-Hop Fest 2012.

I: Dally in the Alley 2012.

Tactile Tracks: What is your favorite song on Detroit Revolution(s)?

N: “Get No Better” or “15 Minutes.”

L:Runnin’.”

E: “15 Minutes” or “Half as Long, Twice as Bright.”

I: Can’t say, I love ‘em all.”

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