One of my biggest Hip Hop influences, dynamic emcee and educator Saan Solo took some time to have a conversation about this thing we love so much called music. In this Q&A session, he shares the unique story of how he began rhyming, his genuinely endearing philosophies on music and some gems that can be implemented by other independent artists who love the craft.
Achickwitbeatz: Who is Saan Solo?
Saan Solo: "Stop playin, it's the s double a-n/ s-o-l-o, here to say hello/..."
I'm saan solo - originally from da zoo (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and proud graduate of Michigan State University...I currently reside in Harlem and teach in Brooklyn.
Solo is more than a name, it's a lifestyle. Don't get me wrong-I'm a people person/social butterfly, but I love some down time, some "me" time...it lets me reflect, ponder, formulate, and create with NO DISTRACTIONS!!! I've lived by myself since '94, not married and no kids...I've made numerous cross-country trips by myself; go to games, bars, movies, restaurants, functions/events etc by myself. A lot of times, I meet people out at said places but when I wanna leave, I wanna leave. I really don't like answering to people...but life is all about balance. I'm quick to call up a group of people and organize a gathering 'cuz I don't ALWAYS want to be alone...it's just that I embrace it whereas others run from it. Would you believe I know people who'll arrive at a spot first and sit in their car instead of going in until the person/people they're meeting gets there??? Unthinkable for me, but to each his own. As such, I apply that to every aspect of life and music. If something becomes too popular and I was a fan of it at first, I automatically/sub or consciously go against it...don't wanna be like everybody else. Some years back, I found a Fat Albert t-shirt and a dumb Donald t-shirt at a vintage store in East Lansing...everybody was askin' me where I got 'em, could they have one of mine, and so on...it was unique 'n' old school heads could relate to it..c'mon, who ain't love Fat Albert 'n' da' Cosby kids??? Well fast forward a few years later and then I think it was FUBU that came out with a fat Albert line...now, E'RYBODY was rockin what was once my own lil niche...needless to say, you know what happened to them 2 shirts. As much as I love Fat Albert, them joints went straight to my donation pile!!! Same wit' a phrase I was sayin for 15+ years..."excuse me Doug E" (u know, from "The Show"- 'excuse me Doug E, excuse me Doug E, excuse me Doug E Fresh you're on'?) after every time I sneezed...I said it in class after I sneezed once and a student said, "aw u like that song too??? 'Teach Me How to Dougie' is my jam!!!". Away with that saying...got countless other stories like that, but that's how/who I am with music too...don't like to talk about the current fads/trends as e'rybody else - no mention of designer clothes, cars, rims, jewelry, money, etc. I may like some of those things, but it's so much more to talk about!!! I'm more into multi-syllable rhymes, puns, idioms, hyperbole, wordplay, punchlines, metaphor, similes, different cadences, etc...sprinkle in some real topics and issues of the day, plus everyday stuff anybody can relate to...I treat this as a literary art, not just simple ABC 'n' Dr. Seuss rhymes with no substance.
Achickwitbeatz: When did you discover that you needed music in your life?
Saan Solo: Moms 'n' pops had me in the church choir knowing I couldn't sing..smh...but I ended up gettin a solo "Please Be Patient With Me" and I LOVED the spotlight even though I was horrible. Them "Christians" lied to my face telling me how good I was...lol. I was 8/9 and I knew I sucked...it led to me writing a song with my bro on the plane to LA dedicated to our parents. We tried to sing it to 'em when we landed and even though it was corny, I liked their reaction. Over the next couple years I began to hone my skills as a public speaker reciting the "I Have a Dream" speech all over town while a 5th grader; serving as Malcolm X in my school's wax museum (again, that balance...MLK and X); and advancing through classroom, school, city, and state levels of a speech competition...that experience coupled with the simultaneous explosion of hip-hop made me KNOW i had to MC. I wrote my first rhyme in 5th grade after I got called out by a fellow classmate/teammate/usher board member-Chris. My dad used to take me to either Boogie Records or Flipside for getting perfect scores on my Friday spelling tests...I had memorized the lyrics to all of my 12 inches. One day after b-ball practice for our church team we was just standing around waiting for everybody to get picked up...my dad was the coach so we had to wait (you know how parents always late). Somebody started beat boxing and I said one of the rhymes off my Whodini 12"...they was stunned and unbeknownst to me, none of 'em had heard it..."that's you???" "You wrote that???" As I looked around 'n' realized that nobody was hip to it, I slowly convinced myself and took ownership, hesitantly stating "yeah that's me, I wrote it". I repeated it a few times, tricking them and believing it more each time I said it...until Chris said, "nawl man, I don't know where or when but I think I heard it before...If you so sweet, have another rhyme ready at the next practice". I was steaming now 'cuz I was semi caught in a lie...this was a Tuesday and the next practice was Thursday, so I did the only thing I could do- I went home and wrote my first rhyme- practicing in the mirror, using a handheld tape recorder and all the memory techniques I'd learned from doing so many speeches. I incorporated some of my teammates names, the place we practiced at (Northglade Elementary), and a few other things so they KNEW it was mine. I unleashed on 'em that Thursday and even though it wasn't as sweet as Whodini's, they went CRAZY, BONKERS, BANANAS!!! The rest is history, ain't been no turning back since...
Achickwitbeatz: In what ways would you say music has helped you in your role as an educator?
Saan Solo: Connecting with the kids...they always wanna hear me spit some bars so I use that as a motivator to have them behave and get their work done..."you don't handle your biz, you gets no rhymes"...has worked out pretty well!!!
Achickwitbeatz: What would you say is the most important thing that you've learned since you became an artist?
Saan Solo: Whereas you definitely have to have quality music, that's only a very small portion of it...probably 10%. it's a music BUSINESS and the hustle n' grind is the other 90% that CAN NOT be slept on!!! Seen cats with less talent get further than those who they learned from...why is it that it's so many wack cats at the top of the charts??? Their marketing and promotions are stellar...
Achickwitbeatz: What are 5 skills/attributes that would place an artist on your top 10 list?
Saan Solo: Lyricism (wordplay, cadence, delivery)
Achickwitbeatz: Conversely what are 5 attributes that would place an artist at the very bottom of your list?
Saan Solo: Lack of the 5 mentioned above
Achickwitbeatz: What can people expect from Saan Solo?
Saan Solo: Quality!!! I'm a perfectionist and don't just put out product for the sake of it. My music, videos, artwork, packaging, etc. gotta be professional quality and industry standard...none of my stuff gon' be lookin/soundin like demo level. I think too many underground/local cats get too excited and happy to have material out there. If you oversaturate the market with weak stuff that's what you gon' be judged on...why not sit back and do one classic as opposed to 3 or 4 average joints???
Having said that, I'm long overdue to drop new material. My first CD been doing well out here in NYC because it was new to their ears even though it's old to me n' the folks back home...but because it's timeless I'm STILL selling out of 'em at shows to this day...
However, I got 3 projects I'm wrapping up as we speak. A solo album, "Bringin '88 Back"- arguably the greatest year in hip-hop; a collabo EP with someone whose name I can't mention just yet; and a mixtape I'm gonna be giving away free of charge- a DJ masterpiece that includes yours truly kickin' verses alongside some of your favorite MC's on some of hip-hop's most classic songs (i.e.- a verse or 2 off the original plays, then the DJ seamlessly brings in the instrumental as I flow over that, giving the appearance that I was right there in the lab with 'em when they created the joint...sooo much fun). Gonna be droppin 'em over a 6 to 9 month stretch starting round Labor Day. Video footage for two tracks already shot...new team of photographers, graphic design, website creators on deck...relieving me of some of the business aspects so I can focus on the music- which is gon' be comin' at you plenty!!!
Achickwitbeatz: How can people connect with you and stay current with what you have in the works?