Artist Spotlight: Soul Mafia
A rough and tumble foursome who not only embrace their differences but painstakingly work together to fuse their individual gifts, Soul Mafia makes electrifying hip-hop/rock music exemplified by their current buzz single, “All I Need (Remix).” Frontman GC, keyboardist/producer Prism, drummer Lil Dee and vocalist Iam Beck are currently promoting their second album MK Ultra, providing music for major ad campaigns and hustling the industry the only way they know how—vigorously. We caught up with them to talk about making music, breaking down barriers, the dynamics of the group and more.
Your current single ”All I Need (Remix)” featuring Joe Budden is such a great track. What was the thought process behind it?
GC: “Thank you! Prism sent me the track and I immediately felt it would be perfect for [the new album] MK Ultra. We don’t sample anything on the album, so all of the soulfulness of the track comes from live instruments. Emotionally, it felt triumphant and defiant. The way I was feeling at the time about being independent, and flying in the face of the norms of both hip-hop and rock, comes out in the lyrics. From that spirit of flying in the face of convention and being individual, the rest of the hook developed and then Iam added an amazing verse about his values; all he needs in life. For the remix we all felt Joe [Budden] would be a great fit, and he delivered.”
Prism: “The first idea of composition I had for this was the string section/french horn line that’s prominent throughout the song. It also had a strong melody line and rhythmic hits, which played an important role. The original drum beat I had was totally different, not as syncopated and less driving. Because of that, I shelved it for a while. I later rediscovered the track and played it for GC, and I think he really got sucked into it by the cinematic feeling it held. I eventually came up with a drum pattern that fit the vibe exactly. G began the lyrical writing process along with Iam, and the rest is history. With the sax in it, the lush orchestration, fire lyrics, soul singing and dope feature, this song really embodies Soul Mafia.”
Iam: “Basically we just wanted to show the world what real music was. What better way to engage the listener with our first single on the album by explaining what makes us tick?”
You’re in the midst of promoting MK Ultra, your second full-length album. Why should people go out and get it?
Iam: “I think most of society, and hip-hop in general, are tired of viewing/listening to the same sh*t. Most of what’s out today lacks substance. You listen but it doesn’t move you or uplift in any way. Our album was designed with the intent to make you think. If you wanna wake up from the monotony around you, then MK Ultra is the alarm clock.”
GC: “MK Ultra challenges the boundaries of hip-hop, but not intentionally. The lines between rap, pop, rock, electro, jazz, and classical music are blurred, because they all have merit and can all be part of modern music. On a more personal note, it’s a collection of stories about losing yourself and finding yourself and not necessarily in that order.”
Prism: “It’s really something new, fresh and exciting. It’s cutting across genres seamlessly, and our live show is top notch. In this day and age, how many acts are even playing instruments? Not to mention extremely proficiently! MK Ultra is representing true artistry where the artist controls everything from the graphics to the lighting to the last note played.”
How would you describe the Soul Mafia sound?
Prism: “This is very hard to pin down, because we bring so many different influences to the table. We sometimes like to refer to it as ‘Stadium Rap.’ It’s offering a vibe or feeling that’s bigger than the music.”
Being Brooklyn-based, what are your thoughts on the current state of New York radio?
Prism: “Radio everywhere is basically the same as it was from when it first started—you pay to play. If you can’t pay, then you won’t play. This is the reason everything is so formatted and you hear the same 10 artists and songs every hour. Twenty years ago this might have been a bleak picture, but today with technology and communications advancing, there are so many other options for artists and fans to tap into the pulse of what’s hot. I’m also a strong believer that the cream rises to the top, and if your music is great, it will eventually get heard.”
Iam: “The radio is not about music. I can’t blame them for trying to eat so on that level I respect their hustle, but I stopped listening to the radio when I noticed the same six songs play every hour until you say you like it…then they stop. New York is FILLED with unnamed artists. If they were really about just music, they would be playing the hottest hits from the subway musician, or telling you about the latest gig they saw that was off the chain. No offense, but it’s true.”
GC: “New York, and terrestrial radio in general, has been one of the last giants to fall in the old paradigm of the music industry. It’s still likely the most effective marketing tool available to sell an artist/music brand. All that said, payola and corporate consolidation have created an increasingly shorter and predictable playlist. With Pandora and blogs slowly waging a war of accretion against Clear Channel, it remains to be seen how strong radio can remain. Circling back to New York radio in particular, I have to confess Hot 97 has consistently shown support for our live show, putting us on with Drake at Summer Jam and several other high-profile events, so I’m not going to take too many shots.”
Female groups are notorious for drama and individual egos. What’s the Soul Mafia group experience like?
GC: “Our drama is usually more like: Prism just threw a champagne glass into the light and it set off the smoke alarm in the penthouse suite, which won’t turn off and here comes security…but Prism is in a bathrobe with sunglasses on…what the f*ck am I gonna tell this guy? Or, we got a flat tire in the middle of I-95 on the way to Rhode Island in a freezing tsunami, and the spare is flat too.”
Prism: “It’s like family. We have our great moments and not so great ones, and at the end of the day we love each other.”
Iam: “Ha! Luckily, we’re not a female group. Everything we do is directly related to the music; we all understand this. If changes need to be made or something’s off balance visually, ego never plays a part in the decision-making process. We’ve been together a long time and I trust them. As a family, we can come to each other peacefully with pure intentions towards the music.”
How would you all individually describe your personal fashion tastes?
GC: “I was an 80s baby, so I tend to be drawn towards an 80s aesthetic.”
Prism: “Personally, I like to describe it as the dudes from that vampire movie The Lost Boys meets urban New York.”
Iam: “I’m probably the last one to ask about fashion. I feel the clothes and style should directly match the sound we display. As a result, I usually go for a more rugged cross between hip-hop and punk rock, without all the piercings.”
What does Soul Mafia have coming up, tour and project wise?
GC: “The next Soul Mafia album, as well as solo material from me, which will of course involve Prism, my partner from the start, and Iam. Iam is working on solo material as well. Also, we have a few international placement opportunities, and of course shows.”
Prism: “Always new projects we have brewing, a few major ad campaigns, which I can’t give full details on just yet. The Wasted Tour coming to a town near you soon, and many more singles to drop.”
Watch “All I Need (Remix)”:
Check out Soul Mafia’s official site to keep up with tour dates, news and more.