H20 Soul is a hip-hop collective made up of six members; Clever (MC), M.P.L.I. (MC), Mike Soul (MC), Just Nick (Guitar), Big T (Bass) and Cuz (Drums). The core (Clever, M.P.L.I. and Mike Soul) originally met in 2003 while attending Northern Illinois University, and it was there that they cultivated a strong narrative voice that would serve as the eventual backbone of H2O's style. In 2006 they added a live band, which helped them develop a fuller, more organic sound. Since then the group has been on a steady rise, evolving its rhythms into a unique blend of hard-edged rock and classic '90s boom-bap. Centerstage recently caught up with M.P.L.I. to get a better sense of what the budding group is all about.
How would you describe your style?
100 percent hip-hop. To clarify, hip-hop is a fusion of different musical genres, we just lean towards an edgier rock sound.
You cite an all-star line of artists as your influences. How does H20 build from that sort of history?
Good music is timeless. We only hope that the art we create will have that quality. We will always remain progressive and relevant as long as we keep living and having experiences to relate to our listeners.
You mention that DJ Slim Kid (of the Pharcyde) gave you some sound advice. What were some of the things he told you?
He told us to always stay true to ourselves and never to change for anyone. He assured us that we had something "special" and he liked our vocal textures. He also shared some stories from his experience as part of the legendary hip-hop crew the Pharcyde, inspiring to say the least.
Any other people that have helped you along the way?
Absolutely too many to count. We've been grinding side by side with many of Chicago's aspiring and successful artists and help has come in all shapes and sizes. Columbia College Chicago, Genuine Music, Sticky, Lenny Gilmore Photography, ARS Studios, DuSable Museum, Partners in Comunity Building, our fans, our families, the list goes on and on.
Tell me a little bit about Class Is In. It's got a heavy rock influence, was blending rock and hip-hop a natural thing for you?
Class Is In is our first full-length project as a band. It is our wishful thinking for the music industry. "Class" in this sense refers to a high standard. This album represents us finding our artistic identity, taking us to the next level of our artistry. The blend of rock influences was inspired by our band's musical ability and us wanting to create a more edgy sound that would define us in the crowded hip-hop genre.
How was that project different from your prior work?
Because it is our first full-length project as a band, we had to make a major leap in our writing and recording process. This is our evolution, a definite turning point in our evolution.
Hip-hop is an ever-evolving style, even more so on a local level. What's your take on the Chicago hip-hop scene?
Chicago is so diverse musically and hip-hop comes in all forms. It does, however, seem the city is following national and global trends more attentively than ever and that's creating new opportunities for relationships in music and fashion and just lifestyle in general. It's a good time to be in Chicago.
Hip-hop has gotten so big, sometimes it doesn't recognize itself. It will continue to grow as long as there is music out there to inspire the next person to pick up a pen or a PDA and write.
Does Chicago play a big role in your sound?
From growing up on the South Side to recording downtown, from re-gentrification to Obama, we are products of Chicago so it is absolutely one of the major influences on our sound.
What was your first performance like together?
Oh wow. It was at NIU for our organization's first informational, all of us had written poems to perform. At that point we were more of a spoken-word group. We had a full room of interests and the performance went over well.
Do you have any collaborations coming up? Adad mentioned that he would love to work with you guys.
For the record, we'd love to work with Adad too. We've reached out to a few people. Primeridian was a part of our album release in September. Just keep your eyes and ears tuned, you never know what we might do next.
Any forthcoming projects we should know about?
Right now it's all about Class Is In. We're always working on new music though and we'll absolutely keep you in the loop.
Check us out at h2osoul.com and Facebook. And download the album for free at h20soul.bandcamp.com.