You walk into a room. You hear a trumpet. You hear drums. Naturally, you think you’re about to look over and see a stage full of instruments. Instead, you see Stevie Soul – Detroit beat boxer, armed with nothing but a microphone…and his incredible talent.
CW50 caught up with Stevie, and we got the lowdown on his latest projects – plus his feedback on Detroit music…
Tell us a little about yourself! Where are you from? How did you get involved in music – and in your style of music?
That’s always been a tough question for me to answer. Well for one, I’m a professional beat boxer, that’s something you should know. I’m a teacher. I was also a kid who used to stutter really badly. Every time I tried to talk, weird songs came out. Somehow I used these sounds to become a beat boxer. I discovered my talent through my disability. It kind of defined who I was, so I rolled with it.
Fast forward to today, I’ve been able to share my story with so many people. I’ve produced music, appeared in commercials, been interviewed on radio, performed in sold-out venues, and mostly everything else I could have dreamed of – all from making music with my mouth. People say it’s a phased-out art, but I’ve found a way to keep it relevant and make it work with modern music.
Describe your musical style.
The root of my musical style will always be Hip Hop. Not to say that I don’t love and incorporate other genres, but Hip Hop is where the beat boxing art was born. I grew up during a turning point for Detroit Hip Hop with the rise of Eminem. My older brother is a Hip Hop Deejay and producer. We’d always listen to the freshest records on 98 WJLB. Hip Hop was something that was so influential in my life. You’ll hear that in my music for sure. You’ll also hear a lot of R&B. I’m an R&B head. That’s my personal favorite genre. That’s my groove.
You perform solo as Stevie Soul, but sometimes you team up with other local musicians (like Ben Sharkey and Omar Aragones). How does the overall sound change, depending on who you perform with?
One of the perks of being a good beat boxer is collaborating with other artists. It’s actually the best part of what I do. There’s nothing more amazing than connecting musically with another artist. I live for that s***.
Every artist I play with is different…which is why I play with them. I’m performing with some of the best artists in the city right now. My biggest blessing is being able to mimic multiple instruments. That is my key to performing with artists of any style or genre.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest project(s)?
I have my hands on all kinds of projects right now. I love the diversity of what I’m doing. In a single day, I go from teaching in a jail to doing beatbox workshops at Quicken Loans. Right now, I have a Fathead Commercial running on national TV. I’m also teaming up with a musically-infused tech start-up company called rapt.fm. The tech world is booming in Detroit.
I’m really hyped about June 1st – I’ll be opening up for Mos Def – one of the coolest Hip Hop artists to ever step to the mic in my opinion. Some of my upcoming shows are Bravo Bravo on June 7th and hosting the AMC (Allied Media Conference) Showcase at MOCAD June 22nd.
What are your favorite places in the city to perform? Are there certain venues you play most often?
Any place with half a stage works for me, but there’s something so special about performing downtown. That’s where I catch the true vibe & soul of Detroit. I love playing at Cliff Bells, D’Mongo’s, MOCAD, Green Dot, Sound Board & Rodin…and you know what’s crazy? A lot of these places didn’t even exist last year! That’s a true testament of the time.
Favorite (Detroit) performance of 2013 so far and why?
D’mongo’s with Omar Aragones! Because it’s D’mongo’s. Go see what all the hype’s about.
Most unusual Detroit-area performance?
I performed the Quicken Loans “Zupdate”. The company is growing so fast that Dan Gilbert puts on monthly meetings just to keep the Quicken team updated. It’s set up like a late night show with 300 people in the studio audience and about 8,000 people watching live from their desks. The experience was truly one for the books.
What has your experience been with interacting with the people of Detroit? Any notable stories?
I love performing downtown because that’s where people who live outside the city escape to for the arts. The musical energy comes alive from this. People come hungry for music, and I show up to feed them with some fresh sounds! There have been some rough moments in the mix of hustling and living in the city, but for me personally, the good outweighs the bad.
What do you like to do in the city when you’re not performing?
Eat…I’m a food enthusiast to say the least! I’ve spent a majority of my newfound fortune on food. I love biking, taking photos, and drinking good beer.
What are your favorite places to hang out in Detroit?
The M@dison, Green Dot, Rodin, Nancy Whiskey, Park Bar, 1515 Broadway, & The Baltimore would have to be my top picks of the year.
Is there a Detroit legend that has been an inspiration for you in your work?
All things Motown! Before I got into the Hip Hop scene, my father raised me on strictly Motown Records – that really stuck with me. The Hip-Hop movement was big during my teenage years – everything from the hype of Em’s success to the support and foundation behind J Dilla. His legacy inspires me to want to do good for my community and be remembered in an honorable way.
What makes you proud being a musician in Detroit?
Detroit music has always been broken up into eras, and with each era came some amazing music. The difference with this era, as some people call Detroit 2.0, is that it’s undergoing a rebuilding that it hasn’t seen since the automotive boom…and with that growth comes sprit & confidence. For me as an artist, I’m more inspired than ever to make music and simply be a part of it. I’m a part of the rebuilding of a great American city.
Describe Detroit’s music scene, from your perspective.
The scene here is vibrant but spread out. You just need to know where to be. That can often be the hardest part, but if you’re down to try new things, you’ll find amazing events happening almost every night. You just have to want to be part of it.
If you had to sum up the city of Detroit in one word, what would it be?
Do you do anything else music-related outside of performing?
Through the creation of my own “Music & Movement” curriculum, I have been able to share my talents with youth organizations across Metro Detroit. I work closely with The College for Creative Studies, Y-Arts of the YMCA, and The Quicken Loans Family of Companies.
Has your perception of Detroit changed at all since you started performing here?
It’s changed in every way. Even the landscape of the city has changed so much – and it’s all for the better.
Have you discovered any new favorite spots in the city since you’ve started performing?
Green Dot & Rodin are two places you can catch performing and eating. Yeah…it pretty much always goes back to food for me.