Ever since the late '80s, hip-hop has splintered into topical and sometimes bizarre subcategories (anybody remember horror-core?). Nowadays, if someone was to say “Yo, MTV raps!,” we need to know if the rap in question was backpack, crunk, gangsta, West Coast, East Coast, Dirty South, ghetto, battle, snap or conscious before we tune in.
So it goes with The Sound Providers. Everybody thinks they know how to categorize them. One bored English major on pitchforkmedia.com used the words “jazz-hop” and “jazzy” so much to describe the local duo you'd think Wynton Marsalis was in the group.
“Some people characterize it as old-school or retro,” reflects Soulo, The Sound Providers' DJ. “But we're really just making the kind of stuff we grew up loving.”
So their brand of hip-hop isn't as pioneering as, say, merenrap (a combination of rap and merengue music). It goes back to basics, just as rock 'n' roll did once the subgenres became too prolific (see: Franz Ferdinand, The Darkness). It re-creates the good old days of phat freestyles followed by sampled choruses when the DJ was an integral part of the group and Eric B. was as big a star as Rakim.
MC Choc paraphrases Run D.M.C. in the song “Choc Promo” to explain, “We're taking you back to the day/To a time when the M.C. had something to say/There was radio play/And the people would say/God damn that DJ made my day.”
The core of The Sound Providers-Soulo and producer-engineer Jay Skills-met in the late '90s and quickly started crate-digging together. After hooking up with local rapper Profile, the three started recording their initial 12-inch singles in Jay and Soulo's apartment.
“San Diego's the perfect place for music,” says Jay. “You're close enough to Los Angeles to see what's going on there but far enough away that you don't really have to be affected by it if you don't want.”
Jay eventually relocated to Florida, and Profile left to chase a solo career, but it didn't stifle the group. By 2004, The Sound Providers had built enough of an underground following to release the full-length album, An Evening with The Sound Providers. It's a collaborative project with some of their favorite indie rappers, including Little Brother and New York's Asheru.
“We had a formula that worked,” says Jay, describing their production approach. “But at the same time it gets kind of limited when [we control the songwriting]. So over the years we've let a lot of the artists do a lot more.”
Late last year, they released Looking Backwards: 1998-2001, what Soulo calls a “time capsule” of radio promos, unreleased material and singles previously only available on vinyl. They've already completed a new album with Surreal, an MC who Jay met in Florida, and are planning a fall release under the moniker Surreal and the SPs.
“We don't have this big marketing scheme,” reminds Soulo. “We don't have this big master plan. We're not reading Puffy's books. We're just trying to make dope music, and that's how it should be.”
Check www.thesoundproviders.com or www.abbrecords.com.