When asked about Jazz influenced Hip-Hop most people are quick to talk about A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets, but there’s another group from around that time period that also deserves a mention, the Sound Providers. Coming together in the late 90’s, the Sound Providers took San Diego by storm with their laid back production style. Recently the duo released a compilation album, Looking Backwards: 2001-1998, giving fans the ability to hear some normally hard to find tracks. Jason Skills, one half the Sound Providers team, took some time out of his day last week to speak with RapReviews about the record, what he and Soulo are working on now, and who he’s been handing out grades to.
Adam Bernard: First let’s talk a little history, who are the Sound Providers? When did ya’ll get together and start making music?
Jason Skills: It was probably around 97, I was doing some freelance engineering stuff and met Soulo through that. He was working with a little independent label in San Diego at the time and he introduced me to a cat, Profile, and somewhere around there we just started hanging out and collecting records and generally building our music and as a result we all got together and decided we should try to record a single, so we did. That was the Dope Transmission / The Field single, we put it out ourselves, we pressed up like 300 of them and trucked em to Fat Beats in Los Angeles and begged them to put it in the store. Benny B happened to be there that weekend and he picked it up and we had actually gotten a lot of love from J Roc and some cats that were working at the Fat Beats store at the time and as a result Benny picked it up and he called us and basically offered to press and distribute the record for us. That was the kind of the early start, Benny repressed that same single and put that out and from there it just seemed to be working out so we just hit the lab and started making a lot of music.
AB: You’re in Florida, your partner’s in California, how did ya’ll get together at all?
JS: Originally I’m from San Diego, we’re all from San Diego, so we all came up in San Diego and we put those records together there at that time. At some point I actually started engineering on a professional level and moved to Los Angeles so I was in LA for a while which was a little more difficult because it’s about a two and a half hour drive, and then I took a job teaching a college course in audio engineering so I moved to Florida.
AB: So now you’re a college professor? How did that happen?
JS: It’s at a college called Full Sail, they have a bunch of programs but their main program is audio engineering and it’s a film school. It’s a private school, it’s crazy expensive to get into. I knew somebody that had worked there and he knew that I was trying to, the freelancing engineering life is kind of up and down, you work real hard then you don’t work for a while, so really he knew I was just looking for something a little more stable and something I could balance my life out with and he hit me up and said hey I can get you an interview out here so he did and they flew me out. It’s a pretty big change of pace moving from Los Angeles to Orlando but it turns out it’s a real dope place to work and I get to be around high end gear everyday and pretty much get to use it when we need to.
AB: Do you make your students call you Professor Skills?
JS: No, most of them don’t know. About once every other month or so there’ll be a student who will find out and he’ll tell everybody in his class and they’ll all hit the internet and find out what it is. The group of kids that goes to school there are real eclectic and in that group includes cats who are into underground Hip-Hop so occasionally you’ll get someone who knows who you are and to be honest it makes it more awkward than anything. You go from being this guy who’s trying to teach you how to engineer stuff to, well I guess I’m supposed to be cool now.
AB: Who were some of your influences at the time you were coming out?
JS: All the typical ones, it sounds real cliché to say them. Large Professor, Pete Rock, Premier, Ali Shaheed, Diamond D, all the typical people that you would say as far as Hip-Hop is concerned. As far as outside of Hip-Hop influences, there’s a lot of them, but mostly soul jazz cats, Cal Tjader, Ahmad Jamal, even stuff that was a little more third stream like The Modern Jazz quartet. A lot of the real soulful jazz cats from about twenty years earlier were fairly influential to me and I know for Soulo, as well. It’s interesting because we all grew up listening to Hip-Hop and at some point started collecting records as a result of trying to produce records and it’s interesting how starting out in Hip-Hop you end up in soul and jazz and funk and that’s kind of how the whole thing really started, through that kind of a medium, and they took all that music that was out there and they turned it into Hip-Hop and we’re finally at the generation that grew up on Hip-Hop and they’re making the reverse trek, they’re going from Hip-Hop to all that stuff, which is kinda cool.
AB: You recently released a compilation, Looking Backwards: 2001-1998, what are your goals for the album?
JS: After we put out An Evening With The Sound Providers, which was Soulo and I producing a bunch of other stuff, and that was really a compilation record of sorts there, too, we ran into a lot of fans who had heard one or two of the old singles from back in the day or were asking if there was any of that other material around, they really liked that, so we really just said you know we should just put this all into one format, in one place where you can get all of it. Some of the singles are a little bit harder to find now so it’s really just an opportunity to put all the music together in one place plus we had cuts and little promos and stuff that we had done for other people that we wanted people to be able to hear so we really just packaged all that together in a format so it would be accessible for people to get at. So as far as goals for it I think overall it’s just kind of giving people a little insight as to what was going down in the late 90’s for the Sound Providers, a lot of stuff that people may or may not have heard, and we put a new remix of some old stuff on there just as a way to let people hear some old stuff.
AB: The album spans from 1998-2001. A lot of people feel, and I hate this term but I have to use it, Hip-Hop’s “golden era” ended right before then. Do you agree with that line of thinking, or do you feel they should extend those dates just a little bit, or do you agree with the whole golden era concept at all?
JS: I don’t know that I agree with that. I can understand and sympathize with what people are saying, there was definitely a different feeling going on, but Hip-Hop is forever changed. My older brother’s generation grew up on Hip-Hop that was changed by the time A Tribe Called Quest came out. To him Main Source and A Tribe Called Quest and all these people were changing Hip-Hop. For us that was the golden era of Hip-Hop, but for him The Funky Four Plus One More was the golden era of Hip-Hop, so it’s forever morphing. It’s real difficult to put a timeline and say this was the best period in Hip-Hop, it’s too young to say that. In 60 years looking back people will probably be able to make a more realistic view of that and to try to narrow that down to two to three years of time is to me kind of narrow minded as far as the larger scope of how the music goes but at the same time I can understand what people are saying, there was a definite vibe that was happening in the early to mid 90’s of Hip-Hop and a lot of that feeling is gone. So I can understand what they’re saying, as far if we’re saying do the Sound Providers fit into that, I guess that’s for other people to decide. There’s nothing worse than an artist trying to decide how good his music is.
AB: Well, I’m going to throw this question your way anyways. In the vast history of Hip-Hop where do you feel the Sound Providers fit in?
JS: I’d like to think, this is just pure ego speaking, I’d like to think that we fit in as some sort of a transitionary element that says here’s the stuff hat we grew up on and rather than just imitating that we took that and tried to get down to the principles of what it really entailed and then turned that into something that’s modern and up to date. Again that’s probably a lot of ego speaking because realistically I think a lot of people would say that the golden era of Hip-Hop was slowly closing at that time period . I’ve heard people say that we’re the last of the great independent movement of Hip-Hop, that somewhere around the time that we stopped putting out singles in the late 90’s / early 2000’s was also the time that everything got flooded and the internet became such a big deal and it became real hard to get distribution. So as far as where we fit in in an overall perspective, I guess that’s yet to be seen. We’re still putting out records, we’re still doing stuff and I’d like to think that in the end we could look back and say we contributed something as opposed to taking stuff, the idea that maybe we built something a little bit more than what we started with.
AB: What are some of the differences you’ve seen in the music world from 98 to now?
JS: Putting out records today in 2006 is so different than putting out records in 98 when we started. You used to always hear people talk about you gotta be about your business and I remember thinking you guys are idiots all we gotta do is put out records, you put out good music and people buy it and that’s the end of it. Now there’s so many people putting out records, there are some really dope people out there who just ever get heard because it gets swallowed up in the much and on the other hand there’s some really really horrible people out there who are getting a lot of spins and recognition. It’s like the value system slowly changes and again that’s the same scenario that keeps coming up, is the music changing the people and is that ultimately changing the music as well or did the people just change and as a result the music changes. I don’t know if I have the answer to that.
AB: What happened between ya’ll and Profile, and why hasn’t he been seen on the scene since the split?
JS: I guess I couldn’t really speak too loud as to why he hasn’t been seen. What really happened was in late 2000, around the time that I was really trying to step into freelance engineering full time we had been putting out some singles and in the background we had been working on some full length and EP projects that never really came to fruition and he was really just kinda movin in a different direction than we were. At some point it just became the obvious thing that he was going to go and work on this stuff over here and we were going to focus on some other stuff to the opposite side. There was never really this awkward, tense, moment where we all look at each other in the face and all called each other names or anything it was just a gradual yeah, he’s headed that way, we’re headed this way and a couple months down the road you come to find out oh we’re doing this and he’s doing that and our goals didn’t really line up like they used to so we just kinda continued down our own paths.
AB: So there was no shoot out outside of a radio station?
JS: Nah, no nothing crazy like that.
AB: Are ya’ll working on anything right now?
JS: Yeah we are, we actually have a full length album with a cat named Surreal. There’s a cat who’s from out here in Florida who I met when I first moved out here and on the side we had kind of put some records, or put some music together, just on general principle. Soulo had heard some of it and he was excited about it. We were gonna just put out a single with him and when we were finishing some of the mixes for the Looking Backwards record Solo flew out here for that so we all hung out and we started politicking and we got to the bottom that we should really put out more than just the single. So this is probably from last summer until now. It’s pretty much finished, I’m mixing the last songs now and it’ll probably be out by the end of summer, it’s called True Indeed and the group is technically called Surreal and the Sound Providers.
AB: Finally, who would you like to link up with for a song?
JS: As I get older, or the longer we’ve been doing this, that list slowly diminishes or changes, I’m not sure which is a better description, but a lot of who I would like to work with really comes down to a lot of musicians these days. I’d love to have Ahmad Jamal come and play keys on a record. I remember when Tribe had Ron Carter play bass and I realized that that’s what was going on it kind of blew me away, so I would really like to work with some people like that.