After years of performing alongside his Red Lake based crew, Baby Shel decided that it was time to stake claim and to showcase his technically advanced flow and gritty lyricism over 11 tracks of trunk rattling realism. Although fans of 100 Souls might be worried about a possible break up, Baby Shel will be the first to dispel any of the rumors.
“Soulo is my first solo effort away from my group, 100 Souls,” said Baby Shel. “It’s not completely solo though, I have 3 features on the CD. Demo and Big Mo-Berg from NPC3 and my brother, Jardo on a couple tracks. And I got a track on there that is produced by Bobby Raps too. But other than that, it’s just me…. I just wanted to see how I can do on my own you know. So no verses from Thomas X or WarDog and no beats from Garlic Brown, hence the name Soulo. Not to say that I don’t want to work with these guys, because I always and forever will work with my brothers. I just wanted to venture on my own and see what I can come up with. But even though I didn’t create anything musically with them, doesn’t mean they didn’t have a hand in things. Those guys are my brothers and will always help anyway they can, with life situations to just lending a helping hand.”
Throughout Soulo, listeners will be excited to hear Baby Shel’s versatility as an MC. From rhyming over an Adrian Younge production within the project’s Intro to rapid fire chopping over “O.G. (In & Out),” there is a meticulous amount of attention that goes into each of his verses that to some is in contrast to more commercially viable rap.
“I get so pissed off at these rappers who show ZERO effort into their music. Now that’s not to say they’re not grinding their asses off because obviously they gotta work twice as hard with the lack of talent they have, but I feel like if you’re going to sit down and use your time, it should be used usefully to create something you can be proud of. I mean its takes part in the fact that we have a lot of ‘bandwagon’ Hip Hop heads out there, that hop ship to ship and jock on what’s hot at the moment. The only real fan bases out there now a day come from the likes of Tech N9ne and Strange Music or Atmosphere and Rhymesayers, which in my mind are two of the top labels out there. I guess it’s just the changes in Hip Hop and technology. Everything is fast and things get old quick. It’s a race in Hip Hop now. It’s stressful, but at the same time as artist we have to be able to adjust and stay true to our music for our people.”
As a man of the people, Soulo touches on various topics ranging from self-improvement to decompressing from the struggle on the Red Lake Reservation. One standout moment from the project came from the song “’89-‘90” where Baby Shel cuts the beat to vent his frustrations as an Native MC among the looming pessimism that blinds many critics from his overall vision.
“The last verse was mainly just me getting a lot of things off of my chest. The reason it’s a Capella is because I wanted people to hear it and hear it boldly. Hear the tone of my voice. I was feeling a lot of emotions while writing that verse. I poke at how I get ZERO attention for my music from my people. Like Native Country is not hearing me? Really? I do feel I am one of the best Native American Rappers in the world? Not going to call myself the best because I don’t know every Native Rapper out there, but I just wanted to let people know where I stand with my music.”
Along with that, the verse also addresses the general sense of hopelessness that has consumed many of the residents of the Reservation due to limited employment opportunities alongside a history of gang violence and alcoholism. Despite these weighing obstacles, Baby Shel has made it known through his music that he is out to make a difference.
“I dislike the fact that people bring problems up without any solutions to them. You see that a lot anywhere you go actually. No one is really willing to step up to the plate and actually get it done. There are a lot of improvements my Reservation and countless other Reservations need. I feel like we’re too stuck in the old ways around where I’m from. I wish we can get into the groove of things sort of speak with the rest of the world. A lot of natives on my Reservation face depression and most are sheltered individuals. Don’t get out much to socialize, mainly because of the fact we are so isolated. I touch on that a lot in my music because I feel the pain people are going through. Young kids committing suicide to middle aged people. It’s sad man. We need to make a change and make it fast, whatever it may be. I just hope I can spark that mind to do so. I’m trying.”
As the nation continues to grasp the lasting effects of slavery and systematic racism, Hip Hop has always been a platform to express these issues. Yet just as art reflects life, the music itself has found that the involvement of Native Hip Hoppas has largely been a segmented sub-category within the genre, which some would argue is the “most authentic” form there is today.
“I feel like it’s very crucial to have Native peoples voices heard in anything, from Hip Hop to Politics to Movies, whatever! We as a people are overlooked, sort of set to the side. Most of the people I meet out on the road away from Minnesota doing Hip Hop are literally surprised to meet a Native American. It’s crazy! I feel like we all need our voices heard more. We have a story to tell. We have history. People need to know about our ancestors and what they went through. (Although I hate using this analogy)We hear about the Jewish people and what the Nazi’s did to them, but what you won’t hear is how the early settlers of America did the same thing to our people and got away with it. A for real Holocaust of my people, slaughtered, some tribes don’t even EXIST ANYMORE. Will you hear about that, NO! It’s very saddening. I feel like people need to think more, and put their selves in our ancestors’ shoes. How heartless people can be? Especially now with how people are kind of brushing off the Redskins name like it doesn’t matter. Think about our history and what my people went through. Really think about it! I would guess you can at least see where we are coming from. I know a lot of people are like ‘we should be worrying about bigger problems’ but it’s the small problems we need to deal with and build from to tackle the ‘Bigger Problems.’ Hip Hop is a MAJOR outlet to get our story as a people out to everyone’s ears.”
As the weekend approaches, the “Souloist” himself will be allowing everyone two chances to celebrate the release of Soulo with his Release Show taking place on Saturday, November 29th at the American Legion in Bemidji and at The Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis on Sunday, November 30th for Cold Flows for Warm Clothes Benefit Concert. While many may have seen him on stage with Rez Rap, they can expect the same amount of energy and excitement from his solo sets along with a few surprises.
Soulo is available to stream at Baby Shel’s Soundcloud and for Name Your Own Price on his Bandcamp on Monday, December 1st. Physicals will be available at his shows as well. And you can stay up to date with Baby Shel on his Twitter and Facebook.