faruhdey (Chris Russ ’14) has had a very busy year. Back in February, he struck out on his own with “Shirley [1942-2016],” an EP that paid respects to his grandmother. Then, this summer, he regrouped with the Outsiders for their superb “O/X2.” All the while, he has been hard at work on his debut full-length, “SO(u)L.” In conversation with faruhdey and his collaborators, the Stanford Daily learned a lot about the sessions that produced the next step in the Outsiders’ journey. Read on for the ten things you should know before listening to “SO(u)L.”
1) According to executive producer EAGLEBABEL (Tyler Brooks ’14), “SO(u)L” is “the most massive hip-hop project to come out of Stanford thus far.”
“SO(u)L” clocks in at 45 minutes with 13 tracks, but within that timeframe faruhdey manages to cram 18 featured artists into the record. Several of these guests have worked with each other before, whereas others are sharing the studio for the first time. “It’s a reunion effort, I feel like,” EAGLEBABEL said. “It’s a big family, and we’ve been planning to make songs with each other for a long time.”
2) Collaborators on “SO(u)L” include some fellow Outsiders as well as other Stanford student artists…
EAGLEBABEL duets with connie.k (Conrad Kisunzu ’16) on lead single “Left Open,” while Eli Arbor (Elliot Williams ’15) reunites with gage (Megan Gage ’15) on “See a Difference” and bonus track “Healing.” But there’s plenty of new collaborators too; Aidan Louis (Aidan Geronimus ’16, of the Geronimus Brothers) and Jessica Lá Rel (Jessica Anderson ’14) come together for the stunning “You.” Later, Stephen Henderson ’12 teams up with Lizzie No (Lizzie Quinlan ’13) on “There Are Monsters.”
3) …but there’s a few guests from outside the Stanford bubble.
faruhdey estimates that “at least a quarter” of the non-Stanford artists he reached out to ended up on the record. “SO(u)L” features independent rappers Izzythedstryr and Najee Janey, who shares the track “Brunch” with faruhdey’s brother B. Russ. There’s also Isaiah Phillips, better known as Randy McFly, whom faruhdey worked with at the Mural Music & Arts Project (MMAP) in East Palo Alto. “One of the first albums that I had creative control over with at MMAP, Chris Russ had one of the dopest songs on it,” McFly said.
4) McFly worked with Kendrick Lamar on his last album “To Pimp a Butterfly,” but he’s not the only guest to have done so.
Blink and you might miss him, but McFly appears in the music video for Lamar’s “Alright.” (That’s him dancing in the “100% REAL NEGUS” shirt at 3:46 and 4:15.) But faruhdey and Lamar share another collaborator in common — Rapsody, who appeared on Lamar’s song “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” On faruhdey’s “Winners Circle,” she contributes a tough-talking verse about coming out on top. faruhdey called working with Rapsody “a dream come true” and recalled her enthusiasm upon a chance meeting at a music festival. “She was like, ‘did you like it?’” faruhdey said. “The fact that she was so humble was amazing.”
5) Ironically, “Injustice,” the shortest non-instrumental track on the album, took the most time to perfect.
Late-album highlight “Injustice” went through close to 20 different demos, an impressive amount for a two-minute song. “I held Eli [Arbor] to a really high standard with that song,” faruhdey said. “I knew what he could do with the song, and I think he was settling for his comfort zone.” “We started writing that song in October ,” Arbor remembers, adding that the first iterations of the lyrics were about a mother and her son, which were scrapped because “it didn’t feel authentic.” Then faruhdey went back to the beat, which he first began working on after he and Arbor were arrested in January 2015 as a part of the Stanford 68. “Eli was there with me, so when I was thinking about people to do the song with, it was only right that it was someone who was with me during that experience,” faruhdey said. “We were already thinking about music, even though we were in that experience.”
6) EAGLEBABEL describes war as a theme of the album.
“In some kind of way, for every person on this album, they deal with things as a battlefield,” EAGLEBABEL said. The characters on “SO(u)L” are fighting for various things — Arbor fights against systemic racism on “Injustice.” The verses on “Winners Circle” and “Good Money” are rapped by starving artists, fighting for survival. And on “You,” Lá Rel fights for an emotionally distant lover with a show-stopping performance. “What does it mean to have you, but not really have you?” she said of her lyrics.
7) The Outsiders have been stepping up their music videos lately and have more projects on the way.
This summer, Outsider Jice (Joseph Thornton ’17) directed “Black,” a short film about Black identity and culture by faruhdey and former Outsider MZZZA (Muzz Shittu ’17). Jice was not involved in the music video for lead single “Left Open”, which was directed by Tayo Amos ’14, who also directed Lá Rel’s “#WeCantBreathe” music video and the upcoming “You” music video; however, EAGLEBABEL said that Jice is working on future projects. “We haven’t done anything on this scale yet,” he said.
8) There are samples galore on this album.
“Chris is one of those few people that I know who I can’t describe what they’re doing,” EAGLEBABEL said of his bandmate’s production style; McFly and Arbor referred to faruhdey’s sound as “Dilla-style” and “Kanye-esque” respectively for its heavy use of samples. Every track on this album is built around a sample. “Brunch” makes spectacular use of a sample of the Manhattans’ “Wish That You Were Mine,” while Michael Jackson & Janet Jackson’s “Scream” flutters underneath “Injustice,” to name a few. The album’s two interludes, “Slime” and “Shadows,” feature snippets of dialogue from the films “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” “The Book of Eli” and “The Hunger Games.” “Shadows” opens with a reading of Psalm 23, taken from “The Book of Eli” — this is where the “soul” that repeats throughout the album comes from.
9) Speaking of which, the album’s uniquely-styled title:
The title “SO(u)L” stems partly from faruhdey’s verse on the Outsiders’ song “GTFO,” in which he boasts that he “takes sad songs and turns ‘em into soulful flame.” More than that, it is a reflection of the time that faruhdey spent working on music. “Music was no longer just art I was making in my free time,” he said. “In the absence of free time, it became an essential part of my being — of my soul, if you chose to phrase it that way.” He also considered the title “SOL,” Spanish for “sun” — ironic, given that much of the album was made at night or “in a dimly lit apartment.” In the end, “SO(u)L” was a reconciliation of the two titles.
10) You’ll recognize the album artwork if you’ve seen “Akira.”
Although it may remind you of the alternate cover art for Frank Ocean’s “Blonde,” the image on the cover of “SO(u)L” is almost an exact copy of the theatrical poster for “Akira,” a 1988 Japanese animated film based on a manga. faruhdey hadn’t actually seen the movie when he asked a high school friend to devise an album cover, but upon watching it he found that he liked it a lot. “The theme ties well, and I found it to be a very apt pairing with the music,” faruhdey said.
The author would like to thank Caleb Smith for contributing to this piece.
Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu