1998 saw the informal formation of the collective now known as The Soulquarians. Born from the slick minds of the then already veteran musicians Questlove and D’angelo, the production crew crystallised the jazz-funk sounds of the budding neo-soul scene into a movement that involved some of the best musicians in the world. Working out of the Electric Lady Studios in New York, over a three year period musicians like J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Q tip, Common and legendary bassist Pino Palladino, to name a few gathered together to permanently rewrite the future trajectories of R&B, Hip Hop and Soul.
Joining these musicians was their worship of organic imperfection. The drawl in the drumlines of songs like ‘Chicken Grease’ give albums like Voodoo a trademark ghetto sexual edge that 22 years later still clearly distinguishes its sound; even amongst the many R&B albums and careers that sound has inspired. According to Questlove, D’Angelo insisted on this playstyle and consequently these musicians spent months in each other’s sessions, unlearning how they learnt to play and revamping one another’s sound in the process. Records like Baduizm, Common’s Water for Chocolate and The Roots seminal Things Fall Apart capture this creative energy in the unique textures of their albums — it’s unmissable. And this unique lightning in a bottle moment for musicianship would seldom happen again. Somehow, they also all just happened to share the Aquarius star sign.
Belgian DJ and producer Mambele downloaded a torrent with Dilla’s then entire discography on it he was 15. He never looked back and has been encapsulated in the sickness ever since. Few can ever escape it; once you’ve been hit by one of those records, you’re in. Today he pays tribute to a collective of the greatest, with a mix and interview that explores their unique and touching history and the unique sound that they birthed.
Mambele’s new EP Proton is out on 12th January.
Why does do the Soulquarians mean so much to you?
They mean so much to me because their music really sparked my interest in making music. The message, the harmonies, the melodies, the beats, the energy — it really had a major influence on the man I am today. Members of the collective included D’Angelo, Questlove, J Dilla, Roy Hargrove, James Poyser, Pino Palladino, Q-Tip, Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.
What makes a Soulquarians record so unique?
All Members of the Soulquarians have a unique record. It’s complicated to choose one. What makes their records unique to me is how some songs can sound really warm and paradoxically cold at the same time. On top of that, you can feel the musical ingenuity and the spirit of innovation. It’s no secret
they’ve had a major influence on music until this day.
When did you first hear Soulquarians music and what impact did it have on you?
I was around 15 years old when I got to know J Dilla. I unknowingly downloaded a torrent with his whole discography. Shit blew my mind. I realized he made a lot of music. Really eclectic discography. Through him, I got to know the Soulquarians. Their music sparked my interest to discover more music and genres.
What’s your most sacred Soulquarians record and why?
If I really have to make a choice I would go for D’angelo’s Voodoo album.
I used to listen to it every day. The funky and organic sounds are just too much. It’s a classic and I could listen to it forever!
Any standout memories from dropping a Soulquarians track in a set?
One of my latest memories was a while ago. Before these Covid times, at a party, I had random people b-boying and jumping around on J Dilla beats in a small bar in Brussels. Shit was funny as fuck!
How has Soulquarians impacted you as a producer?
They sparked my interest in exploring the boundaries of music genres. I love to play around when making music. Another aspect is their innovative approach to music. I can only imagine how it must have felt to some people when their music came out in the 2000s digital era. It sounds like a breath of fresh air.
How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about the Soulquarians and their music?
I wanted to acknowledge the major influence they had on me. This mix is like a walk through my musical childhood. My earliest influences. Even though I do play all kinds of music to today as a DJ, their music really laid down the foundation for me as a musician/producer. I chose some songs they sampled and produced and I added some tracks of my next EP too — you will definitely hear the influence.
What would you say is the Soulquarians biggest legacy on music?
It’s difficult to describe for me, their legacy on music is undeniable. Each member of the group had to a high extent an impact on their own: J Dilla, Erykah Badu, Questlove, just to name a few. It was forward-thinking music at the time and it still sounds very fresh today.
Don Pullen – Healing Force
D’Angelo – Africa ( Acoustic Version)
Bobby Hutcherson – Montara
Steve Miller Band – Intro
Heatwave – The Star of Story
Stan Getz – Saudade Vem Correndo
Azymuth – Rico Suave Bossa Nova
Mambele – Connections Feat Jacques Jaguar & Dtekt
Erykah Badu – Afro (Freestyle Skit)
Common – Ghetto Heaven Part Two (Feat D’Angelo)
Bush Babees – The love song (Feat Mos Def)
Hi Tek – Get Ta Steppin (feat Mos Def & Vinia Mojica)
The Roots – The Notic (feat D’Angelo)
Mambele – Vibrations (feat Mr ZiL)
Que D – Rock Box
J Dilla – Track 34
J Dilla – Think Twice (Instrumental)
ATCQ – That Shit (feat Jay Dee)
Kevin Moore – Speak Your Mind
Erykah Badu – Cleva (Instrumental)
The Singers Unlimited – Michelle
Mambele’s new EP Proton is out on 12th January.