Born Taalib Johnson in Philadelphia, PA. Addresses: Record company--Island Def Jam, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website--Musiq Official Website: http://www.defsoul.com/musiq.
Called the "next Stevie Wonder," Musiq is a singer with a smooth touch, a songwriter with soul, and a hunky Philadelphian who favors dark glasses and a goatee. Noted for his idiosyncratic spelling after titling albums Aijuswanaseing and Juslisen, he told Rolling Stone in 2002: "It's almost like how kids spell things, when they first learn their ABCs, it's just how you hear it, how it sounds." He noted wryly that a teacher might think "all these years I'm trying to teach these kids how to learn proper grammar, only for him to just throw it all to hell."
Musiq joined Madonna, Cher, and Sting in the one-name department shortly before releasing his second solo album in early 2002. The son of a singer and saxophonist for various Philadelphia-area soul bands, he began his career as Musiq Soulchild on the city's streets, a "human beatbox" who mimicked drum machines and hip-hop beats with his voice. In an interview published on the ABC News website, he reminisced about those days, saying "I used to mock my favorite songs on the radio." In his early teens Musiq also performed at open-mike nights at local clubs such as the Five Spot and Wilhelmina's.
Musiq joined Madonna, Cher, and Sting in the one-name department shortly beforereleasing his second solo album in early 2002. The son of a singer and saxophonist for various Philadelphia-area soul bands, he began his career as Musiq Soulchild on the city's streets, a "human beatbox" who mimicked drum machines and hip-hop beats with his voice. In an interview published on the ABC News website, he reminisced about those days, saying "I used to mock my favorite songs on the radio." In his early teens Musiq also performed at open-mike nights at local clubs such as the Five Spot and Wilhelmina's.
Initially he hoped to perform in an R&B ensemble like Parliament-Funkadelic until D'Angelo's emergence as a solo artist inspired him to take the same route. His talent spoke for itself, and soon Musiq had a management team and attention from Island Def Jam Records. "Just Friends (Sunny)" landed on the soundtrack for Nutty Professor II: The Klumps and quickly became a hit. By then, record labels were anxious to build on the neo-soul genre, from which D'Angelo and fellow R&B visionaries Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Angie Stone, and Lauryn Hill emerged to sell millions of records.
Like those artists, Musiq draws unashamedly from 1960s and 1970s soul heroes Stevie Wonder, Donny Hathaway, and Al Green. "A lot of people come to me with that," he said of those soul-music pioneers, who clearly influenced his debut album. "It's a beautiful thing that people actually put me up with those people, you know. It's one of the greatest compliments that I could ever ask for, you know, and I appreciate anybody who does that. However, I don't want people to get the misconception that I'm trying to be these people in any way. I'm not trying to be Stevie Wonder, I'm not trying to be Sly [Stone], I'm not trying to be Donny [Hathaway], I'm not trying to be James Brown.... I just want to be who I am, and hopefully that will help people to find their own thing."
Depending on his mood, in interviews Musiq will either distance himself from his influences or enthusiastically embrace them. Of his simple, to-the-point songwriting style, he told Billboard in 2002: "I learned that from Stevie Wonder. He had that unique ability to tell a story and make it seem so simple and in-your-face, but when you sat back and thought about what he was saying, it was deep s***. I've always admired that about him, so I've adopted that same type of technique when it comes to writing."
Despite its unusual spelling--"I Just Want to Sing" is the helpful parenthetical translation on the CD cover--Aijuswanaseing sold 1.7 million copies and landed three singles in Billboard's R&B/hip-hop top 30. The album's theme is fairly straightforward: women. Musiq and Haggins's songs talk of women who call, women who won't call, women who were once awkward schoolmates, women with caramel skin and chocolate brown lips, women with light green eyes. "Girl don't you know my whole world stops for you," croons a typical sentiment in "My Girl." "In this relationship you're first and I come two."
Although his record-label marketers boasted that Musiq went in a different direction on his sophomore album, the songs cover much of the same territory. Juslisen ("Just Listen"), according to USA Today's Steve Jones, "depicts mating-dance scenarios full of stops, starts and unexpected twists. Listeners are often left wondering where he's going with a musical plotline, and the answer, if he gives one, may unfold in another song." The album closes with a lover-man version of the Beatles classic, "Something."
The out-of-nowhere success of Aijuswanaseing boosted Island Def Jam's marketing budget for Musiq's second album, and raised the charismatic singer's profile as well. He appeared on Showtime's Soul Food in early 2002, participated in several major Black Entertainment Television (BET) promotions and, of course, toured. But, as with highly anticipated sophomore albums by Badu, Hill, and Maxwell, Musiq's follow-up sold disappointingly--going gold, not platinum, and peaking at number 21 on the Billboard pop-album chart before dropping to the low eighties by early fall. Dominating the summer R&B charts instead were rappers such as Nas, Nelly, and Eminem.
Musiq still has an entire career in front of him, however, as he indicated to Billboard just before the release of Juslisen. "I'm not there yet," he said. "I have a little ways to go. With Aijuswanaseing, I was on the lawn. Now, I'm at the door. Hopefully with my third album, I'll be in the house." The prince of neo-soul has yet to emerge--D'Angelo came close with 2000's Voodoo--but Musiq's singing, songwriting, and producing talent may just get him there before anybody else.
by Steve Knopper
Formerly known as Musiq Soulchild; signed with Island Def Jam, released Aijuswanaseing, 2000; released Juslisen, 2002.
Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Awards, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artist, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artist-New, Top R&B/Hip-Hop Artist-Male, and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles Artist, 2001; Soul Train Awards, Best R&B/Soul Single for "Love," 2002.
- Selected discography
- Aijuswanaseing , Def Soul/Island Def Jam, 2000.
- Juslisen , Def Soul/Island Def Jam, 2002.
- Billboard, October 21, 2000; April 13, 2002.
- Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2001.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, May 8, 2002.
- Rolling Stone, June 20, 2002.
- USA Today, March 7, 2001; May 9, 2002.
- Washington Post, June 1, 2002.
- "American Music Awards Nominee List: Favorite New Artist--Soul / Rhythm & Blues Music," http://abc.abcnews.go.com/primetime/specials/ama/bios/musiq_soulchild.html (October 7, 2002).
- Musiq Official Website, http://www.defsoul.com/musiq/ (October 7, 2002).
- "Musiq (Soulchild)," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (October 7, 2002).
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