While modern day hip-hop is rife with emo and AutoTune, FreeSol is leaning to the left by blending hip-hop, rock and soul via live instrumentation. The Memphis based quintet consists of a lyricist, keyboards, drums, guitar/vocalist, and a DJ. They started in 2003 when rapper Free decided to move beyond two turntables and a mic and blend a variety of sounds for various gigs.
By 2006, a mutual friend introduced them to Justin Timberlake who signed them to his Interscope imprint, Tennman Records. They recently dropped a mixtape, Rock n Rolla (with DJ Benzi) and are currently working with a variety of producers like Jim Jonsin, Mike Elizondo, Cool & Dre and more on their debut album scheduled for an early 2011 release. In addition to explaining to VIBE what makes them different from other genre blending bands, they also elaborated on another goal⎯perfecting the art of baby making music. ⎯Starrene Rhett
VIBE: How do you successfully merge live instrumentation with a DJ?
Preemo: I think the way we fuse these⎯the whole live instruments with the DJ thing is pretty clever and we want to try to stick to the organic sound of musicianship and that shows in our stage [presence], as well as our records. I think it’s very important that we not forget to put true musicianship into music because nowadays everything is three ticks and a boom and it’s really not that organic sound like it used to be, especially growing up in Memphis. We officially come from [Memphis] and we wanted to stay true to this area and what we know. You can’t be from Memphis and not be influenced by music. Me and Teddy (drums) grew up in the church and that really helps us stay true to what we do on stage.
Free: You have to have true musicianship but we [also] want to move the club so that’s where we bring in the DJ, so that we can have all of those 808s and present day sounds, as well as mix it with something that’s very live so for me, in order for hip-hop to keep evolving, for hip-hop to stay alive, it has to evolve and I think that’s what we’re just trying to be a part of, the evolution.
What was the decision to ditch the traditional hip-hop sound?
Free: We’re not ditching the traditional hip-hop sound. We’re just evolving it; we’re growing on it. We still have it. It’s there. I saw LL [Cool J] back in the day and he was one of the greatest emcees to me at the time and he had two turntables and a microphone and then I saw The Roots and I began to see all these other bands and I was touring and I was selling CDs on the streets and I was meeting all these bands and just seeing how fun it is to have a DJ and a live band on stage. It was just to add on to give the crowd something more fun. I just think you have to grow. The main focus was not to go away from hip-hop. It was to liven hip-hop a little bit. And being from the south, it was too easy.
How have your lives changed since signing a deal?
Free: We’ve had ups and downs. I think a lot of people think when you get a record deal that’s when it all begins and you’re about to take off but actually we really had to work. We really had to tune in and learn who we are, what we are, what is our product, what we’re trying to be. What we used to do is just get out there and play music. We would just jam and do whatever. One minute we were playing First House, next minute we were opening up for Saliva, or next minute we were playing some Foo Fighters or Wailers. We played all types of stuff and when we signed with Justin we just had to realize what we were trying to do.
Talk about your debut album.
Free: We’re trying to shoot a video in the next 30 to 60 days and lock down the single. We’re trying to put a single out this fall and trying to have the record out early 2011 but we haven’t decided the name of the record.
Being a band probably means that at times it’s hard to translate the sounds that you want in a recording as opposed to being live. Is that a concern for you guys? How do you deal with it?
Preemo: Like free said before, when we first started playing and recording and doing our shows, we could do anything from a heavy metal concert to a smooth jazz club because all of us we're musicians and we could do what we want. The challenge was narrowing it down because we were all over the place and I think with the help of Justin, of course, we’ve pretty much done that to the point where we’ve almost created a new genre of music and it’s really cool. It’s a mixture of hip-hop meets rock with a little bit of soul and I think that people will be able to relate to it and dig it and jam out and vibe to it bump in the club to it or chill with your girl to it.
Free: And you’ll want to have sex to it, don’t forget that too [group laughs].
Preemo: I think the major thing about our music is that we pour our hearts and souls into it and I’m a firm believer in what comes from the heart reaches the heard and I think that the people can relate to it and feel it as much as we have.
What’s an example of some helpful guidance you picked up from Justin?
Free: Justin is so intimidating. I like to tell the story that the first time I was in the studio with him working, I was writing a rhyme and he wanted to see how I was coming along with it so he looked over my shoulder and said, “Read it to me.” I was pretty much finished with it but I was just practicing it before I went and laid it. He hears me spitting it and while I was in the middle of recording it he’s like when you say blah blah blah, he actually sat and and remembered the whole rhyme after hearing it one time. He remembered certain places and things and that just blew my mind at that moment. I really realized how talented he is, not only is he able with his memory, he’s very intelligent. So being around him has made me become more focused and attentive to everything. I think the main thing as an mc that he does is he’s very rhythmic. Everything is about dance so like rhythmic patterns and stuff flowing⎯I think that that’s something that he’s really trying to encourage me to think about. I’ve always been about trying to change the flow up and ride the beat but I think he brought more of that out of me.
Preemo: JT has helped mold me into a better producer as far as teaching me how to really pay attention to sound, different textures, different colors, textures of drums⎯really pay attention to drums. He really believes if the drums knock then everything else is kinda secondary. It really motivated me to be a better producer today⎯individually as well as incorporate it into the band and make us a stronger unit all together.
What makes you stand out amongst other bands who fit into a similar vein?
Teddy: That we’re not thrown in the pot like a hired band. We’ve been doing this for a while. We’ve grown to know what we want in our own sound so we’re just not a hired band put together. I think we’re going to take the world by storm because we’re so unique as far as our sound and I think people will hear that in what we’re about to bring.
Preemo: I think us being from the south l—there has been hip-hop bands from the south that we’ve played with but on a major level, I can’t think of anything like us. I think we bring a little bit of what we’ve seen before with The Roots and Linkin Park [but] I think that we’re very relevant today as well, look at people like Travis [McCoy] of Gym Class Heroes. All of these things that we bring to the table—I think we’re familiar to it but the way we do it being from Memphis—the twang with it the real musicianship, the gospel experiences, that jazz experiences, the rock experiences, and the time we’ve had to develop and the influences that we’ve had. We like hit making music, melodic music. I think and with what B.o.B and Kanye are doing people will—I’m not gonna say they’ll love our music like the love B.o.B and Kanye but I definitely think they’ll be able to understand it and get it and they’ll be able to say there’s something different, and at the end of the day that’s all we want them to say.
What do you want people to get out of your music?
Free: Make some babies.
Preemo: Seriously. It sounded like a joke but we think back to cats who are still legends today. They may have gone on but their music still lives and some of us are here because of their music. Like Marvin Gaye, you know how many babies have been made off Marvin Gaye music?
But we just want to put our mark and have people say, “These guys stay true to who they are and make a difference in music.”
Free: Not change the game but just put our mark and say this is FreeSol, this is what we do, those guys are dope. And I want people to stop seeing black and white and pay attention to everything in between. FreeSol to me means everything. I want people to stop the judgment and stop the racism. Let’s start spreading real liberal open mind points of view. So that’s what I want people to get out of the music, that freedom to understand yourself and to respect yourself but at the same time letting other people be themselves and respecting them.