Taalib “Musiq Soulchild” Hassan Johnson is intentionally withdrawn. Outside of needing to be public-facing for new music announcements or upcoming appearances, you won’t find him randomly tweeting nonsense or posting any insight into his personal life. Case in point, when it came to the Verzuz teaser with Anthony Hamilton, it was the first time in a while Musiq is seen with the mother of his child, Kameelah “Meelah” Williams of 702. And he has his reasons behind his separation of church and state as you’ll learn.
The Philly-bred crooner is a low-key, unbothered individual who is more concerned with how he can best serve consumers rather than how they can best infiltrate his private life. So without much to anticipate, one would expect direct, crisp responses. Yet, the 44-year-old is rather refreshingly comical and painfully raw while expressing his love for music and honoring his recent journey of healing. Verzuz was his newest battle to overcome.
VIBE: Was this Verzuz presented to you as, “Hey, we want you to do this,” or did you pitch it to the Verzuz team?
Musiq: You want the interview answer, or you want the truth?
I want the honest answer. Tell me what’s up.
Honestly speaking, I wasn’t really thinking about doing it at all. It’s cool. I have absolutely nothing against it. I need for it to be clear that it’s not because of Verzuz itself. I’m actually extremely supportive of Verzuz. I think that it’s [a] really dope opportunity to shine light on people because I feel like there’s not enough of that going on—people honoring people that put in a lot of work and build a culture of music that we all know and love. I’ve always been particularly annoyed by the fact that people are quick to forget sometimes. We have a bad culture of amnesia that we need to fix and I think that something like Verzuz is a good start.
It’s because I’m not a very publicly social individual unless I’m doing my job. I’ve never personally been interested in the whole social media. [My publicist] brings things to my attention, or she’ll talk about things in ways that I wouldn’t consider it, and I’ll say, “I didn’t think about it like that. All right.” I’m the type of person [who’s] not going to ignore something that makes sense. There was a time where I could theorize something, and I’d say, “I don’t want to do that, but I get how it works, so eff it, let’s go.” Now I’m in a space where, if I don’t want to do it, I don’t care if it makes sense. I don’t want to do it. But this is something that kept coming up.
…with Anthony Hamilton, or just in general?
Just in general. The thing with Anthony as well, he contacted me and we talked about it a couple years ago, but I just wasn’t interested. But more than that, it was the fact that I personally was dealing with a lot. [For] almost five years now, I’ve been dealing with a whole lot of stuff that I just don’t talk about. That was the problem. I never talked about it, and it all just came to a head and I had to deal with it. Outside of [doing my job], I’m just over here just trying to heal. The only way that I know how to heal is to kind of pull back and figure stuff out. I am talking with someone now, which was a thing on its own. But thankfully I was able to figure out how important and necessary it was to someone, a professional. So I’m grateful for that because I’ve been able to work through a lot of things that way.
[The pandemic] gave me time to unpack and process and deal with things that I needed to for a very long time. And I couldn’t hide behind work. I couldn’t hide behind being busy. It gave me the clarity that I needed to even be emotionally and mentally available to do something like Verzuz. If I didn’t process or start the healing process or whatever that I needed to, I still wouldn’t do it. I still wouldn’t do it, because a lot of my healing has to do with my timeline in this industry. So now you want me to get on stage and you want me to celebrate the songs that are the soundtrack to my trauma. I don’t really say anything, but I have to start accepting the reality of my reality. And the reason why I never said anything is because I didn’t want to taint you guy’s experience…
With the songs?
With the songs. Because it had nothing to do with that. It’s fine. I pushed through this whole time. So when people try to talk to me like, “It’s not fair, you want to do something different,” it’s like, bro, you have no idea what it took for me to keep doing what I did. I never complained. I never took it out on anybody. I just did it. And again, two things are happening at the same time that are completely sustainable and intact. There is the fact that I’m extremely grateful. I’m beyond words how honored I am that I was given a chance, and I was welcomed and received through my entire career with what I’ve done, and I’ve impacted people the way that I did. People don’t just up and do that. And even the people that do it, a lot of us don’t keep doing it, because it’s a lot. There’s unforeseen things that you just inherit through it, responsibilities and expectations, and just a lot of work. And it gets extremely overwhelming. That’s why a lot of us just stop, man. It’s like, this is too much. And they don’t care. Okay, yeah, I’m good.
However, on the other side, there’s a lot of personal crap that used to be the fuel, but it started burning me down. So I couldn’t keep doing it without it costing more than I could actually afford. Emotionally, mentally, spiritually, I just couldn’t afford it anymore. So that’s why you have moments where it seems like I fell back because I needed to take a day or a few days or a year. This creative process, it’s not something you can put on a schedule. I don’t care how much money you want to throw at us. It don’t work like that. I wish that it did, but it doesn’t. It’s on its own thing, and you just got to catch it when it comes, and if you miss it, oh well, catch the next one.
So, saying all of that to say, I would really like it if people just understand that creatives, people who take it extremely seriously, where it’s like we would do it for free… And I have to word that carefully because I’m not doing shit for free. Understand, because life is real and stuff costs. And that’s even something that I had to learn. But I’m saying this to make a point, that we would do it for free because we love it. We would do it anyway, which I personally feel like gives it more value because it doesn’t matter. I get mine regardless. If you want me to get up and leave the house and go do something, you’re going to have to make it worth my time, because unfortunately, love don’t pay the bills. So I can’t do it for the love. I can love doing it, but I need money. And I need people to stop mistaking that fact. It costs what it costs because that’s how much it costs. It’s that valuable. It’s actually more valuable. You really can’t afford it. But let’s just put it into the context of the real world. Okay, it costs this much. Just pay that and we good. But always know that it’s never enough.
And that’s why we always feel cheated and slighted, because when we do compromise, and then for it to not be appreciated, and then to be presented in a not so ideal context, and then to be up against the crap that’s going to come, regardless. You can’t control that. That’s fine. Make it worth my time, though. I need to get something out of it. So if I’m not going to get the love, the appreciation, if I’m not going to get the respect, just give me the money.
Damn. Do you ever get tired of performing your old songs?
In a way, yes. I think that’s with anyone doing anything for an extended period of time, you just kind of get over it. It has nothing to do with whether you love it or not. I think people conflate those things. They don’t understand, it’s not necessarily the same thing. It’s not the songs that I don’t like anymore. It’s the repetition. And there’s a lot of unintended side effects that come with that. Something like the reactions don’t hit the same. You can’t connect with the song like that anymore. You don’t feel like performing the way that you did it then, you want to do it differently because you’re different. It’s so many layers to it that I think it kind of gets lost.
Other parts of it is people start getting upset and frustrated because they’re looking for something that they don’t realize is gone, but you’re doing the best to reconnect them to that. And now you have to deal with your own space of, what is wrong with these people? So it’s a whole lot of things that go into that. And this is not a matter of taking shots at nobody, of undermining anyone’s support of me. I appreciate any of it, whatever level you’re at. However, it does get to the point where it’s like, “Not this song again.” It’s the thing, all the little artifacts that are associated with that song, in relation to people’s expectations, and your personal experiences, and maybe it didn’t hit the same this one time at the show, and I was like, “Maybe I need to stop doing this song, because people not reacting, and that’s time that I could give to something else.” All of these decisions that have to be made that you people don’t have to think about.
We don’t burden you with it. We miss you with all the details, but those details are still necessary. These are things that we have to consider and work through and figure out and try to put on the best show that we can think of for a very multifaceted demographic of people. We still appreciate the fact that we get to do something that most people don’t get to do. That’s not lost on us. However, it doesn’t take away the challenges and the frustrations, and we’re humans, so we’re going to react to it the way that we react to it. I just hope that somehow, somebody could understand what that’s like.
When you speak on having a culture of amnesia, but then also a lot of artists nowadays are tapping into this nostalgic realm of sampling ’90s/early 2000s R&B, how do you feel about that balance?
I think it’s confirmation that our reality is extremely cyclical. [Impactful] stuff always comes back around one way or another. So if you’re really about something, just sit it out, and that wave is going to come back. And I think that it’s dope that something like this, a platform like Verzuz, is in its own way curating the nostalgia, curating the memories, and helping people to remember how necessary these artists and these songs and these moments were, in not only your life but in life. Verzuz is on the internet, and the internet is worldwide, so that’s everybody. So I think that it’s really dope that this is even a thing, to celebrate things that we respectively do in our own spaces, but for it to be on the world’s platform, to be honored and appreciated. I think that’s dope.
Do you have a personal favorite Verzuz that’s already happened?
D’Angelo. I don’t think he gets his enough. I may be biased. I know that I’m biased, but I don’t care. I am admittedly, confidently, and proudly biased. The Erykah and Jill one was pretty cool, too.
All your neo-soul comrades. Love that.
I mean all of them were dope. I really like the Dipset and Lox one. But the D’Angelo one, I think impacted me the most, because at least in my mind, that’s the OG. And I, Musiq Soulchild, wouldn’t be Musiq Soulchild without D’Angelo. There wouldn’t have been a lane, there wouldn’t have been context, there wouldn’t have been a reference, there wouldn’t have been the interest if he wasn’t a thing. I think that he represented something so massive that it was so far ahead of his time, and people didn’t understand what it was, but they accepted it because it was cool. I know that because I got the same treatment, and the only reference that they had was him. So I’m eternally grateful for him being just a thing because I don’t think that there would have been a lane for me. There wouldn’t have been a door for me to walk through. There wouldn’t have been an interest. There wouldn’t have been somebody saying, “Maybe, let’s take a chance on this kid from Philly that’s doing this whole neo-soul thing.” I think that it was so necessary.
The reason I’m saying all of these cool things because it was confirmed then. You can’t put that dude up against anybody. Not to take anything away from anyone else, but just the sheer impact he had on the culture, it’s incalculable. You can’t quantify that. You can’t put a value to that. You know what I’m saying? And he put in so much work. So much work, man. So the fact that he was honored in the way that he was honored, I thought that was so ill. It was really cool.
As one of the R&B singers with the greatest love songs ever to exist, what would you say are the…
You’re welcome! What would you say are the elements of a timeless love song?
I’m not entirely sure. However, in my opinion, from my observation, I think at first it has to be tethered to something real. It has to be something that pretty much anyone goes through. One of the things, I think, that gets in the way of the longevity or sustainability of certain songs is that it’s not really connected to anything real. It’s a nice story. It’s cute. Sounds cool. But who’s really gonna identify with that? I think that it has to be something connected to something real. I had people say it to me all the time. “You’re speaking my life, you’re talking… You stalking me? You spying on me?” Like, what? How does that even make sense? What do you mean? I don’t even know you. But I know that that’s just their interesting way of saying, “How do you know so much about my relationship?” Well, bro, it’s because you’re not the only person going through that.
We’ve all been there.
You think you are, because it’s you, and in your situation, you think it’s unique to you. No, everybody goes through that, just in their own different ways. So, I think that having whatever you’re talking about be connected to something that anybody goes through, literally anybody. Now everything else is just extra, your creative twist on it, and how you choose to present it, and what type of music you want to put behind it, what kind of wordplay you want to do right now. But the point, the subject matter is something that literally anybody goes through. That’s the space that I like to work in. Most people like to do the black or the white, like to do the up or the down, or the good or the bad. I’ve never really been interested in the extremes. I want to talk about the gray. So much gray that no one likes to talk about.
I got a song called “I Do,” off of my album Life on Earth, and I literally started off by saying, sometimes I don’t like you. You always got a problem with anything that I do. I don’t always understand everything about you, but I know that I can’t live without you. So I guess, yeah, I do. I do. I do love you. Yes, I do. You just get on my damn nerves. I don’t want to break up. I just want you to shut the f**k up sometimes, bro. There’s just not enough songs about those spaces. And the reason why I feel that’s important is because when you don’t have those conversations, people don’t know how to operate or react in those moments. So they’ll do something stupid, like break up with somebody that they probably should have figured it out with, because they think that’s what you supposed to do. “Ah, it’s not working. Ah, man, f**k her.” Nah, bro. You’re not necessarily a saint.
Please be honest with yourself.
You know what I’m saying? Or ma’am, maybe you might want to look in the mirror before you start pointing fingers. Because a lot of the times, the things that happen in relationships are a reaction to you. If we want to do the math, that’s at least half the time, it’s you. So you want to dip because half the time it’s not good? Now, don’t get me wrong, if it’s just bad, if both of y’all just dead-ass wrong, yeah, y’all might need to go ahead and take your exit, before y’all end up somewhere y’all don’t want to be. So I highly encourage people that can discern that this is not working. We tried, we talked, we sought counsel, we went over it with people that we love and value their opinions, and they’re all saying the same thing. Y’all did the work and it’s like, yeah, this is not working out. And yeah, maybe you have other decisions that y’all got to make. Okay, cool. But if you’re just mad ‘cause he ate your takeout from yesterday, bro, or you just pissed off because she bought something that was crazy and didn’t tell you… I’m not saying that that’s okay. I’m just saying that’s a conversation.
I think that it’s important to talk about things that are real. Don’t get me wrong. It’s cool to have these fantastic fantasy stories to give people something to hope for. For instance, my song “Dontchange” off of my album Juslisen. I’ve never experienced that personally. But it was something nice to hope for. nNot only that it was a song that I wish… It was a song that was talking about a relationship that I wish that I was a part of. I wish that I was the person who could say that to a person. I wish I found someone that I felt that way about. So there are those songs. Those songs are necessary, the super ambitious songs. Those are nice. I think it gives you almost like a goal to reach. So I’ll give you that. However, I think it’s more important to make songs about the journey on the way. Getting to something like that is not just, “Okay, I’m ready now.” It’s like, “Nah, hold on, fam. Let’s back up, back up. We got to start from the beginning, bro.” You can’t just reach for that. You got to work towards that. And there’s a lot of steps.
So I think in a way having a song or songs should have content that’s connected to something real, that everyone goes through. And in a way it’s almost like social media, like you’re just constantly posting, so to speak. These songs are almost like posts of how far you got, or what you did, and what worked out and what didn’t work out. And people are just experiencing, “Oh, wow. That’s what you said? And she did what? And wow.” Like, like my song “teachme” from my album Luvanmusiq. Sorry, I got a lot of albums, a lot of songs. That was like an honest moment that most dudes go through. I don’t know how to communicate to you in the way that you would prefer, because I’m missing some pieces. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. And I said this in another interview before, and I think women, a lot of women got it messed up. Because the reaction I got was, “Well, I ain’t trying to be raising no grown man.” I’m not… no.
That’s not what that is.
You got that messed up. I’m not asking you to raise me. I’m not asking you to be my mom. I’m not asking you to do that. There may be some dudes that [are] out there that are. That’s not what I’m doing. When I say teach me how to love, I’m asking you to help me identify what are the things that I need to know and do, in order to communicate and articulate to you that I love you. Only you can give me that information. Only you can give me the access codes. And that’s a conversation or a series of conversations. It’s not fair for you to expect me to just know, “Okay, now you here, so do what you supposed to do.” What is that exactly? I just don’t think that there’s enough conversations about the day-to-day you. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not just women. Some dudes, they got goals too, and they just trying to get to there, and they want you to just play along. And it’s like, okay, fine, but you got to fill me in too. You can’t create this whole idea of how it’s supposed to go in your mind, and you had this whole dream and this whole agenda, but you ain’t… You just hired me. You just casted me for a role that we didn’t even talk about. You don’t even know if I can even feel it. You just decided for me. So you thought for me. Oh yeah, he’ll be perfect. Oh, okay. If you say so.
You asked me maybe like five questions, we went on maybe like three dates, and you just knew, huh? Okay. Until you had to deal with the real me. “Oh, you different.” No, I’m not different. You just never inquired about the rest. You were only interested in the parts that fit your narrative. So I feel like there’s a lot of people in relationships that aren’t really in relationships with the people that they’re in the relationships with. I think there’s a lot of people out there who are in relationships with the idea of the person that they’re in a relationship with. The idea that they created. And as long as you’re operating within the parameters that they think are acceptable, then it’s cool. But once you start stepping out of line, at least according to them, then it’s a problem. But you don’t want to have a conversation about it, though. You just want to be mad and be like, “This ain’t working out. Onto the next.” Whoa. You going to have to deal with the same thing with anybody, because your approach is off, ma’am, sir. Your approach is off. You’re only thinking about yourself, really. Well, then go ahead and be by yourself then.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.