At the top of the New Year, my late night travels brought me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAM Café for an evening of live music and soothing energy the likes of nothing I have ever seen. At the epicenter of it all was Chen Lo and Asante Amin, the Brooklyn-based duo known to the world as Soul Science Lab. During a time in which the country seemed it couldn’t be more divided, my 22-year-old eyes saw people — Black and white, old and young, multicultural bliss — moving in rhythmic harmony to the vibrations blasting from the speakers. Strangers from different walks of life engaged in conversations, as the sounds of Soul Science Lab’s album Plan For Paradise provided the backdrop and set the mood. It was a sight to behold and an invigorating experience. Afterwards, similar to the feeling one gets after consuming good food, I was eager to give my praises and compliments to the chefs. It was then when I stood face-to-face with the innovative Afro-futuristic griots. Three weeks later, in Brooklyn, we were finally able to discuss in-full their new album, their origins, and their very own plans for paradise.
“We were kind of in a situation where if something doesn’t shake in the next four to six months, we’re leaving … He’s going back to Pittsburgh, I’m going back to New Orleans,” explained Asante Amin. “And it seems like in those moments, that’s when we’re forced to reach our deepest."
Asante Amin’s and Chen Lo’s differences complement each other like two halves of the same coin. Though the duo is often billed as “Brooklyn-based,” the borough is merely the location where they forged their sound and friendship. Their musical inspiration draws from their hometowns of Pittsburgh and New Orleans rooted in Jazz and East Coast Hip-Hop. Their stories so similar: talented individuals, miles apart feeling that there was more to their lives than just what their beautiful cities could offer them, and subsequently more they can offer the world.
The daily grind of the 9 to 5 and the possibility of being a victim of circumstance in a violent city can take its toll on the creative mind. Both migrated to New York City with the purpose of pursuing their musical callings. Chen Lo recalled a conversation he had with his mother prior to the move, “My mother actually pulled me aside one day, and she said, ‘You know what? If you don’t leave Pittsburgh, you gonna burn out here.’ She was like, ‘You’re gonna die here, and you have a greater potential than what you’re able to exercise in this environment.’” Of course the Big Apple being one of those make or break cities for a career in music, art, and entertainment, it only made sense for the both of them.
Asante Amin recalls his own personal journey, as he left New Orleans right before Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. “Usually nothing ever happens. You know what I’m saying? Whenever there are hurricanes, I never leave the city, because I’m like, ‘It’s not real, it’s not gonna happen,’” he explained. “I ended up applying to get into the Conservatory of Brooklyn College, and I got in. From there, made history. But it was so ironic. A month after I left, Hurricane Katrina happened in New Orleans.” Drawn to the city, they already felt as if New York energy vibrated through their bodies, since they were never too far away thanks to the power of Hip-Hop and storytelling.
Now in New York, they found themselves searching for the same creative energy. They were searching for each other. “Finally, one day both of us were looking for a place to live,” said Asante Amin. “As the universe had it, [we] ended up in the same place at the same time with that long look on the face, like ‘Yo, what’s next?’”
When they found each other it was like a portal opened up in space and time, a portal made to access creative energy. This portal, aka their apartment with their self-built studio, would go on to be called The Vortex.
“It was like, you step into The Vortex, you’re going to another place creatively, you’re going to another place spiritually,” said Asante Amin. “You tap into all kinds of elevated vibrations that end up coming through in the art that we created.”
I was invited by the group to The Vortex to take in the creative atmosphere and document the process.
It’s poetic that after all the feats Soul Science Lab has accomplished they make it a point to stay grounded and keep to their aesthetic and creative processes. Self-made. A studio in the apartment built from scratch, a safe place, with boarded windows to cancel out the distractions from the outside world. All they had was each other and the music. It was in this DIY studio that Soul Science Lab was born. They laughed as I mentioned the group name gave me visions of scientists in white lab coats experimenting, creating, thriving, and how their depiction of The Vortex just reinforced that image even more. I wasn’t far off. Their sound, an interesting fusion drawing from all over the place, their roots from both New Orleans and Pittsburgh sounds, they’re affection for smooth jazz and East and West Coast Hip-Hop, and Negro spirituals. There’s a bounce and a lyricism that draws from all of their predecessors, and I do mean all.
“You have an underlying, core foundation of Hip-Hop that’s there, but what is Hip-Hop but an amalgamation of these other art forms?” questioned Chen Lo. “I think that’s why Asante is so dope, you can very clearly see the lineage where Hip-Hop came from.”
It’s not often in Hip-Hop that you hear bands on actual albums. You can more often than not catch a live rendition of your favorite song as the artist performs on a late night talk show with a band, but not often can you get the old school sound of musical instruments, actually being played in the studio, on the album. Asante Amin the multifaceted instrumentalist who produced the vast majority of Plan for Paradise by himself, informed me that the sound of live instrumentation is very important to who they are as a group.
The innovative sound features remnants of funk, while tapping into a futuristic feel similar to a dystopian science fiction score. After listening to the two for some time, I realized that whatever they were cooking up in the Soul Science Lab was working. I thought back to the live show that I met them at and it finally made sense. These men with old souls were mixing old school music of all genres with a new school sound. I searched for a comparison, a synonym, maybe Outkast or the Black Eyed Peas, but everything fell short when I came to terms that these men were cut from a different cloth and in a league of their own.
“We in the lab cooking, figuring out … what combination in these elements … these ingredients … non-GMO, no chemical. You know what I’m saying?” said Chen Lo.
Their latest offering, the storytelling, vibrant package of energy is a culmination of everything they’ve worked up to. As Chen Lo tells it, “We had to elevate it. Who are we now? Who have we evolved to? And for us, I think we are studying the science of the soul. This music is all about specifically formulating something to tap into somebody’s soul to make them emote, or to feel, or to reimagine, or to elevate — and we are.”
The album is empowering and inspiring, speaking from a place of alienation and oppressed prowess, in a way rappers aren’t doing these days. Tracks like “We So Infinite” serve as a reminder to the universe that Black and Brown are not only beautiful, they are very competent and capable.
“We’ve been under a political and social move for the last four, five hundred years, that doesn’t want us to be … that doesn’t want us to understand that we’re infinite. That we’re global, that we have no beginning or end,” Chen Lo states as we discuss the suppression of the powerful.
“One of the beautiful things I feel about the time in which we live is we have the repertoire of history, but we’re also in a situation where we can pick and choose and create something really neat out of this time period, depending on where we collectively want to go,” countered Asante Amin.
It all ties in to the plan for paradise. The need is to strategize for utopia, which entails community, family, and positive reinforcement for one another. Asante Amin explained: “The community is the foundation for the nation, and a large part of the reason is why we’re being taken advantage of by the powers that be is because we don’t talk to each other. Brothers don’t talk to each other. Brothers and sisters don’t talk to each other. Sisters don’t talk to each other. Parents don’t talk to their children about what’s happening.”
The duo has been and still is heavily rooted in the community with enrichment and activism. Togetherness is a key theme and no song on the album gave me the feeling of togetherness in the romantic sense like “Kingmaker,” an appreciative ode to women. The song talks about the empowerment that comes from women. “You will never as a man unlock your full potential without your A-alike, without your partner,” Chen Lo said. “The song was essential to his depiction of paradise, as love is a crucial to the home and family.”
The future is what Soul Science Lab is aiming and planning for, and we should all get aboard for the ride. The feel good album interpolates themes and sounds from the past and present to push music forward. We are reminded throughout Plan for Paradise of the best of us as a culture and a community, and are encouraged to bring that with us on our future endeavors in life, love, and family. Whether you are dancing, chanting, or evolving, be timeless in everything that you do, and plan for paradise.