In a Brooklyn apartment, the two young artists behind Soul Science Lab, Pittsburgh-raised who’s shared the stage or collaborated with The Roots, Common, Erykah Badu, A Tribe Called Quest, and K’Naan) and New Orleans-born Asante’ Amin (who’s shared stages with Wynton Marsalis, Dead Prez, Third World, Raheem Devaughn and Mos Def, GZA, Blitz the Ambassador, and Jojo Abbot) slowly sketched out a concept, phrase by phrase, track by track.
The duo enlisted the talents of Rapport Studios, a team of designers and tech creatives, to incorporate interactive AR elements into the album cover art and to create a 360 video for the track “I Can’t Breathe.” The augmented reality expands the album’s central themes, using four symbols, including the Crest of Protection, Death is Rebirth, Know Thyself and Sound Alchemy, each with an accompanying parable penned by authors like award-winning novelist Jason Reynolds, to take viewers deeper into the album’s spiritual world.
How did you both develop whether personally or musically in the making of Plan for Paradise?
CHEN LO : This is a great question. The making of this album was rights of passage for us. We stretched our limits creatively and wanted to expand our brand to more then just music. Plan for Paradise is allowing us connect to technology, education art and community in a way we haven’t in the past. It has expanded our understanding of what’s possible. In addition to that, this project forced us to develop our own ideas about what paradise means to us, or in other words, what are doing in our daily lives and what values do we reflect that allow us to be our best selves and truly live in our purpose? That’s how we developed the four mains concepts of the album: Sound Alchemy, The Crest of Protection, Death is Rebirth and Know Thyself. These themes are part of the foundation of who we are.
ASANTE’ AMIN: As Chen said, this album…or any great body of art for that matter, is a rights of passage, an initiation and a spiritual revelation of sorts. Over the course of the process, i was challenged to be more organized and committed to the story line we created for this album. It caused a lot of reflection on what Paradise is, what it could mean and how to convey those insights in the most universal way. It also required that we not fall too deeply in love with any of the ideas, we had to always be willing to go in a different direction if something wasn’t working, no matter how late in the game it was. Patience was a MAJOR KEY! lol. Musically, we wanted to produce an album that didn’t sound like anything we had ever done. Musically i wanted Soul Science Lab to have its own unique sound rooted in the ideals we articulated on the album. I think Gimme Dat stands as a great example of what we hope to convey musically: music rooted in Hip hop with Afro beat sensibilities that can embody trap, jazz and gospel seamlessly.
What was you guys’ thinking behind the packing of new the album Plan for Paradise?
CL : The music is an artifact unto itself for eternity, but we wanted to add another level of communication to give deeper insight the various themes on the album. We worked with the amazing Tokyo based artist Tokio Ayoama to bring the four symbols/ideas that anchor the album to life. Each symbol was given a proverb from lyrics on the album and an original parable to give listeners more tools shape their plan for paradise. We also wanted to created a visual world around the album that would look the way the music sounds. Tokio executed this vision flawlessly. The packaging was our was of presenting our vision as at a timeless artifact you should share with the children in your family.
AA: We were thinking about producing an artifact, but not merely an object….but a multi dimensional audio-visual vortex that can be used to open a portal to higher possibilities. We wanted something that was elegant, beautiful and timeless. I was really inspired by Earth Wind and Fire album covers. As a young boy, the soul scientist in me was awakened by connecting with EWF album covers. Even before i heard the music the soul and energy of their artwork took root in my imagination and made me want to listen. I wanted us to do that to a new generation of potential soul scientist. We wanted to activate peoples imaginations. The amazing Japanese artist Tokio Aoyama, helped us bring the artwork and the symbols we created to life. We were also blessed to have our good friend Jason Reynolds help us with some of the stories which are connected to the symbols and the songs. Its a very thought out artifact!
What does Afrofuturism mean to you?
AA: Afro Futurism is a contemporary word and classification that has been given to something that Black people have always personified….”From antiquity to Infinity” Its the fact that we are ancient and futuristic, simultaneously. Mound builders and Mother Ship operators. Eternally relevant. As The Honorable Elijah Muhammad said: “Black people don’t have a birth certificate….” Afro futurism is P Funk, EWF, Sun Ra, Harriet Tubman, Mae Jemison and Akhenaton. Its Trap music. Its us.
CL : To me Afrofuturism is simply our current and forward moving take on our ancient beliefs, knowledge, traditions, practices and power. It is ever evolving, but most easily captured in phrases like Ancient Future or Soul Science.
What did the timeline of the creation of the project look like?
AA:It took us about 4 years to complete. Initially we weren’t working with the express intention of creating an album. We were room mates at the time and we casually created music here and there. Originally i was just gonna produce an EP of a few tracks for Chen, where he rhymed and i produced, but the universe had bigger plans. About two years ago we really began to think about this in terms of a joint album called “Plan for Paradise” and then we had to decide what that meant, what that sounded like etc. That took some time. Then we just had to be open and listen and reflect and do the work until it got to a place we could live with.
CL : This project took us nearly four years to complete. When we started we didn’t have a clear concept of what this project was going to be. It was just a collection of songs that we thought were dope. The more we created and the more life happened the more this concept of planning for paradise revealed itself to us. We wanted to release it sooner on a number of occasions, but it wouldn’t be what it is if we had done that.
How does education fit into your songs and also performances?
AA: Well, sometimes education can fit into the equation more than other times. Im not always thinking about eduction or being a music teacher writing songs, matter fact most times I’m not. But the process of being an educator taught me about being sensitive to my audience and constantly checking the emotional temperature in the room to make sure they are present. Being an educator I’ve designed processes that i use with my students to help the write songs. After seeing how effective they are with them i started using these methods in my own creative process.
CL : First and foremost our music and performances have to be dope and stand alone. But education, or the sharing information in a way that inspires, or presenting ideas in a way that bring great things our of others is a core value of everything we do. We are both career arts educators, so we understand how important it is to use art as a vehicle of exposure and transformation for young people, or all people to be honest. We bake that spirit into all of our work. It is no different than the way African elders and griots told stories to pass history of use music and poetry to relay important information. We are just moving in the traditions that we come from
What is your interpretation of “death is rebirth” from your album imagery?
CL : For me Death is Rebirth means 3 things;
The spirit is infinite. Though your body may perish, your spirit will begin another life in another realm. They are two sides of the same coin.
When one door closes, another opens. One things’ ending allows for the beginning of another.
It is important to work for good and to create things that will live beyond yourself. This is how your spirit resonates endlessly, even as it transforms and transitions.
AA: For me Death is Rebirth means 3 things;
No one ever really dies, death is just a doorway into a new life.
lyfe is cyclical, seasonal and rhythmical
life and death are opposite ends of the same spectrum. death is a different name for birth. I often think about the fact that a baby spends 9 months in the womb only to die to womb life (cause birth is super traumatic if you watch a child birth documentary) and be born to a new life. I beleive that physical death at the end of this life is the same way.
What are each of your favorite tracks from Plan For Paradise?
CL : I have so many favorites for different reasons. Really, I think the album has dope independent tracks but is optimally experienced as a full body of work. If I have choose I’d say, in no particular order:
We So Infinite – Africa’s the Future – Flow Matrix, Supernatural, Gimme Dat, Built My City and 3rd Eye. I almost listed the whole album. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different list.
AA: That’s a hard one. They are all my little children….. but today they are (and tomorrow i might say something different) “Gimmie Dat”, “Super Natural”, I Can’t Breathe and even though it’s short, I love “Time Travel”…..