Decades before Steven “Soulman” Snipes entered the world, legendary label Stax Records was born in Memphis and became responsible for introducing some of soul music’s most impactful artists. Years later, many of those same artists are who Snipes, an up-and-coming rapper, uses as inspiration and incorporates samples of into his music.
Snipes labels the unique fusion "hip-hop soul," a subgenre of hip-hop. And anyone unfamiliar with the sound can check out his latest installment, The Classic Soul Project, to get more in tune. On the six-song EP, he incorporates profanity-free lyrics mixed with vintage soul samples over hard-hitting production provided by Memphis beatsmith Kingpin da’ Composa
Rather than showcase extreme lyricism, Snipes was more determined to fill the project with meaningful songs that conveyed a sense of motivation and encouragement.
“I wanted you to be able to feel good after you listened to every song on this album," said the 28-year-old artist. "If you pop this CD in on your way to work, even if you hate your job, on the way there, at least you can get some piece of mind before you go in. And once you leave out, on your way home, you can pop this in and say, ‘This is some motivation. I can go another day.’ It’ll change your way of thinking if you listen to it long enough.”
The Classic Soul Project wasn’t inspired simply by soul legends or Snipes' will to inspire others. There's another piece to the puzzle: popular nightclub Classic Soulz. Located on Brooks Road in the Whitehaven community (also the area where Snipes grew up), the venue is popular for playing a wide array of music and attracting a variety of people.
“If you know anything about Classic Soulz, you know it’s a very diverse club,” Snipes said. “You can go from Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass in the beginning of the night, and by the end of the night they’re playing Young Dolph and Yo Gotti. I love the feeling and the environment of the club. It’s great memories.”
Classic Soulz holds a special spot in Snipes’ heart. He’s enjoyed countless nights of partying there, holds a friendship with the owner, Larry Williams, and worked as a security guard for the venue in the past. With the EP, he wanted to show his appreciation for the club with hope of attracting new business to Classic Soulz.
The Classic Soul Project will be released exclusively during the third annual “Lyfe Is Dope” event, an outlet for Mid-South artists, musicians, dancers, DJs, and supporters, to congregate and enjoy good music from up-and-coming talent. Participants will be exposed to various independent and major record labels and local radio stations. It will take place Friday, March 28th, from 7 to 11 p.m. at 409 S. Main St.
“Lyfe Is Dope is a very unique opportunity, and it has potential, I believe, to revolutionize the culture at-large,” Snipes said. “How South by Southwest is in Austin, I believe Lyfe Is Dope could be the springboard for a similar type of situation coming out of Memphis.”
Before Snipes tried his hand at music, he was just another kid coming up in Memphis. He's the son of a soft-spoken, candid, Christian mother and wise, alcoholic father, who’s also a former Green Beret. The couple divorced when he was a toddler and didn’t resume communication until several years later. Growing up, he spent time between Whitehaven and South Memphis.
As a kid, he was immersed in soul music rather than hip-hop, and took a strong liking to the genre. He cites some of his favorites as Isaac Hayes, Al Green, Isley Brothers, Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye, and Barry White.
His love for the soul music, which meshes elements of R&B, gospel, and jazz, is heavily present in his projects.
“[There is] absolutely no way to get the same feeling that you get from soul music anywhere else. It’s not possible,” Snipes said. “The whole reason I wanted do music is because it made me feel something. There was literally a physical reaction when I heard it. [There is] something about music that can affect your state of mind, that can affect your mood, and soul music does that for me.”
Aside from rap, Snipes is a husband and father to a 4-year-old son. He attended Austin Peay State University for a brief stint before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force where he stayed for six years. He and his family currently resides in Nashville, but still consider Memphis home.
He's released two albums thus far on his label Overwater Entertainment and has traveled throughout the region. His latest project may potentially catapult his career to new heights, due to its originality and marketability. But if nothing else, he’s thankful that people can get an earful of his life and have the opportunity to take something from it.
“Music has given me more than I could ever dream,” Snipes said. “[There have] been times where I literally was depressed, no money in my pocket, didn’t know how I was gonna get none. And I listened to a song that gave me a spark of motivation to say, ‘Okay, I’m [going to] try one more thing,’ and that thing ended up working for me. The only way I’ve been able to pay my bills is because of my music. And it’s not just regular music. Because it does have feeling, because it does have substance, I believe that’s why people are beginning to pay attention and say, ‘Hey, that brother might be talking about something. Let’s give him a shot.’ That’s why I incorporate soul music into what I do."