Though Soul Khan did a near-perfect (and accidental) paraphrasing Jay Z‘s “Izzo” intro as he addressed Webster Hall’s basement crowd, that’s about where the similarities between the mogul and the mortal end. When Hov noted that his audience had infinite options besides him, the seemingly-humble words came through his mic cord already doused in flammable panache and self-congratulations. Soul Khan‘s realization and thanks-giving, however, sprang from a much more genuine realization. “You could really be doing anything else,” he insisted, stopping just short of telling the audience they had better things to do. Instead, he opted to soak up the support.
In other words, Soul Khan is a kind of an everyman. He has a sense of perspective. He’s a humble dude. That’s not to say his set lacked confidence, or even ego at times, though. Among the best moments of the night were Khan‘s ferocious runs of “6:30 AM” and “Hold On,” (the opening tracks of Soul Like Khan and Pursuance respectively). Though quite a bit of Khan‘s music is focused on exposing and eradicating the ills of the world, it’s (especially) dope to hear a smart and selfless guy just go off. Soul was especially invigorating when it became time to talk his shit.
Another peak moment for the show was when Khan treated the crowd to a glimpse of what’s to come–a brand new, completely unheard track. The production was theatric, the rhymes were grandiose, the aura was bigger and more polished–it was the best possible incarnation of what Soul Khan can achieve on a record. This new material had all the humility and human connection of a man who can laugh at himself combined with all the righteous fire of a man who’s lost his appetite for laughter.
The second the intense records cut off, though, it was always right back to Khan‘s mix of self-deprecation, rambling, and still-funny dad humor. The funniest moment? Khan spending a solid minute or so recounting a debate he overheard between two friends over who had the “smoov skill,” which Khan insisted be spelled with a “v”. The comfortably uncomfortable MC had the crowd in consistent fits of laughter, proving himself as an all-around entertainer in addition to being a politically-minded rap nerd’s dream.
Another welcome surprise in the all-around entertainment category: even though he brought frequent collaborator Akie Bermiss along to handle most of the singing duties, Soul tackled the prayer-like hook to “Van Gelder” by himself, his vulnerable hum proving impressive live. Khan also made the wise move of turning the hook into a “clap along” experience, adding to the religious magnetism. His increased (and still increasing) comfort on stage doesn’t only show in his ability to utilize ferocity and tenderness, but also in his physical showmanship. Khan‘s been known to cling to his water bottle for a performance’s entirety, but he notably cut down on that this time around. His motions on stage are still a little stilted, and though he doesn’t have all the smoov skill in the world, it doesn’t take too much away from his set. At the end of the day, it’s about if the content is there, and it damn sure was.
Aside from the jokes and boasts, at the heart of Soul Khan‘s art is thoughtful social commentary. It was inspiring to see how much Khan cared about the inclusion of “Not Like That,”–his dissection and execution of sexism–in the setlist (they almost forgot!). The song is a master class taking down a societal ill with humor and precision, and to know that he still holds it dear in spite of his admittance (in our interview with him) that the song is perhaps too preachy and direct is a beautiful thing. It didn’t hurt that Akie was there to sing the crazy smooth hook and the sections of the song where, in an inspired move, he croons Khan‘s lines as he raps them, adding a whole lot of texture. As a final outlet of passion, Soul ended the night by thanking the crowd for attending and letting loose a dizzying, athletic acapella. It was raw. The whole performance was raw–grizzly, soulful, unprocessed, (somewhat) unpolished, unapologetic–word to Push–and real. A real human being who happens to know how to work a mic.
Make sure to catch Soul in concert whenever you can. Also, check out our interview with him (below), his latest track, as well as Khan‘s video for “Morning Alone,” (also below) which we premiered here on RESPECT.
Interview: Soul Khan The Wise Part 1
Soul Khan (Feat. Nicholas Ryan Gant) – “Morning Alone”