I’m apprehensive when a group is presented as “spanning or transcending genres.” To me that reads, “lacking a focused sound with disjointed offerings.” The unfortunate thing is, my cynicism is often proved correct. So when I started researching Solillaquists of Sound (S.O.S.) and that type of “transcending genres” terminology was persistently used, my hopes were dampened. At their very core, they are a hip-hop group … a really good hip-hop group. You’ll read about them as being a band that references funk, soul, rock, jazz, dance, electronic, bluegrass, contemporary Latin, polka … OK, I threw in the last three, but you get my point.
It’s a disservice to categorize S.O.S. as anything but an inventive and deliberate hip-hop group that values varied instrumentation and influence. It’s also a disservice to hip-hop as a genre, but that’s neither here nor there. As far as comparisons, they’re like a more raucous version of The Roots. It’s fun, it’s expansive, and it’s substantive with a range of impressive instrumentation.
S.O.S. formed in 2002 in Orlando when Asaan Brooks (Swamburger) and Glen Valencia Jr. (DiViNCi) met and began recording. They brought in poet Tonya Combs, and Alexandrah Sarton, with whom Swamburger had previously collaborated in Chicago. Their first effort, 4 Student Counsol, was released on Nonsense Records, an Orlando-based label. They were able to attract the attention of Sage Francis, who called them after listening to their demo. This resulted in the quartet touring with him as both his opening act and back-up band. They were then signed to ANTI-/Epitaph. While on that label, the group released the first two parts of what they call their “listeners trilogy.” As If We Existed was released in 2006, followed by No More Heroes in 2009. Both albums are enjoyable journeys and harken back more to the commonly cited Fugees influence, but are far more edgy and experimental. Though S.O.S. has never abated the social commentary that’s become the hallmark of their lyrics and a cornerstone of their energy, the messages on these two albums are more overt than the last installment of their trilogy, The 4th Wall, Part 1 and Part 2. Perhaps they’ve just gotten that much better at artfully weaving the message in crafting these songs, allowing a user to deconstruct and decipher a little more for themselves … the art being the vessel, not the other way around.
The 4th Wall, Part 1 and Part 2 is a double album that was released independently in 2014. It’s definitely the group’s magnum opus — not just in size, but for its exploration, its abundance of sound and melding of innovation and influence. The entire trilogy is quality and worth exploring, but you can definitely hear growth in each new offering culminating in what is their best work. “This Is Your Day,” the second track on Part 1, shows them really making good on my Roots comparison. It’s a powerful blend of traditional hip-hop and distortion-fueled rock elements that create an anthemic track. “Here I Am,” from Part 2, features the extremely talented Blueprint (from Columbus, Ohio, founder of Weightless Recordings and one-half of Soul Position with RJD2). They’re able to give his cerebral, indie hip-hop chops a Southern-fueled foundation that results in my favorite song on the album.
Their album artwork, website, and videos utilize a comic book-style aesthetic, an interesting way to underscore the group members’ divergent physical characteristics. Or perhaps it’s a touch of the hero complex which social change-style musicians sometimes see themselves. Or maybe they’re simply comic book nerds. It just makes you like them that much more.