Patricia Johnson

Music News, Reviews, and Interviews

DJ Set of the Week: Interview: Voices of Black

Voices of Black are Jules and Baba, two friends who met as high school students in Teaneck, New Jersey. The pair bonded over a shared eclectic taste in music and joined forces to create their own sounds. The multifaceted Voices of Black style draws from hip hop, house, soul, and funk, enriched with their own vocals and original lyrics.

Though they do not fit squarely into the dance music box, the duo found a home at respected house label Wolf & Lamb. Nico Jaar forged the connection after befriending Baba while they both studied at Brown University. As the story goes, Jules and Baba bailed on a couple of girls in Soho in favor of hanging out with Nico and his pals in Brooklyn. These pals included Zev and Gadi of Wolf & Lamb, who were impressed enough with their performance that evening to offer a full-length album — 2010’s Plastic Dolls. Since then, Voices of Black have continued to establish their talent with several EPs and a slew of high profile fashion ad soundtracks.

This week’s DJ Set of the Week is Voices of Black’s podcast for notsosilent. Featuring classic samples plus their own original material, the mix is a intriguing glimpse into the beats and melodies that serve as inspiration (largely alluding to hip hop, their first love). Recommended listening: past your bedtime in a dark, hazy room with your best set of headphones. Where they really shine, though, is in their live show — their talent and musicianship radiates between multiple instruments and live vocals on original tracks. Catch their show this Tuesday night at Wonderbar.

Jules was kind enough to answer my questions about the story behind Voices of Black, his musical influences, and his thoughts on hip hop, below.

How did you guys meet, and what made you start making music together?
We met back in high school. At the time I was rapping at recess and handing out mixtapes. Baba approached me with beat CDs like MF Doom, Dilla, and some of his stuff. We vibed off the bat. After a few months of that we realized that we liked such a wide variety of music other than hip hop that making “rap” music wasn’t really gonna cut it when it came to expressing ourselves fully. As a result, VOB formed.

How do you work as a duo? Are you usually on the same page in your creative direction or do you butt heads occasionally?
It all depends. Sometimes we send files, other times we get in and just jam for a long time and pick out pieces. Baba got a rehearsal space/studio and redesigned the interior so now we can approach song making in any way that we want together.

How would you describe your sound?
Progressive electronic funk? At this point whatever people’s response means more than the title or genre they give it.

Describe your musical journey — what kind of music influenced you growing up, and how did you wind up in the electronic music realm?
Growing up both my parents exposed me to a wide range of music. My father was a soul/motown era expert and also put me on to P-Funk, and ‘80s funk like Kashif and stuff like that. My mom always had us listening to different forms of Native American music, and worldly music in general. She also listens to what is current in pop. It was a very eclectic range of sounds coming at my ears all the time.

How do you think you were influenced by the community you grew up in?
Growing up in Teaneck, New Jersey definately has influenced me a lot. The diversity and history of where I’m from has def been inspirational. I think it instilled a certain amount of openness from the start. The willingness to accept and not reject things and appreciate being around different types of people and music.

You guys are one of a number of artists at the cross between hip hop and electronic music (Flying Lotus is one of the first to come to mind). In your opinion, how do you think the two genres compliment each other?
Both are influenced by one another and in some ways stem from the same roots. I think it’s cool that more electronic acts are doing shows with rappers because it’s making both worlds more creative.

What are your thoughts on the hip hop landscape right now?
I think that hip hop has its share of artists that are really pushing boundaries. Artists like Kendrick Lamar, Absence, Young Fathers, Ratking, etc. are taking a different approach. At the same time however I sort of feel like some of them aren’t even really rappers. The lyrical delivery may be in a more rap-like format but I just think its closer to the roots of rap so people call it hip hop. I think a whole new wave is emerging, just nobody has a name for it yet.

What artists would you like to collaborate with in the future?
My sister put me on to Jessy Lanza. Love her music. We are doing a lot of collaboration within our own camp (7:30 Alliance) as of now. 2014 a lot of heat is coming out.

What can we expect from your Boston show on Tuesday?
Lots of good energy and a good range of sound. The last two shows we did in Boston over the last two years the energy was great, so we look forward to this a lot!!!

What are your plans for this year?
Positive Energy/ Good Music/ Love.


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