If and Only If is the latest project by soso and Maki. For their first album in seven years, Maki has crafted a delicate and evolving backdrop for the contemplative lyrics that established soso’s reputation as one of the most unique voices in alternative hip hop. Drawing from noise, drone and other forms of electronic music, Maki sets the tone for an album imbued with the pressing political issues and social tensions that have characterized the past five years.
soso: We’ve been working together in one way or another for almost 20 years. It’s kind of hard to believe it’s been that long. I’ve really enjoyed following your career and observing how your sound has developed since those early days of making beats.
Maki: It’s a bit strange to think that we’ve been at it for two decades. Through all the iterations of rap. Still here.
soso: For me, it’s definitely been a slow progression. On every record I’ve tried to build on my previous efforts, either exploring new subject matter or approaches to song writing. This new one includes a few songs that draw from methods I’ve used in my art practice. I’ve lifted bits of text and short phrases from existing books and poetry and reconfigured these to create new compositions. It’s not unlike sampling, I suppose, where I am working with existing material to create something new. I think it places the album in a historical context and points to the complexity and complicity of my life on the prairies. Writing can be a painstaking process for me and this was also a way to open things up a bit. I know you’ve also been experimenting with new sounds and methods of making music and it felt like we had some good alignment or something.
Maki: I’ve been pushing further into experimental territory with rap production over the last 5-6 records. I’ve been trying to disassociate myself with the formulaic methodology of rap production for a long time now. I think it’s obvious we were always playing on the fringes of rap/hip-hop since the outset of being brought into the fold at Clothes Horse. There are some really interesting topics of conversation around being a White kid in the late 80s/early 90s listening to Public Enemy, being so taken by the powerful sounds coming out of this heavy wave of Black culture that we felt compelled to participate. With all the events of the last few years, there are some conflicting feelings there.
Anyway, back to the new project. Around the third record with Kay (Kay the Aquanaut, Earth Station 7) I became really interested with the idea of deconstructing rap production down to the base elements. I stripped out rap mainstay sounds entirely—hi hats, sometimes there is no snare, sometimes nothing but a tom drum—or replaced traditional snare sounds with things that sounded like organic stuff such as waves crashing.
soso: I love that album. It really inspired me to get writing again. At that time, I was also listening to more drone and artsy noise stuff and was interested in experimenting with that. You sent me some early stuff that was more in that vein.
Maki: When I did my noise/drone record (Illustrations of Botany), a lot of the draft stuff that didn’t make it into that record became the base elements of our new album. I remember your apprehension on releasing a project without drums. I think it could have worked beautifully as a soundscape project, but I’m really happy with the percussive pieces that arrived on the new record. Around this time, I also became really interested in the history of Detroit house music, the parallels with early rap, and the gear used at the time. Some of the songs on this new record contain elements from some of my early attempts at making house. They interchange quite easily due to the BPMs being roughly double of the slower pacing we usually work at.
soso: Apologies if this sounds like a bit of a cliche, but I feel like our new album has a cinematic quality to it.
Maki: Indeed. It feels a bit like a movie. If there’s a parallel to filmmaking, the approach to this record may have been that of a French New Wave director. I want badly to get into scoring/soundtracks/video game stuff but it’s not easy making connections living in a smaller town. I’ll probably always make rap stuff because it’s what I know best, and I still get some satisfaction from pushing things within that genre. Exploring different genres has kept things engaging and recharged my batteries. I may try my hand at a few things outside of rap this year.
soso: I appreciate your openness to collaborating and the way you keep motivated to push yourself and refine your craft. Sometimes I am unable to find that motivation to write music. When the future seems bleak, the urge to withdraw or indulge in other distractions can be difficult for me to resist.
Maki: Motivation when making music can be tricky. When you’re ready to start the next one, I’ll be here.
If and Only If is out now on limited edition vinyl through Canadian label Endemik Music in partnership with Mism Records (Switzerland) and Audio Recon (USA) and on cassette through Hello L.A. (France).