What exists unrestrained by space nor time and is never completely removed from the atmosphere?
So Soulful recycles classic works like Charles Schwartz’s Peanuts comic strip from 1950, the 1994 Mary J. Blige song “My Life,” and Common’s 2005 album, Be.
Like soul, classic works defy time. They withstand the atrophy and regression that can come with time; the work strikes senses just as well on the millionth experience as the first. When time runs its obligatory course, then we can think about seriously affixing the label of classic. So Soulful came filled with a few core elements that make it worthy of classic expectations.
King Elway’s So Soulful comes fully furnished with production by Black Metaphor, a producer most renowned for tracks like Rick Ross’ “Idols Become Rivals” and “Ali Bomaye” by The Game, 2Chainz and Rick Ross.
Creator of a riveting homage to the immortalized Muhammad Ali (i.e., “Ali Bomaye“), Black Metaphor empowers King Elway to channel a champion’s sound (one without J. Dilla and Madlib) on King Elway’s full-length foray.
Opening up So Soulful, on the “The Way That It Goes,” King Elway shows himself stately. Coming backed with vocal sample pitch levels that sound akin to a royal court’s trumpets, it elicits a feeling of permanence. The album comes bejeweled with knowledge gems and gilded with the luster of applied wisdom.
King Elway advises that yesterday’s performance will paint tomorrow’s reality–the song title explaining why:
“Your time is coming guess the proper term is. You reap what you sew/Karma’s a b****/Now pay what you owe/Or murder she wrote.”
He shares that bad energies are here to stay and advises learning to accept and leverage them for your own good:
“You’d be surprised by who hatin’ the most/That just the way that it go/Be in your face and steady hatin’ on the low/But you can’t blame ‘em, they just playing their role/That just the way that it go.”
Flexing his entrepreneurial and enterprising prowess, King Elway affirms he deserves commemoration. And, if not receive it, he’ll actually be it.
“No plans, I had to wing it/Off the glass to show the English/Got a restaurant called Wing It/Catch a blessing, boy we eatin’/And as long as God got me, I can never be defeated/Told them folks I’m here to stay, I’m writing my name up in the cement.”
On “Free Promo,” Elway advises transforming negative energies into a foundation for positive ones. Black Metaphor spices the album’s first single and Player’s Club anthem with keys that flutter reminiscent of a harp. It advocates using envy as a sustainable energy source and parlaying it into to no-cost marketing for your own interests. And about envy and directing energy, it doesn’t take a binge watcher of HBO’s The Wire to know “if you come for the king, you best not miss.” Because Elway won’t.
There are some more regal feels on “Everyday’s A Blessing” too. But, it’s from the very beginning that King Elway takes a dignified stance and establishes his royal highness.
Tracks like “Everyday’s A Blessing,” “Beautiful Day,” and “Faithful” dress So Soulful in pro-life paraphernalia. Good vibes abound. “Beautiful Day” is equipped with jazzy flutes that add their own special strain of euphonia.
The song “Faithful” samples, and at some points nearly covers, rapper Common’s original version of the same name from his 2005 album, Be.
King Elway shares his edition with a composed, soul-bearing testimonial. It sews gratitude on a tour down memory lane. Similar sagas are found on the album bonus “Do Not Disturb.” The culminating solo on “Faithful,” by singer Lamar, is an honorable replica of the Be original that was originally performed by Bilal and John Legend.
Pro-light, So Soulful features two homages to Mary Jane. Just before mid-album, King Elway joins a smoke session with rappers, and K.R.E.A.M. Team associates, G. Selph and Shem Baker.
“Some Sum,” as Elway announces, sounds inspired that of late rapper Pimp C, and samples Mary J. Blige’s “My Life.” Effectively, So Soulful stays true to the realness of life while sparking optimism along its pangs and gains.
G Selph adds an apropos effervescent, husky sound.
The Mary J. Blige classic itself samples an oft bud-associated “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” by Roy Ayers. Deep in the billows of nostalgia, those with underground botany sensibilities get a pull from the 1995 Dr. Dre record “My Life (Smokin Weed For Hours).” It too has the Ayers opus throughout it.
Hitching “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” as the bedrock of King Elway’s “Smoke Sum” makes a love kite to marijuana as funky as the love interest. Intentional or not, the association to a time-transcendent stoner song carves soulfulness into a major arm of the album.
King Elway leads the “Some Sum” lineup and, mirroring the lip posture of a typical smoker, lands almost every bar’s end-rhyme with a stressed “o” sound (“Yeah this one for the rollers/You wouldn’t understand this if you sober/Them Miami girls get low/But the Atlanta girls get lower”).
Shem Baker cleans up the track impressively and decrees his manifesto for the voyage of everyday life: “Since I can’t relax in this real world, I make my own and it’s peaceful/Where you can smoke as long as it’s legal/And you can smoke as long as it’s cheaper/Mary Jane always a getaway, gettin’ so high I see heaven’s gate/When the weight of the world is too heavy to bear, this is my great escape.”
“Smoke Sum” is undeniably a preferred choice.
On “Up and Away,” G. Selph kicks things off by ushering in an unrelenting King Elway and his tenacious monorhyme.
G Selph’s love verse about marijuana ends with a braggadocios strut that’s sustained throughout the remainder of the song. “When life takes a toll, let the music take control,” Elway follows the “Up and Away” chorus with a verse that picks up its tempo relative to other album takes.
Together, King Elway and G. Selph bring So Soulful a special robustness. With succeeding verses and a tag teaming of the chorus, the two convince us “Something’s Going On” is more than them just occupying space and existing. They’re moving–surging together.
G. Selph demonstrates himself analytically adept: “Life is a chess game that I don’t even stress mane/G dot Selph reporting live from the left brain.”
And King Elway affirms the mission on his debut: “Look, and Ima spit my soul on Black Metaphors/And keep ’em on their toes, make sure they’re never bored.”
“Something’s Going On” sounds like the will to shine despite ominous clouds. Attesting to grittiness amidst the turbulence of life, King Elway can commiserate with the long-suffering:
“This how it feel when everything on you/Tryna weather the storm at mid-sea, them waters ain’t so smooth/And hardship–man it aint no cruise/I can’t speak on what I ain’t go through.”
Transitioning to the album title track “So Soulful,” a sampled “Come With Me,” originally by Marvin Gaye, makes apparent the album’s intended sound, feel (and audience). The reception is scientific. King Elway’s ballad and Marvin’s iconic croon harmonically activate the hippocampus and jolt the limbic system while the spirit of Motown helps spin Georgia red clay. On “So Soulful,” King Elway memorializes loved and lost ones: “Every time I let my soul speak over dope beats lowkey it was for those who came before me/Paying homage to the OGs and the Doe-B’s/That’s young n****s falling victim to the cold streets.”
There are more commemorative nods, one to King Elway’s dad, closing out “Faithful” five tracks later. Elway credits his late father in addition to his comrades who helped complete the So Soulful project.
The depth to which King Elway pays respect to his cherished inner circle appears steep on “Runners” as the down-tempo percussion and violins dim the album’s light in ceremonious deference. Singer Lamar decorates the track with harmonic support (ebbing and flowing into shared chorus duties). He’s also on “Faithful” as a King Elway honorable mention. “Runners” proves poignant and its chorus makes it perfect background music for the rolled-up-sleeved worker not exempt from the herd’s bad vibes: “And we be working all winter to shine all summer/And n****s praying on your downfall ‘fo ya come-up.”
Again honoring family and friends, King Elway reflects:
“Lowkey, we the runners/It ain’t lowkey, we just humble/And it’s death before dishonor. Rest in peace to Head Honcho/We gon’ do it big all summer. Do it big in your honor/I told ’em ‘miss this if yall wanna, we kickin’ big s*** for our partner/And it’s good vibes, no drama/Why the good gotta die younger?/I sit back and I wonder/Why the real n****s outnumbered?”
He issues a brief, in-kind salute near the middle of “Everyday’s A Blessing.”
Venerating the vets and and far from egocentric, King Elway is a class act.
King Elway voices a pouring out as unique as one’s actual soul. Soul is eternal and when something is eternal it justifies its own existence. Soul is classic. So Soulful reused relics of an earlier time in American entertainment that currently gives listeners proper reference to what a classic is really like.
With perhaps the vocal strut of Atlanta’s T.I. and mild hints of the rasp of Memphis, Tennessee rapper Don Trip, King Elway gets his point across effectively. He’s on a warpath to greatness while never forgetting that which resided in trailblazers before him. Still, it’s hard to get a read on what exact rapper he favors.
Around mid-song on “Faithful,” King Elway explicitly declares love for his family and the reason why his debut album is titled So Soulful. He’s filling a void and occupying a time and space without sufficient realness, depth and, of course, soul.
The So Soulful album art, redolent of Charles Schwartz’ Peanuts comic strip, depicts the K.R.E.A.M. Team gang as almost forever young. There’s an everlasting joy on stage–lights, cameras and instruments.
No matter how you angle it, turn the So Soulful prism, through production, verse, or all of the above, and you’re bound to experience a micro-spiritual rapture even if it sits with you just momentarily. Be it the album’s classic samples, live and directness, or southern bred optimism, So Soulful bears the fruit of two seeds–the pain-pleasure synthesis that derives from hard work and the determination to last forever.
Take a listen below.