Musiq Soulchild (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)
The artist formerly known as Musiq Soulchild is now an Atlanta-based rapsinger who refers to his former self in the third person.
I know. I’m annoyed already, too.
Mr. 143 is no more (for now?). The artist formerly known as Taalib Johnson and Musiq Soulchild is now to be known as….
…wait for it…
The Husel. As in, “The Hustle.” In complete and total straight-faced seriousness.
Yes, my head hurts, too.
He’s starting over. That means approaching this persona like that of a brand new artist and working to completely separate his current self from his old, wedding-song-making self. This man’s dedication to differentiation is so strong that the hit-making brand he spent almost fifteen years building has been reduced to “the other guy.” He now rarely utters the name “Musiq Soulchild,” eschewing comparisons and mentions of his past. “This is something new,” he says often these days.
How serious is he about this departure? He told Gossip Viv, Hynaken, and DJ Thoro of Thisis50 Radio to expect a lot of autotune. And that T-Pain is his peer now. This is like when my Jovial Uncle met crack and lost it all. Where’s a praying grandmother when you need one?
While watching The Husel explain this transformation in interviews, I chuckled seeing him spin the tale of how this “side gig” (his words) came to be. His new incarnation is dedicated to the grind, the hustle. The Husel was born in response to what he feels is a valley in the popularity of his style of R&B. So don’t expect any classic sexy time tunes this go-round.
It appears Musiq saw that a formulaic bass-heavy club- and/or bedroom-centric jammy jam a day keeps the bill collectors at bay. This is a man who’s realized that catchy, trend-adhering bops outsell sappy love professions among the music-buying post-Teen Summit demographic in the 2000 and the 14. He’s simply following the paper.
Speaking occasionally in vague Jaden Smithisms, he alludes to his label’s disappointment with what they considered underperforming releases. Add a dash of Atlanta to the mix, and the benevolent Burger King of Hip Hop is born. Armed with an ever-present black leather BK Kids crown and his newfound handy-dandy satchel of marketable mediocrity The Husel is here to “give people quality content, in however many ways that [he] can actually pull off.”
Translation: “Whether I sell a record or not, bills gon’ bill, and my grownfolkbootyrubjoints aren’t bringing in what they once did, so here we are. #ItsAllAboutTheBenjamins”
And that’s totally fine.
So it’s out with the black soap and the anthems for making sweet love down by the fire and in with the turn up jams for Generation VIP-Aspirant. Look, I’m all for artists evolving and heel-toeing down the road to get dem dollaz, but, I would be lying if I said seeing a great artist go full Trey Songz doesn’t hurt my heart.
Musiq’s catalog is damn strong. His first two albums still get regular play around these parts. His songwriting and feel-good grooves made his music timeless. Now, his classic love songs are on ice, at least while he plays Robin to T-Pain’s Batman. Seeing him go from “dontchange” and “Betterman” to “Grindin’” and itching to join hip-hop’s League of Extraordinarily Disappointing Gentleman is a great deal to take in, and, dammit, I may need a minute to adjust.
On his accrued fanbase as “that other guy”:
Hynaken: “How do you think your core— ”
The Husel: “That’s the thing,” The Husel interjects. “I don’t think about that. ‘Cause that’s not my core audience. That’s homeboy’s.” Alright, fine.
To recap: His label wasn’t getting jiggy with his musical offerings. As The Atlanta flows through his veins like Miley through BlacknessMart’s clearance section, he goes from Donny Hathaway-lite to getting his Iyanla on over a Mike Will Made It-adjacent beat spouting the same generic corner boy optimism that powered Ciara’s fake deep hood wisdom interludes on The Evolution.
The three tracks on The Husel’s soundcloud page could be by anyone. Imagine a Southern rapper starter kit, stocked with uninspiration, black shades for wearing indoors, and a few by-the-numbers rappity rap reference tracks for the “They sleep, we grind” crowd. That is his project thus far.
Do you remember that time when Jermaine invited Khia to Janet’s Poor Idea Parade? I wanted to swoop her in a loving embrace and remind her that she’s better than “So Excited.” That she doesn’t have to do things like this with these kinds of people. I want someone to do the same for this Husel person. Tell him that he’s better than this personality-free drivel he’s slinging. It doesn’t have to be this way. Pick him up from the studio and tell him, “Just hold on, we’re going home,” or something.
I reckon the best way for me to cope is to do what I did as I watched Uncle Usher chase Dancing Dandelion through the land of ElectroTrash Relevance: look away until it’s over. Thankfully, I’ll always have memories of the good ol’ days to sustain me in this trying time.
Let’s hope this is all one big misunderstanding.