SOUL BABY ASE MANUAL has been a mainstay in NJ and NYC dance music ambit for over a decade and would have “gone platinum” from club plays…if there was such a thing.
You will have likely heard his music dropped in many club atmospheres and Boiler Room sets around the world. SOUL BABY ASE MANUAL has been a mainstay in NJ and NYC dance music ambit for over a decade and would have “gone platinum” from club plays…if there was such a thing.
MANUAL, who has been making music and hosting parties since his teen years, released his debut full-length album Gems in 2016 on his label Like That Records. In the years that followed, he made a name of himself as one of the most eclectic producers of his generation with a huge assortment of revered club singles, albums and EP’s including Body Drop Remix EP (2017), Feel It EP (2018) and Black Panther RA of the same year- a remix rendition album of songs from the Black Panther film soundtrack. In 2019, came Touch Remix EP, “Cookies” and “Lumi”- which featured world-renowned classical violinist Stephanie Yu, while 2020 saw the release of Black Liquid Electronics, Fuji Club Music and Fuji 2 (Italo Disco) to name only a few. This year, he released more projects including Fuji 2 (Italo Disco) [instrumentals] and Fuji 3 (ROCKSTAR SUPERSTAR BAD) which dropped July 30th.
Prolific as he is consistent, SOUL BABY ASE MANUAL is known for his graceful production style which encompasses many spectrums of electronic dance music including Jersey club, house, jungle, techno, R&B, Hip Hop and more- with orchestral and vocal elements, that are his own, rarely ever sampled.
MANUAL talks of his life in music, from his younger years throwing parties in his mum’s basement to his current place in the world as he sees it. Read the conversation below: (All images shot by Taylor Healey @Prettiflaka)
You come from a place that's been hugely influential to dance music, New Jersey. So I'm curious to know, when you were growing up, did you go to raves and clubs? What was the music culture in Jersey like at that time?
My first experience, partying, I was throwing my own house parties in my crib. My mom worked late nights and I would pay my sister money to sit in her room. And we'd just get together and just throw parties in the house -in the basement- clean up before she got home in the morning and I'd go to school. And then after that I would have to sneak out, I had strict parents, so I had to sneak out a lot to go party. We'd rent out like little halls all over Jersey (I'm talking about Union County right now) and we would rent those type of halls out and tell them we wanted to do like a sweet 16, a Bar Mitzvah or something like that and be charging heads at the door type shit. Or somebody would rent out a pool hall and we’d just be going crazy. So Jersey was definitely, definitely just turnt everywhere.
Soul Baby Ase Manual
So from when you first started, you know, throwing parties to playing at events, to then making music- were you aware of the impact you’d be making with it all at the time?
I think as a kid, I don't know -I’ve always been like popular- so as a kid, I've always wanted to kind of do what I'm doing right now. I went to Nigeria for like four or five years so when I came back to high school, I didn't know nobody. I went to a new high school, I didn't know anyone. And I think by my sophomore year, I started making a few more friends and I started making music. But I was like locally popping in that regard, so I was already kind of popping off. I would go to, different towns and cities and people kind of knew who I was or whatever, I could sell my CDs or whatever. So I never really had time to be conscious of it, I'm just like always doing it, you know. I stopped doing music and took four years away and then came back and kind of came with a new expression as an artist. And after doing all of that and people telling me that what I've done has changed their outlooks on music or just decisions that I've made change; the way other people make decisions in their musical careers, that’s when I found out about that. I never was really conscious of it.
And when you started your own imprint Like That Records and you put out your first full length album, Gems on the label-was having your own imprint always something that was crucial to you? Has it always been the same team from the beginning?
So I started Like That with Marvelito, he's always been here and he's a founding member of Like That, we started together. To be honest, I'm not one of those people who expect anybody to give me anything. I don't expect anything from the institution, I've always been against the institution. I've always been punk in that type of way. I don't talk about it. I don't need to talk about it all day, I live that by example. I had this vision, I could see something, you know, and nobody actually really believed me. They would just be like, ‘yo get the fuck out of here’. A lot of people tried to trip me up, people talked shit on my name, a lot of people just did a lot of things opposed to liking my initial intentions of what I set out to create. But we maintained the integrity of it, you know? Just being able to shed light on the shit that we like and the artist that we like and the music that we like. Being able to really work in your moment and to catapult that and be like, yeah, everybody look this way! And people being like, oh, we respect you all, we trust you, we're going to look and take it in like, oh it is actually good. That was the whole intention behind it, because we knew nobody was really going to give us shit or we wasn't expecting anything from anybody. We just really from the very beginning, made sure our roots was strong ..that we are a music label,. we do have a company and we are in the business, and we're putting out some of the best music in the world. We're young and we're in the infant stages of this company thing, and this thing is a long thing, you know. So I've always had that foresight, as this what the fuck I'm doing, and I don't care about what the fuck ya’ll got going on!
Is there anything in particular that guides the tastes of the label?
Listen when I became a better artist was not when I became better at using Ableton! Like it never happened. There is really so many ways to describe it, but let's say if you think about religion- when you let your light shine, everybody can see it. And when you're letting your light shine and you're whole heartedly doing it, there's nothing else, no other thrill other than for the sole purpose of letting your light shine: then that's usually when we like knocking on your door, because that's what we like. It’s that something innate, a human thing. That's what I look for in artists, that's that thing that you feel you can touch it-
-Like its tangible?
-Talking of humanity-I feel like with a lot of your music, like in Black Liquid Electronics and Way of Earth Kid for example, you kind of make the club focused music feel emotional and innate like you were just saying. You have these orchestral and percussive elements along with vocals. I'm curious to know like where all this stems from- I know that's such a broad question when people ask you, like, oh, what’s your influences? - but yeah
I mean, as far as like arranging and understanding them, I listened to a lot of big bands and like James Brown, Nina Simone, Fela Kuti, Quincy Jones you know, just their lives and songwriting. But then also- I don't know if you've seen the movie Soul- it just came out - So like, you know, when he’s spinning with the sign and when he spins he’s in a whole different place…like a whole different world..and then he plays the piano…I think that is what I'm like when I'm making music. Like I said, it's not about being good at music, eventually we are all good at music. It's really if you allow yourself to just come out of your place. Sometimes when I hear my music and I hear it the same way like everybody else, I'm just like, what the fuck?? (*laughs) you know? I mean, it's not necessarily me. I don't look at it like yeaaah it was me, yeaaaah, I'm such a great “this”. I don't look at it like that. I look at it like I allowed myself to tell these things and I'm a vessel for it and I always just thank God and am being grateful to be in tune to it, you know. And I also am very big on my space to be able to do that because that's the that's my most important reason for breathing. So everything else is second to that, that is my calling into life and this whole thing, you know.
You mentioned you had some space when you had a break from music for four years- but now your workflow seems stronger than ever, you've had like over ten or so releases in the past year alone-
Over the past 3,4, 5 years my work has never stopped.
So keeping up this momentum, how do you do it? Do you ever get mental blocks or you just keep going?
I don't believe it. I don't go into blocks like I don't know what that is. I write shit music, too. I don't only write good songs like I write bad songs too. And I'm not ashamed of that. The ones you might hear are good, but every song I make is not so flawless. I might have one great moment, but it's not the whole encompassing thing that's all so …awesome. I'm not tied to anything like I'm just a guy, Right? So like I don't need to pretend to be this “thing” or “anything”, even though I'm fly I don’t need to pretend to be anything more than I am to appease anything or fake it to make it. Like I said, I've always been popping. So I don't have those loud pressures. I also don't snort coke, or do a lot of things that kind of derail you from your actual self. I don’t run into pigeonholes too much with that. I might smoke a little weed, I might drink a little bit, I might take some psychedelics. But I never I have hit a pigeonhole where something else is derailing in my creativity.
On some of your projects like the Jazmine EP, it kind of feels like a narrative where your vocals are almost like storytelling- it's just really interesting how your music can combine so many things-
Yeah, some people are like, damn, you shouldn't do this! Because I was making music, especially electronic music where I’ll just make an instrumental song and talk on it like a rapper and people would be like what's wrong with this dude? Go do that. We don't do that like this!
It's kind of weird that people in music have these like, social codes of what you should be doing-
It’s a societal thing, this art thing, it’s bigger than us, bigger than what we can actually see and this business thing is way bigger than we can actually see and the hierarchies are way deeper than people can see. It's not like you just go into a room and you get this record contract and this money, the money that you even get to play with when you even in those rooms is part of a societal thing. And I think people are just no longer tapped into that. Fashion and music and art, education and all these different things. They play a thing in us as a society of life. Then there's real aristocrats and families and bloodlines…and when you don't come from that, but you are up there with those high levels of creation -when all of that interplays- you realize that, you know, these people are control and there's nothing you can control. With that is just freedom. Once you realize that -I think there's so much freedom- in realizing that nobody can really control you and navigating it can make it fun.
Do your tastes and ideas change much when creating and how do you feel about the process of it all?
I think I tricked ya’ll! I think I'm like a contained artist and I just very much a very good job of containing myself and like being very contained within what is I'm doing. I think my life, my possibilities are endless. I'm very abundant in my approach in music, and on artists, like some people might have thought I’m a producer or just making beats. Some people still think that a lot of my work is sampled where a lot of my work is not sampled. I'm like some second age fucking best dream because all my shit is not sampled. You could just throw it up there and own the copyright. I heard Pharrell say this term: a contained artist and I was like, wow, that's a perfect way to describe how I feel and towards anything as far as music. I approach each project as its own thing. Also, a lot of it is out of survival. I'm not a rich kid from rich families, I don't have have all the money in the world. A lot of the art creation is like part of my survival. I'm not one those people who have worked a steady job, I quit my job like three years ago, four years ago and I've been doing music. Sometimes I had a lot of money in my account and sometimes I damn near had zero dollars in my account! Damn embarrassing, you know. I’m really living that life and not trying to pretend about it.
True, your possibilities are endless. Even when we thought the world was ending in a pandemic the music and art still pushes through- I wonder what life will be like now for music events-
I don't know what's going to happen, I'm going to take a guess. I like to speculate and say if things just to go back to, like the same route that they was on before, when everyone is vaccinated, and shit like that so we can continue to be around each other. Or shits going back to the underground, we party in the basements houses and different illegal spaces, almost like a cultural reset. But yeah, I necessarily don't know what's going to happen, but I feel like I know something has to happen. That's one thing I do know, like something's got to give. So we'll see what happens.
Yeah and people are always going to need to dance-OK, imagine you could put on like a big event, a warehouse rave or festival or house party with any artists on the line-up, dead or alive, who are you booking?
Hmm..so they'll be Marv, me, Nick, Dj Lita, hellotones to DJ. To open, we’ll go with CupcakKe and then we just go super left field like Nina Simone. Then we have Prince, we have Rick James, then we could go like Patti LaBelle and Chuck Brown ooooo Chuck Brown! Did I say James Brown, yet? Fela Kuti for sure, and then to close the night, Bob Marley, close with Bob Marley because then everyone will go home crying and hugging. We'd go crazy like that-I think that's what our generations would yearn to see.
What’s something you would tell your younger self?
Something I would tell my younger self...i’m trying to think.. Oh, yea… being more connected, everything is not so fleeting, you can trust things and be more connected to the people around you. To be honest I look at my younger self and like, I was really perfect. (*laughs) I wouldn’t change anything but, I guess be a little bit more in depth with my connections would have been cooler like for me if I could. I don't have any regrets, though and my decision making in in my young mind state was just the mode I was on! But if I were to super jump start life…just be a bit deeper with connections, I guess, and have value within that. I think back to that time when I was super young and like on that super human shit. I was just this skinny fucking kid, fresh face, just outside. You don’t think you could ever die. You don't think nothing could be taken away from you. You feel immortal. You're doing whatever you want. I now have a deep sense of value for my friends and I appreciate that now, I value the people around me way more than I've ever valued anyone.
What's your what's your star sign by the way, your Zodiac?
(All images shot by Taylor Healey @Prettiflaka)
Listen and Buy Ase's latest release Fuji 3 - Rockstar Superstar Bad Bitch here: