Though young in years, siblings Joshua, Je’kob, and Rachael Washington collectively known as Souljahz, have a dedication to their craft and mission that is rarely seen among their peers. Inspired by the genius of fellow performers like Michael Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Kirk Franklin, and Tonex early on, the Washingtons chose music as their life's passion, and quickly built a solid following and loyal fanbase in their San Diego hometown. They were soon wowing crowds both stateside and abroad with their thought-provoking lyrics, energetic melodies, and undeniable stage presence. Committed to their ability to witness through their music, the group has worked hard to record a collection of songs that touch the listener's heart, shake his/her soul, and often inspire him or her into action, which was a goal of the trio from the time they first started following their dream.
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"We want to cross some boundaries with our music," explains Je'kob, "and with our shows, and to do something new that hasn't been done before." "And to give the world an alternative to what's already out there right now - something that's up to par with any music out there that's every bit as good as what Jay-Z would perform, or anyone else," adds Rachael.
The three young artists had several paths they could choose early on growing up around the San Diego area. Joshua and Je'kob, both gifted athletes, had their pick of basketball scholarships at reputable colleges, while Rachael was a dancer who had claimed the National Tap Dance Championship six years in a row. All three chose to pursue their love of music over those other interests, and when their father sensed their commitment and dedication, he quickly sold his business and jumped on board to help. A chance meeting at church with a German student who was also pursuing music opened some doors for the trio, who were soon on a plane overseas and recording demos in his studio. Within a week of returning to the States with the new music, SoulJahz was approached with label interest. They began seriously pursuing their career at this point, under the guidance and support of their dad, and were soon making appearances at major music conferences, booking their own shows, and wowing audiences nationwide with their stellar stage presence and call-and-answer crowd-pleasers. MTV selected them to appear on the network's pilot for "It's Your Show," and ASCAP quickly included them on its 2000 "The Ear" compilation, along with Sixpence None The Richer, Willie Mack, and Jeni Fujita. And even Microsoft became an early disciple, selecting two songs by SoulJahz for its "Project Gotham Racing" CD, which accompanied the rollout of its heralded Xbox game console.
Though label interest in the group was high, it was imperative for Joshua, Rachael, and Je'kob to land with a label who would help them pursue their interest in reaching broader audiences with their messages. "We wanted to sing to Christians, but also have that other leg to stand on and encourage non-Christians, too.' says Joshua. "We were a little worried about getting into a situation with a mainstream pop label that might not care at all about Christianity and totally pitch us secular, and we were trying to find that middle ground where we could work in both worlds. A label that spends just as much time trying to promote us to MTV as they do trying to bring back the church - a positive Christian collaboration thing. And that's when we met someone with Squint."
After signing with Squint, Joshua, Rachael, and Je'kob went about recording and producing their debut album, with the help of fellow artist Tonex, who they currently share studio space with in California. The artist has been a huge influence on the trio in many ways, and they feel privileged to have worked with him on their entree into the business.
"We first met him at some shows we did together, and when we heard he was looking for an office space we knew it would be a good fit, cause we do the same type of music. He's one of the hardest-working, best performers in gospel - his show is unbelievable, and he's an inspiration to us as far as breaking the rules and crossing musical boundaries," says Joshua.
Crossing boundaries is extremely important to SoulJahz, both in their live performance and the songs they record, as evidenced by the depth of subject material on their debut. Their songs, all of which they wrote or co-wrote, deal with subject matter ranging from poverty and child abuse to abstinence and discrimination. Addressing life's tougher problems truthfully in their music with a measure of help and hope has always been paramount to the group, who definitely don't shy away from the raw topics.
"There is no way as an artist," explains Je'kob, "that I can sing somebody else's words. I want to say it from the heart, what we're feeling, with our music."
Songs like "The Color Hate" definitely convey the strong feelings the three have about discrimination, and serves as a tribute of sorts to the friends who have experienced that treatment firsthand. "That's an important song to us, because we've had friends who have been discriminated against because of the color of their skin, and it addresses that. This spoken word artist, VJ, wrote a speech he performs at the beginning of this one that is just unbelievable, too."
"Beneath The Surface" addresses the horror of child abuse, and offers hope through a heavenly Father who will always be there even when earthly parents tend to fall and fail. "One of my friends went through that," explains Je'kob, "and she just inspired me so much because she was so strong through it, she remained like this little angel. So to any kids going through that, this song serves as a message to them that there is a Father out there who loves them and will show them a real Father's love."
SoulJahz tackles another controversial yet pertinent subject among their peers on "True Love Waits," a tune that encourages abstinence among young people today in a market flooded with sexual overtones. "We wrote that to encourage people to wait for their true love," say Rachael, "and that you don't have to give it up now. That God wants you to wait, and He'll give you something amazing if you do. We have so many people we know who have been messed up because of stuff like that, and they wish they would have waited and someone would have told them that. So we hope the song will minister to people young and old, so they would think twice and realize true love can wait."
"Poor Man" addresses the problem of poverty in this country, and dealing with those less fortunate. "It's about how we should treat people who are struggling with poverty and on the street, and how God said to treat them. EMI's European division offered us a deal on the strength of that song, and it's always a popular one that we do."
As they ready their power-packed debut for the streets, SoulJahz is excited at the possibility of taking their music to the next level and their message to audiences near and far. They'll tour with Stacie Orrico this Spring, and are thrilled to take the enthusiasm and energy of their live shows to audiences not only stateside, but beyond, as well. A specific goal for the group is to reach international audiences with the Word, a goal they've kept in sight since first traveling abroad several years ago and seeing the possibilities among the European people.
"We're very excited to be going on tour with Stacie. She's one of the only artists who has gone and done a Destiny's Child-type tour, and we like what she wants to do internationally. We just saw this desperate need over there to explain what the Bible is to kids, everyone over there reads it, and they are very open to hearing your message, and it's really cool. They also find hip-hop really interesting over there," recalls Joshua. "This is an exciting time for us to be entering the business. Kids today are listening to a lot of different things, and to be in it at a time when secular labels are so behind Christian music is exciting."
"There have only been two or three groups in hip-hop who have had an album that was eclectic - I mean, just 'cause it's hip-hop doesn't mean every track has to be pure hip-hop, it can be mixed with other styles of music," says Je'kob. "And that's what we zoned in on and focused with this album. It's a mix of different styles. And that's what we wanted."
No matter how you categorize SoulJahz style, no one can argue with the passion and purity of purpose behind their music. They hold the power to stir a whole new generation into action and commitment with their impressive talent and dynamic sound. "We really just want to open people's eyes and help them think outside their little worlds and their little boxes," sums up Joshua about their musical mission. "And to help them get outside that box and think totally outside it."
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