"Good soul music should make you feel something in your heart, in your body and in your spirit,” says Goapele, the Oakland-based singer/songwriter who released her third album, Break of Dawn, last week. "That’s what I try to do both in the studio and on stage.” (And presumably on-screen too, since the singer recently confirmed that she'll have a role in the all-star remake of the 1976 film Sparkle, which will soon begin production.)
Sitting in the lobby of a Times Square hotel a few hours before sound check, the former Berklee College of Music student sips from a steaming cup of coffee and explains how she carved the perfect niche for herself with music that fuses jazz, soul, and boom-bap poetics.
Talib is one of the few rappers right now saying a lot in his songs—and the tracks are great, which is usually a hard balance to find.
Though Goapele cites both Al Green and Frank Ocean as soul inspirations, she also considers herself “a major hip-hop fan.” She's worked with a wide array of rappers including the Bay Area's Hieroglyphics crew, with whom she first collaborated on their single “Make Your Move” in 2003. “The first time I ever went into a real studio was with those guys,” she remembers. “The first member I met was Pep Love and we all just connected from the beginning.”
Introduced to rap when she was kid listening to her brother’s EPMD and Rakim records, Goapele has also worked with the likes of Talib Kweli, E-40 and Kanye West. “I think Talib is one of the few rappers right now saying a lot in his songs—and the tracks are great, which is usually a hard balance to find,” she says. “His songs are the kind that, when you’re driving around, they make you turn the volume up until it can’t go any higher.
“E-40 is another person I love working with, because he is so entertaining,” she continues with a smile. “He should have his own reality show. I love that he raps the same way that he talks. All you have to do is listen to him to hear how much he has influenced the vocabulary of rappers, and not just on the west coast.”
Although the Kanye collabo remains a work in progress, Goapele says she paid him a visit in Hawaii. "I was out there doing a show with Mos Def," she recalls. "Kanye and I spoke of working together and started an idea that we didn't get to finish." This was when she was just beginning the process of putting together her current album Break of Dawn. "We are still musical friends," she says of Ye, whom she first met when both were new artists. "Hopefully we'll get to work together more when the time is right."
More recently, Goapele has been in the studio with backpacker president Mos Def. “Mos is a true artist who has a story to tell and gives back through his music,” says Goapele. “He remixed my song ‘Different’ in 2005 and the song we’re working on now will be one of my future projects.”
I don't want to make do collaborations where it sounds as though the other person was just tacked on without a thought.
"Play," the first single from her current album was remixed by the Oakland-based Panamanian-born hip-hop duo Los Rakas. Going forward, Goapele says she's hoping to work with both D’Angelo and Stevie Wonder. “With Stevie, I’d be happy if we could just write a song together,” she says. “For me, a true collaboration is when both artists understand the true essence of the song, and pay attention to the subject matter. I don’t want to make do collaborations where it sounds as though the other person was just tacked on without a thought.”
Like her previous albums Even Closer (2002) and Change It All (2005), Break of Dawn is being distributed in conjunction with her own independent label Skyblaze, which Goapele runs with her husband and her brother. “Establishing Skyblaze allowed me to have a more direct connection with my business as well as the music,” she concludes as she heads off to soundcheck. “I like being more hands-on when it comes to my music."