The legend has left the building
Jamey Bennett: Soup the Chemist leaves hip-hop, looks forward
Last Tuesday night I was sitting at a CD release and listening party for Soup the Chemist in downtown Nashville that was more like a heavy-hearted retirement dinner for the star employee, the mentor, the leader that everyone loves. The general feeling was one of happiness and festivity mixed with a sad heart and tear-filled eyes. We rejoiced to see a man of God moving on to his next station in life, yet we were burdened to say goodbye to what has meant so much to us.
In the house was an all-star list of so-called “Christian hip-hop" stars. I was there with my partner from Royal Ruckus, alongside LA Symphony’s Pigeon John and Flynn, and one half of Grits, Stacey “Coffee” Jones. As my eyes explored the room, I saw Mars ILL, Redcloud, and Playdough of Ill Harmonics gracing the couches and walls of Verbs and Coffee's apartment. Durk Brown, hip-hop industry veteran, opened up with some heavy words about how Soup has influenced each and every one of us at the party. One member of the Christ-centered theological rap group, the Cross Movement, then opened up the evening in prayer.
Chris Cooper, also known as Super C or Soup the Chemist, has both created and rebelled against the so-called “Christian hip-hop” scene over the last 15 years. In the late 1980s, Soup emerged with a group known as SFC, or Soldiers for Christ. The debut album, Listen Up, was by far the best hip-hop record to emerge from Christian artists at that time. Against the backdrop of what amounted to mostly "cheese-rap," SFC stepped out from the industry standard of rap—which was rather low—and raised the bar. Their music excelled in its fun vibe, its lyrical prowess, and its cutting insight into the human condition. This is when I discovered SFC, and when I was won over by the quality of Soup's work.
Shortly after, SFC returned with A Saved Man in the Jungle, another fine release that excelled above "Christian rap" standards in its overall quality. Playdough from Ill Harmonics tells me, “It was a life-changing record for me.” Flynn of LA Symphony agrees: “It inspired me.”
He began to become a regular guest spot on the releases of other “Christian” rap records—and one could usually rest assured that anything he was a guest on was probably worth picking up. Additionally, he became instrumental in bringing up a number of other emerging "Christian rap" artists such as Dynamic Twins and Freedom of Soul. As time would show, super-crews the Tunnel Rats and LA Symphony would owe a lot to his belief in them and their ability to merge their faith and talents with a creative flair.
Redcloud sums up the sentiments of most who are familiar with "Christian hip-hop": "Soup the Chemist is the 'Godfather' of Christian hip-hop." Because of this, many have been disappointed with the response of Christians to the work of Soup. "A single tear rolled down my cheek," Redcloud states dramatically, "the day Soup was nominated for a Dove award. He lost to Carmen. The second year, he was nominated for a Dove award. He lost to Carmen. That's when I question my affiliation with Christian hip-hop."
In the early '90s, SFC released Phase III, which received some mainstream distribution, though it didn’t make nearly the splash in the culture that had been anticipated. Shortly after, DJ Dove, Soup’s long-time companion and friend, left SFC to start his own label and introduce the world to the Gospel Gangstas, one of "Christian rap" music's most successful groups. Soup then emerged essentially as a solo artist, though still under the SFC name with an album that is undeniably one of the best hip-hop records, mainstream or Christian, of all time—Illumination—a groundbreaking record that likely could have held its own in the mainstream market if given the chance. By the end of SFC's career, they sold over 100,000 records—which is huge for the genre of "Christian hip-hop."
Coffee, of hip-hop group Grits, says, “SFC was the first [Christian] hip-hop group that was legitimate.” As I wandered around the room and mingled with the various artists and miscellaneous bystanders, everyone seemed to think the same thing. SFC was never a gimmick, it was never anything other than heart-felt, real, honest creativity. According to Flynn, Soup “was one of the first [in the Christian industry] to make a bold step of honesty in his artistry.”
My mind immediately runs back to the various times I came in contact with SFC. Through the years, I was able to attend a handful of concerts, industry events, and even an in-store autograph signing. Every time I had a chance, I introduced myself to Soup, and he always had the grace and love to shake the hand of a flowing-blonde-headed middle-class kid, lend an autograph, and pose for a picture. His kindness made such an impact on me, that I chose Soup as my personal hero for a sixth-grade art project—an art project that graced my school’s cafeteria for nearly a month.
Fast forward several years, and Broken/Brainstorm Records—Soup’s label home—had closed its doors, and SFC was not heard from anymore. I was at a hip-hop concert at the Roxy in Hollywood, circa the summer 1998, and I stepped in slowly to see Soup rocking the stage with a passion that few could match. He was re-inventing himself from "Super C" to "Sup the Chemist," with an EP release that would make a name in the Los Angeles hip-hop underground—Raider of the Lost Art.
Raider of the Lost Art landed him a record deal on Seattle-based BEC/Uprok Records which finds distribution to both the Christian and mainstream markets. He released his first full-length solo project in 2000, Dust, on Uprok, featuring guest appearances by Joey the Jerk of LA Symphony, hard-rockers Project 86, Ahmad of 4th Avenue Jones' and others. Recording most of the record with the late, great producer and engineer Gene Eugene at his Huntington Beach Green Room studio, Dust was targeted more toward the mainstream, with little success on the national level, though earning Soup a bit more of a name in underground hip-hop circles as a creative emcee with an eye on the art.
But now, with a heavy heart, Soup releases, on his indie label BeeSyde Records, what he thinks may be his final project—Eargasmic Arrangements. Fourteen songs long, the album features guest appearances from LA Symphony, Mars ILL, Future Shock, and other talented "underground" hip-hop movers and shakers. It even features a voicemail cameo by hip-hop pioneer, Grandmaster Flash. In my opinion, it is possibly his best record yet, rivaled only by his mid-'90s release, Illumination. Albert Paul of rap group DaFilled says, "This album has grown about two or three notches [from the last album]." Redcloud concurs when he says, "This will be the best album of the year." If it is, indeed, his last record, it is a great way to go out. In the liner notes, Soup thanks those "who have supported me since 1988; This one is for you!"
For me, SFC was not just great music—nor was it less than that. Soup has always been one of my favorite emcees, with a talent that rivals just about anyone that the mainstream has to offer. But more than that, Soup has been a voice that would speak my heart, entertain my ear, and move my body. He has been an inspiration, making me want to rap, making me want to dance, and making me want to see Christ as Lord of all of life.
"Artistically and personally," says Flynn, "Soup continues to inspire, encourage, and influence his contemporaries and his audience." DJ Dust of Mars ILL says, "We look up to him as a mentor. He's been around the block." And as much as Soup has been frustrated at the Gospel Music industry, he is in Nashville for what he says is his last GMA convention. He is here to say goodbye to an industry that has, at times, reluctantly embraced and, at other times, overlooked a talented man that could have done huge things in the mainstream.
In a characteristically joking fashion, Pigeon John says, “He’s not quitting—he’s lying!" But Soup tells me insistently that he is calling it quits. The only way he'd put out more records, Soup says, is if it were on a mainstream label and marketed to the mainstream. As he says, "The way it should be done." This record, Soup says, "Is not going to the Gospel market." He is targeting a mainstream audience, with a desire to be in the world, but not of it. Soup understands now that life, put simply, is one category. The Christian music market confuses that fact and divides life up into artificial categories that blur the doctrine of the Lordship of Christ over all of life.
Reflecting on a 15 year career mostly visible in the Christian market, Soup says, “Part of me is happy, and part of me is mad. I'm happy because of the people I touched." He is angered, though, because of the ghettoization of his music by today's brand of marketable Christianity. He told me, "If I knew then what I know now, I would have done it differently." He would have gone after the mainstream aggressively, pushing his life, music, and faith into the real world, rather than a subculture created by suits largely centered in Nashville.
As the week has gone on, I have seen a man of joy and humor, as well as humility. We've eaten out, slept under the same roof, driven around town, schmoozed at the Gospel Music Association convention, and gone to concerts together. I've seen him go from commanding a crowd of several hundred to throw their hands high, to taking a few moments to greet the stressed-out, underpaid, and underappreciated receptionists at the Nashville Convention Center. To Soup, respect comes not because of "who you are" in the industry, but because of your humanity—a humanity that is created in God's image.
Without question, Soup is a man committed to making the best music he can, and being the best Soup he can be. He has had a 15 year career that has had modest success from a commercial standpoint and huge success from a fan's standpoint. He has influenced my life, and many others, in ways that do nothing less than warm my heart. I have a hard time imagining hip-hop music without him—honestly, it won't be the same.
Soup, you are loved, and you will be missed.
Jamey Bennett is associate editor of RazorMouth and half of the Royal Ruckus hip-hop duo.
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Replies: 19 comments in ascending order
I was saved in 1991 and not many people loved hip-hop like myself. D-Boy was the first Christian rapper(that's how old I am) that I ever heard. I can't tell you the joy I felt when I realized that rap was good in God's eyes when it praised Him! Then I heard SFC and I thought to myself this is the tightest music I have ever heard! I used SFC to witness to so many of my boys in high school in Charlotte, NC I can't even begin to tell Sup how far the Lord has used his music! Sup I love you and will miss your music more than I can say! I can't wait to meet you when we get to Heaven. Till then just know that God has used you in a mighty and powerful way!
I've seen you rock shows out in Cali.The energy, the talent it was raw.Really gonna miss that! But I hope to see you around enjoying what other emcees are doing because of your influence.
RE:son @ 03:53 AM / 04.24.2003
Man, this thing is like a eulogy or something…ha. Seriously, everything that people said on here is true…and more.
I saw Soup 3 times @ the King’s House in Columbus, 1 time @ Rhema (I know you remember those shows, man.) Then I actually got to open up for him in Phoenix and saw him again @ the Lucky Dragon. Oh, and don’t forget his legendary Cru-Vention Atlanta appearance. I don’t say this to “name-drop”, but just to show that I feel as if I REALLY know him. It’s as if I literally grew up on him. Kinda weird, huh, especially when one considers that he is not alone in this feeling!
I do find it sad that Soup has some regrets (understandable) about his career. But we never really know all the good that God has used us to accomplish until we get to Heaven…kinda like that Ray Boltz song (sorry).
Don’t grow weary in well doing, my friend.
Yo Sup you can't leave us hangin' man you are hip hop. Thanks for keepin my ears (literally) itchin' to hear you man. Much luv Tommy Jones, Good Boy Entertainment. Please come back. Majors sign this kat before it's too late.
DUST to me is a piece of art and I think it deserved attention in the mainstream. But it didn't get that. Now there is Eargasmic arrangements (I'm curious about it) but I understand that it's probably only getting attention in the underground... I hope there will be a next album on a mainstream label and marketed to the mainstream. People may not miss this talented man and his works of art!
i love you, brother. your music smacks me in the mouth every time i hear it and so many of us owe you so very much. Thanks for being you.
i just want to say to Sup, thank you for inspiring many including myself and paving the way for those who continue on this journey that you started. hopefully this will not be the final album put out by mr. Sup the Chemist but if it is than what a way to retire!!! once again, thank you for all the years of good music and hard work that you put in to this wierd industry.
cedars of lebanon
Honestly, I didn't get hooked to your music until 2001. The first album I obtained was "Dust"; at first I thought your lyrics were too tough for me, but I began to LISTEN to what you were saying and got some biblical gems from what you were saying. Ever since then, I've wanted to hear some more material from you. I never thought you were such a influence, in the hip hop communitiy. I want you to put out more material, but if God has lead you to this road, I still have respect for you. Thank You from the bottom of my heart.
P.S. I will get your album "Eargasmic Arrangements".
Thankyou for gracing me with such empowering music; empowering for spiritual edification and musical ingenuity. Also, thankyou for your passion for the lost and "their" music industry. May God continue to bless you with allowing you to witness the impact of your labor in the lives of so many.
mozingo @ 11:39 PM / 04.20.2003
The day that I stop listening to Sup will be the day that I die. To my children and grandchildren, I will assign the task of sharing his music with a world that needs to hear. My last request will be a bucket of top ramen.
Jason Clegg @ 02:00 AM / 04.20.2003
If you haven't heard Eargasmic arrangments then your smoking crack. I just happened to be one of the "miscellaneous bystanders" at Coffee's crib and i can vouch for the appreciation everyone has for this man and his music. Soup got me started in the game, never thinking that a white MC could ever make a difference he gave me the chance to rock my first open mic. He'll be back...
Wordz @ 04:53 PM / 04.19.2003
Sup has made me want to be a better emcee. What an inspiration to thousands. He has truely touched our lives in so many ways. Even a poor mexican kid like me from Omaha, NE has been affected by his "ecleasiastical outpour". Thank you Sup. and you still owe me a copy for raiders of the lost art I ordered like 3 years ago!
Jason "Jmas" McGee @ 12:04 PM / 04.19.2003
Excellent article. The two MCs who got me interested in hip hop are Soup (SFC used to be my favorite group) and D-Boy (who left us way too soon).
I still listen to "A Saved Man." Occassionally I'll walk around the house saying "I'm about to order a big fat pizza pie, boy!" My wife has no idea what I'm talking about. But she's never listened to "A Saved Man." Oh well.
Bud @ 02:40 AM / 04.19.2003
Soup is the man. Thank you for inspiring many and for persevering so well in a climate that was and largely still is unsupportive of urban music. Thank you for inspiring me and for paving the way. We're going to make it, so sooner or later youre going to have to come out of hiding again :)
I have to agree with RedCloud when he said that Soup is the Godfather of gospel hip hop. He was the first MC in the christian industry to bring real hip hop to the table. This industry did not know what they had. Much love and all my respect goes to him. This industry will not be the same...we love you Soup
This was a great article man!!! You did a great job Jamey!! Soup has influenced anybody that has heard the man. You can't listen to any of his albums and not come away with mixed emotions and feelings. He touches on everything and has got to be one of the most creative people in music period. Even though he hasn't taken the mainstream by storm yet, he's had a huge impact on my life, and for that I thank him.
Aaron Parra @ 05:50 PM / 04.18.2003
I believe that Chris Cooper aka Super C aka Soup the Chemist is one of the greatest HipHop Artist of all time,both secular and Christian.There's no denying his talent and no denying his love for GOD.I can only pray that a few years down the road,he will come out of retirement and drop some more "Chemistry" on us again.
Hmmm.. BackMouth, is that like Backwash?
Anyways, thanks for the article. I'm not a huge rap fan, but I did pull out my old SFC albums and give them a listen.
Kevin @ 04:00 PM / 04.18.2003
Soup is the homey. I first met him at a Gospel concert that he and the Dynamic Twins performed at. I hung out with them years later at Noel's pre wedding. Actually, Flynn reminded me that that's how he met them was during a pre-wedding event at a park.
I had the priviledge of interviewing Soup and the then SFC crew for my video show "Nu Phaze" when "Illumination" was out during an L.A. appearance with SS Mobb and the Gospel Gangstaz.
My favorite album is "Saved Man"...that project was so real and powerfully communicated the Gospel. Soup's hand was on so many of my favorite projects and continues to make an impact on so many. I loved the article and can't wait to get "Eargasmic"!
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