15 Years Ago: Musiq Soulchild’s ‘Aijuswanaseing’ Album Debuts
One of the best things to come out of the summer of 2000 was the world's introduction to Musiq Soulchild.
Appearing on the Nutty Professor II: The Klumps soundtrack, which included his debut single "Just Friends (Sunny)," the singer would go from virtual unknown to budding superstar after the record was released alongside Janet Jackson's "Doesn't Matter." Fans who didn't know of him in May were surely singing his praises by October and more than familiar with the bespectacled, rising star.
But Musiq's story begins long before that period, on the streets of Philadelphia, Pa., where he would come of age musically before taking his talent outside of the city limits. "Cats used to call me the 'music boaw,'" he said in a 2000 profile on Philly.com. "That's how I got my name. A lot of emcees used to call me that because I used to do beat box, they didn't even know I could sing."
Born Taalib Johnson, Musiq's influences come from an array of places, but one artist in particular can be credited with being the father of the singer's style. "Donny Hathaway touched my soul," he revealed. "When I was experiencing Donny, he said things without even saying it. Aside from Stevie Wonder, he is the most influential artist to ever walk the planet. To me, he represents true, uncut, concentrated, raw soul." He's also sure to throw a nod to another four-eyed talent, Stevie Wonder, as an inspiration.
Watch Musiq Soulchild's "Just Friends (Sunny)" Video
After losing interest in school due to his thirst for creativity, Musiq dropped out of University City High School in the ninth grade and began performing on the same city streets that had birthed legends such as Boyz II Men and The Roots less than a decade prior. "Pretty much, I had to find a way to express myself, but at the same time that would be effective for me to make a living off of too," he told The Life. "Going through the whole starving artist thing sometimes it can be a little nerve-wrecking because it's only but so much you can do. I can sing, so I figure 'Why not milk this music thing?'"
He was a bit skeptical about his prospects as a major label artist given the nature of the industry, Musiq's managers at the time proceeded to knock on doors until one was opened by former Def Jam President Kevin Liles. "The first day when I played it for him he went crazy," said Michael McArthur, one-half of Musiq's management team. "He turned it up so loud that everyone started coming in the office, dancing and listening to the rest of the songs."
And one song in particular, "Just Friends (Sunny)," caught the record exec's ear and prompted him to offer Musiq a record deal with Def Jam's R&B offshoot, Def Soul. But prior to the record evolving into the hit that it would become, Musiq first had to get some seasoning on the road and "learn how to be a performance artist on the road." "I'm on the road, tryna really nail this road thing. I'm doing a lot of promotional stuff, international promotions is what I'm getting into now. Japan, U.K. Then I'm gonna do this six-week tour with Erykah Badu," he shared with The Life.
"Just Friends (Sunny)" was art imitating reality for the singer. Musiq just detailed what he had gone through in his own life when creating the song. That mindset laid for the foundation for his debut album Aijuswanaseing, released on Nov. 14, 2000. The effort would take a while to get off the ground running and wouldn't appear on the Billboard 200 until more than two weeks later, but would eventually peak at No. 24 and spend 41 weeks on the chart in total. But aside from the statistics, Aijuswanaseing proved to be a musical treat that would continue the neo-soul movement that was coming out of Philly and being cultivated by the likes of Jill Scott and Bilal, among other talents from that era.
Watch Musiq Soulchild's "Girl Next Door" Feat. Ayana
Following the intro, the album's first selection, "Girl Next Door," sets the stage quite effectively and gives listeners an idea of what to expect throughout the project. "If I would've knew the girl next door would've been you / I would've been nice to you / A little more kind to you / I would've looked twice at you," Musiq sings. He reconnects with a childhood friend for whom he now has the hots for. Lines like "Girl, I'm so surprised to see the young fine woman that you grew up to be / Your body's banging like a 400 SE, even your attitude flows pleasantly" speak to his surprise and infatuation with his newfound crush.
Musiq wastes no time hitting listeners with the trump card in "Just Friends." "Girl, I know this might seem strange / So let me know if I'm out of order for stepping to you this way / But I been watching you for a while / And I just gotta let you know that I'm really feeling your style," he delivers. Music comes across the average bumbling dude trying to get some feedback during a random introduction, which makes the words stick even more than the average love-at-first-sight musing.
Musiq comes across more as the guy vying to take you out for a movie and walk in the park rather than immediately getting in them guts: "I'm not tryna' pressure you, just can't stop thinking bout you / You ain't even gotta be my girlfriend / I just wanna know your name and maybe sometime / We can hook up, hang out, just chill." But everything in the life of Musiq is far from peachy-keen, as illustrated on the Aijuswanasing standout "Mary Go Round." He asks, "Mary, how could go / Around and hurt me so / I try so hard to please you, baby / But I just can't seem to, baby," attempting to get some closure from a erstwhile lover.
Another album cut that gets a nod of approval is "143," a clever record that shows off Musiq's songwriting prowess. "How many times have I called you while you were working just to say / Left messages on your answer machine about three or four times a day / There aren't many more ways and words that I can say / So I'll just say it numerically, from my heart you, 143," he sings while channeling the spirit of his idol, Donny Hathaway. These selections get Aijuswanaseing off to an impressive start, but the album's main event is "Love."
Watch Musiq Soulchild's "Love" Video
"Love, there's so many things I've got to tell you / But I'm afraid I don't know how / 'Cause there's a possibility that you'll look at me differently," he delivers on one of the most distinct openings on an R&B song of the past 15 years before matching that by turning in a career-defining performance. The hook, which sounds heavily reminiscent of a church hymn, are some of the most heartfelt lyrics you'll ever hear. "'Cause love, so many people use your name in vain / Love, those that have faith in you sometimes go astray / Love, throughout the ups and downs, the joys and hurts / Love, for better or worse, I still will choose you first," is what unconditional loyalty sounds like on wax and will be replayed at many a wedding until the end of time.
Other solid offerings on Aijuswanaseing come in the form of "Seventeen," which finds Musiq discovering the fact that he's been dealing with an underage female, as well as "L' Is Gone," a track that uses the same beat from the Roots' Things Fall Apart cut, "The Next Movement" while waxing poetic about the joys of the ganja. The album closes out with "You Be Alright," a slow-rolling testimonial that serves as an indelible bookend to the LP.
Fifteen years later, Musiq may be going through a bit of an identity crisis with his rap alter ego The Husel, but one thing that cannot be denied is the brilliance of Aijuswanaseing. The project set the foundation for what has proved to be a defining moment in his illustrious career. Happy birthday, Aijuswanaseing and thanks for the memories.
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