Q&A: Musiq

The former Soulchild has misspelled his way to the top of the charts

Musiq Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/ImageDirect

MUSIQ – WHOSE SECOND album, Juslisen, is currently at the top of the Billboard charts – is arguably the best soul singer and worst speller since Prince rose to power. The Philadelphia-born Musiq (who also answers to Taalib Johnson) first made his good name two years ago with his debut, Aijuswanasing – an album whose sophisticated, spiritual and sexy blend of modern soul led critics to compare him to giants such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Al Green. Back then, Musiq was going under the name Musiq Soulchild. Now, on the even more impressive Juslisen, you can call him simply Musiq. Still, remember that Soulchild is father to the Soulman.

Musiq, if you're not using that "Soulchild" part of your name anymore, may I please borrow it?

No, you may not. Well, you can use it if you feel you are a soul child.

I'd like to think so, but then again I could be wrong. Who was the first person to ever call you Musiq?

There is a strip called South Street in Philadelphia. It's like a baby Greenwich Village. And these MCs that I used to beatbox for, I got the name from them. They called me the music boy. It just stuck with me.

Does your family call you Musiq?

They call me Taalib. My mom calls me Musiq, but my pops, he just calls me Taalib.

Clearly, you're a great singer, a great writer, a great record maker, but you're a lousy speller, aren't you?

Uh, yeah, I reckon so. No, that's pretty much one of my things. Every artist has their thing. It is just a matter of being creative.

How did that sort of creative thinking play in English class?

I did fine in school. School was cool until I started personally rebelling.

Personally rebelling? But I thought you were the sensitive, nice guy in soul music today.

Yeah, I'm the nice guy, but everybody has different sides to them. I like to be as positive and as peaceful as possible, but reality says, you know, sometimes you get mad, sometimes you get antsy, sometimes you get aggravated. And I was pretty aggravated in school.

It depends on the person, you know. I might be the epitome of sanity. I may be otherwise. It depends on the person. I'm just me.

I hate to pry, but there have been rumors about your relationship with India.Arie. Inquiring minds want to know: Do you know her well enough that you don't have to use that dot between "India" and "Arie"?

She's just India. I mean, we're very good friends. Everybody is trying to marry us off and shit. It's like, OK, calm down. But, yeah, she's a very good friend of mine. She's one of the realest people that I ran across in a long time. I know people in my life that I hold very dear, and she is somebody I just met not too long ago that was outside of my circle, immediate circle. She was real cool, a real beautiful individual, and I'm just barely getting to know her.

Were you the kind of soulful guy who had groupies even before you made music?

Actually, no. I haven't had groupies. I had admirers, but not groupies. But I've always been, you know, courted into the friend zone.

That's a dangerous place to be.

Yeah, I guess I just care too much.

Lots of other people use your albums as mood music – so how about you?

Funny enough, no, never. Even before I got the record deal, I never really used singing to get girls. I always felt weird about that.

You just used money?

I ain't got no money to use, either. I mean, I pretty much for the most part relied on myself when it came to things like that. I didn't really try too many gimmicks.

You've already been compared to some of the soul greats. Does that feel like a lot to live up to?

A lot of people come to me with that. It's a beautiful thing that people actually put me up with those people, you know. It's one of the greatest compliments that I could ever ask for, you know, and I appreciate anybody who does that. However, I don't want people to get the misconception that I'm trying to be these people in any way. I'm not trying to be Stevie Wonder, I'm not trying to be Sly, I'm not trying to be Donny [Hathaway], I'm not trying to be James Brown. I pay my respects most definitely, but there will never be another Marvin Gaye. There will never be another Prince. Prince is who he is, Marvin is who he is. I just want to be who I am, and hopefully that will help people to find their own thing.

Have you heard any response yet from the George Harrison family about the version of "Something" on the new album? It's really something.

Thank you. No, and I'm very curious to hear their response. I have gotten into that with hard-core Beatles fans. That was Kevin Liles from Def Jam's suggestion. I didn't totally understand why, but after a while I felt good about it. I learned about George passing away, so it was sort of paying my respects to George Harrison, and the Beatles, of course. The funny thing about it is, I hadn't heard the song before. I'm still going through Beatles Anthology. They've got a lot of songs.

Considering your interesting way of spelling just about everything, how does Musiq spell success?

S-u-k-s-e-s.

Excellent. See, that would be the only Musiq way to do it.

It's almost like how kids spell things, when they first learn their ABCs, it's just how you hear it, how it sounds.

But then you sell out and put the correct spelling in parentheses – is that so teachers won't get too pissed at you?

Yeah, like, "All these years I'm trying to teach these kids how to learn proper grammar, only for him to just throw it all to hell."