“Proper now, I really feel overwhelmed,” Joe Kay tells me over the telephone, the nervousness in his voice hanging a distinction with the soothing tones that followers of his radio present know and love. “I’m confused the fuck out, if we’re conserving it 100. However to be confused about one thing that I really like and to be fortunate sufficient to have a number of issues occurring concurrently is a blessing.”
The SoCal native has so much to be confused about: Joe Kay is the founding father of Soulection Radio, which began as a compilation-style present as an ode to a standard mixtape. The present celebrates two milestones this 12 months. January marked Soulection’s tenth anniversary, and Beats 1 can be airing a dwell 9 hour occasion for its 500th episode this weekend. There’s a superb line between Joe Kay’s life and his title as a founder. Not solely is he tasked with internet hosting the present this weekend, however he’s additionally within the thick of launching two merch traces, one for his private model Timeless Classics and one other for Soulection’s capsule collection for its 500th episode. The stress for issues to go off seamlessly, along with sustaining a private life and fatherhood, is sufficient to fear anybody.
Technological developments during the last 10 years have modified how we eat new music, however Soulection’s core mission has remained largely fixed because the days when Joe Kay was nonetheless dreaming it up in his household’s storage. It’s nonetheless a platform championing new voices, as was in the beginning with its early endorsements of artists like Brent Faiyaz, Bryson Tiller, GoldLink, and Anderson .Paak. With the relaunch of Soulection Information, an unbiased label Kay hoped would assist degree the taking part in area for artists, the model is constant its legacy in intentional music discovery. He’s now not the wide-eyed school pupil embarking on a ardour undertaking. Soulection is now a way of life model that remodeled Joe Kay from a radio host right into a businessman.
There isn’t a lot about Soulection that has been by happenstance. It’s a results of calculated strikes that set the model up as a breeding place for rising expertise. In 2011, Joe Kay transferred to California State and took a gathering with this system director and basic supervisor of KBeach Radio, the faculty’s radio station, throughout his orientation. The 2 believed in him a lot that they put him on air the same day. Two weeks later, he recorded Soulection’s first episode, an idea he considered with two associates, Andre Energy and Guillaume Bonte (Bonte has since departed from the corporate), who helped with the artwork course. “What’s up world?” he asks in the inaugural episode. “As we speak is the primary official present of Soulection Radio. Joyful to be bringing you the futuristic beats, eclectic sounds, and soulful music—high quality music.”
Instagram was comparatively new, so he promoted the show on a custom splash page and launched the music through zip file. Taken collectively, the 500 episodes of Soulection Radio perform as a musical archive, with Joe Kay working as a genreless A&R of rising expertise in hip-hop, R&B, home, and jazz. After producer Ta-ku approached the present about doing a launch to lift cash for individuals affected by the 2011 tsunami, it set the tone for Soulection to be way more than a radio present.
As soon as it grew to become clear that Soulection Radio might additionally perform as an unbiased label, Joe Kay knew the present shouldn’t simply be an echo chamber of their artists however a melting pot of singers, producers, and DJs from wherever on the earth. It was curation and tastemaking on a broader scale—rising at a time earlier than individuals professed themselves to be “vibe curators.”
What started as a grassroots motion on a university campus shortly grew legs. Ultimately, Joe Kay put the present on SoundCloud—and when the platform gave customers the power to repost uploads, Soulection expanded. The present was picked up by London’s Rinse FM, which helped with worldwide eyes however lacked funding. Ultimately, Pink Bull Music Academy granted him limitless entry to a studio. With every transfer, the standard of the present and the output of its related label elevated.
By 2013, Soulection had launched practically 30 albums with producers like Ta-ku, Atu, Esta, and Sango. Different profitable releases featured collaborations like “Middle of Things, Beautiful Wife” with Sango and Xavier Omär (previously SPZRKT) and later Monte Booker and Smino’s “Kolors,” have been testaments to the model’s ear for expertise. It wasn’t lengthy earlier than the years of self-funding and self-promotion paid off, and his homegrown radio present had landed within the smartphones of thousands and thousands: In 2015, he secured a partnership with Beats 1 and Apple Music. With that main co-sign behind him, Soulection Radio was changing into synonymous with music discovery. However Joe Kay had already landed on a system for making the model ubiquitous.
“In the event you don’t take heed to the report we simply put out, we’re going to hit you with the radio present,” he says. “In the event you don’t take heed to the radio present, you may see our messaging on the merch.” So when Soulection says it’s a way of life model, it really is one. And in an period the place a model is just pretty much as good as a shareable phrase, Joe Kay isn’t afraid to let go of what doesn’t work. “There have been occasions the place we’ve outgrown messages, or sure issues bought performed out,” he says, recalling a time the place his catchphrase was “Do what you’re keen on,” which ended up feeling too ubiquitous as seen in other startups. “We aren’t afraid to place slogans to relaxation, as a result of it does get saturated and may really feel redundant. In Soulection’s case, much less is extra.”
A part of the great thing about Soulection is the present’s lengthy monitor report of catching artists on the cusp of their break. However should you spend sufficient time with the present, you start to additionally fall in love with the ethos behind it: Not simply listening to to new artists, however actually listening. So for somebody just like the Seattle-born Sango, whose adventurous funk productions have transported us to Brazil and again, it’s no shock that his collaborative merch with Soulection Provide, “Be Patient, Grow Daily,” immortalizes his personal mantra to embrace change. This is only one instance of how the model turns the music into an expertise past a tune.
It may be powerful to pinpoint what has contributed to the model’s longevity and respect amongst artists and followers, however singer Xavier Omär has his concepts. “[Soulection is an] genuine music lovers’ group past the radio or Billboard Scorching 100,” says Omär. Once I ask what he thinks retains followers engaged, he reiterates what Joe Kay instructed me weeks prior: “How music can affect somebody’s total life-style and be greater than only a tune.”
He mentioned he met Joe Kay after the host reposted his collaboration with Sango to Soulection’s SoundCloud. Nonetheless, the if you feel singer says it wasn’t till he carried out at his first Soulection present that he understood the true worth of the group. “It’s the primary time I felt like I had household in music.”
That tight-knit group congregates a bit of otherwise now than it did pre-pandemic—particularly now that occasions just like the Soulection Expertise, a collection of excursions and festivals, have been placed on maintain. As a substitute, followers have willingly pivoted to Soulection’s roots on the web.
“Creating the Discord final 12 months might be probably the greatest issues we’ve ever accomplished,” Joe Kay tells me. The channel has over 7,000 members, most of whom discovered about it via phrase of mouth. There, they share new music, nice outfits, and even pet pictures. “Our group is the music lover, but additionally a military swiss knife,” Joe Kay says. “These are the core viewers and pattern crew that we’re getting suggestions from. It’s individuals who care, who each time we announce merch we’re speaking to them and getting actual suggestions.”
On the day that I joined, there’s a lot buzz in regards to the present’s upcoming 500th episode. It’s not solely a celebration for Joe Kay and his crew; it is a second that followers are pleased with, too.
Like other DJs and artists, additionally they discovered to livestream. “We at all times needed to livestream and discover ways to try this with out relying on Boiler Room or different platforms and investing in our personal house and our gear allowed us to have the capabilities to do our personal streams at any level.”
There are different methods the pandemic has compelled Soulection to pivot. “Touring is gone, so how can we maintain the lights on?” Joe Kay says, recalling the second he realized he wanted to adapt his enterprise mannequin to the brand new socially distant time. “How can we as an indie label and platform make up for that funding?” The reply, he discovered, was by specializing in its roots: incubating expertise via releases.
Nowadays, the label is targeted on a brand new crop of expertise, together with producers Ari PenSmith and Jonah Christian, and nostalgic choices of R&B from Rose Gold and Phabo. For Phabo—whose new single “Slippery” is a sultry teaser to a highly-anticipated EP—Soulection has at all times felt just like the uncommon outlet that speaks to his myriad pursuits. “Soulection discovered a solution to merge streetwear, hip-hop, and R&B nostalgia seamlessly,” he says. “It’s at all times been a snug match for me.” 4 years in the past, he nonetheless discovered himself within the model’s orbit, even when he wasn’t positive how he’d be part of the equation. “I bear in mind being at their six-year anniversary present and seeing so many dope artists like VanJess and Brent [Faiyaz] backstage and having imposter syndrome as a result of I felt I hadn’t dropped any physique of labor that may warrant me the chance to be in that area. Wanting again now, I see it was all aligned.”
Joe Kay has constructed his model on being The Sound of Tomorrow, and after a decade of music discovery, the music he championed early on—like that of Omär, Smino, and ESTA—has develop into the sound of at the moment. “Kolors” is now licensed Gold by the RIAA and Kaytranada, who was championed by the present early on, is now a Grammy-winning artist. However in the case of the following ten years, does the unique Sound of Tomorrow, as Joe Kay envisioned it— “futuristic beats, eclectic sounds, and soulful music”—nonetheless maintain endurance?
“The Sound of Tomorrow is at all times going to be related with us,” he says. “It’s one thing that’s in Soulection’s DNA.” Regardless of their conventional producer-first motto, Joe Kay realizes that generally it takes the correct voice to captivate an viewers. “Lyrics are what individuals join with,” he says.
Certainly one of Joe Kay’s items is his capability to forecast the voices of a era. “Once I meet any person, and I see potential in them, I’ve at all times had this factor for seeing the sunshine in somebody earlier than they even see it in themselves,” he says. “We actually need Soulection to be a one-stop-shop for the artist. Not simply one thing the place it’s like, Let me drop this single with Soulection so I can get acknowledged after which signal a take care of a serious label.”
Ten years in the past, Joe Kay was 21 with no thought of what he was getting himself into. Now, weeks away from Soulection’s most important milestone, he can sit again and course of the second with the knowledge of 499 reveals behind him. “I might’ve instructed myself to be further selective with who you let into the backend of the corporate,” he begins. “To not count on your self in others. I might inform myself to place cash apart for taxes. I might inform myself to get an legal professional and trademark every thing. I might inform myself to signal paperwork even when it’s associates, particularly if it’s associates—no handshake offers.” Joe Kay has a approach of rattling off the issues he’s discovered since 2011 with ease, however they don’t come off as regrets, simply classes.
So how does Soulection proceed to face out at a time when self-described “curators” (each human and digital) are virtually ubiquitous, life-style manufacturers are a dime a dozen, and the Web abounds with music discovery pages of all stripes? Individuals are nonetheless actually flocking to the present for 120 minutes each week. “The rationale why [Soulection] continues to be so in demand is due to the exclusiveness of the present,” he says. “There are quite a lot of songs heard on there you could’t get on [digital streaming platforms] or wherever else. Typically they’re not uploaded for weeks, months, and even years. Different occasions, they by no means come out. That’s at all times been my solution to maintain individuals locked: They know the one solution to hear it’s to tune into the present.”
Kristin Corry is a Senior Employees Author for VICE.