Rapping on camera is a formidable challenge. Rapping on camera while getting a tattoo, however, is a whole different story. Burgeoning Brooklyn emcee Soul Khan was up for the task in his latest music video, shouldering the pain of a searing needle while rifling through the verses of "Rusted Ghosts," his ode to ink.
"If I look inanimate, it's because I'm dealing with the pain of it," Khan told PolicyMic Tuesday, the day the video dropped on YouTube. "I couldn't do all the hand gestures and stuff."
Featuring a bevy of body art, the spacey synth and sweeping keys of "Rusted Ghosts" is perhaps more conducive to a subdued Soul Khan. Though shooting a video and getting a tat at the same time was a new experience, Khan said the concept and lyrics of the song came easily.
"The impetus behind it was that my tattoos, although I don't have a great many, mean a lot to me. Each one possesses either philosophical or experiential significance to me, or both," he explained. "It’s kind of tough to not share that with people, seeing as I share most other things through music."
Khan details the opposition he faced from his mother and friends when getting inked in the song's first verse, rapping, "She's saying she didn't have to/I'm saying it's just a tattoo/On my skin, but she made the kid that the skin's attached to." The second verse is an explanation of his six tattoos. Powered by razor-sharp rhyme schemes and a haunting chorus from Arthur Lewis, the song stands out from Khan's latest EP, Psalm.
Shooting the music video proved to offer additional challenges besides the burn on his left arm. Despite a healthy following of more than 25K fans on Facebook, Khan struggled to find people willing to show off their tattoos as extras.
"That was tough, I apparently don’t have as many tattooed friends as I thought," he remembered. "We just walked up to people on the street. I said my name is Soul Khan, I rap, this is a song about tattoos."
The symbolism of a tattoo is salient for Soul Khan, but not everyone takes the same consideration. Recent statistics from the Pew Research Center show that only 43% of people getting a tattoo use personal meaning as their primary motivation. And according to Khan, that's not a huge problem.
"I’m not against someone getting a tattoo simply because it’s beautiful aesthetically. Beauty obviously has very many forms and interpretations, I can’t be the main arbitrator of what’s beautiful," he said. "But the whole idea of doing it because it's badass or cool is a less sensible reason. If you're 17 going on 18 ... That's probably a bad idea."
Psalm, the final part of a four-EP project named after the tracks on John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, was released on iTunes Tuesday as well. Though the project was previously for sale on Bandcamp, this new version cuts out all samples and features live drumming from Khan's friend Aaron Steele.
With the completion of the EPs and a recent performance at Bonnaroo, Khan appears to be garnering momentum as summer comes around.
"My music is received from my convictions. It’s meant to inspire or provide something that fits well in the contours of your life, makes you feel a different way," he said. "For PolicyMic-type people, this is probably the most socially relevant, least corny hip-hop."
You can buy Psalm on iTunes or any of his other work at SoulKhan.com.