Most big things have small beginnings. You might know Carsten ‘Soulshock’ Schack as a hitman for Usher, Whitney Houston and Sting, and if you live in Denmark as one of the judges on the Danish version of X-Factor. But the successful Danish musicmaker started out as an underground Hiphop DJ in the late 1980s; competing in DMC contests, touring with and remixing songs for Golden Era-acts like Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and Chill Rob G, as well as making Denmark’s first English-language Hiphop-record ’Break The Limits’.
We caught Soulshock in his Los Angeles-home after a recording session with Usher. In the following we’ll hear about the adventures of the artist as a young man.
By Jesper Jensen
Let’s start with the beginning: How did you first get into Hiphop-music and DJ’ing?
I heard Grandmaster Flash ‘The Wheels Of Steel’ on Danish national radio. Al Jones, who was a radio host back then, played the record, and I was just completely overwhelmed by those sounds and beats. My good friend Henrik Milling aka Doctor Jam explained to me, how turntables were used to create the scratch-sounds, and how two turntables were used to extend the beat.
After this I became completely obsessed. I could only afford one good turntable, which was the Technics SL 1200. So for the first year or two I was practicing with the Technics and an old Bang & Olufsen-turntable, which was worthless, so I concentrated on scratching on the good turntable – maybe that explains why I became pretty good at that fast.
When did you get serious about it as a career?
Pretty much when I started practicing DJ’ing/scratching, I knew this was it for me. Before that I had as most teenagers tried different hobbies, from trying to fit into the Punk-movement (I didn’t look very good with black hair and black boots) to riding dirtbikes (riding was fun, spending time on fixing bikes and engines not so much). I was amazed at, how Hiphop-music spoke to me from the moment, I heard it. It was my call, and I never looked back.
How did you get involved with Solid Productions? What was it like working for the first Hiphop- and R’N’B-label in Denmark?
It is indescribable, how big it was to be involved in Solid Productions and to be part of the first Hiphop-movement in Denmark. You have to understand, back then Hiphop was constantly being laughed at and criticized by pretty much everybody. The popularity of breakdancing was over, and people were just waiting for us B-boys to get over it and move on. Nobody could ever imagine, how Hiphop-culture later would take over the world and to this day rule and constantly inspire music, fashion, TV, film, advertising etc.
I very fast became one of the few DJ’s from Jylland (the part of Denmark traditionally considered uncool), that could keep up with the early Copenhagen DJ’s like TNT, Duke (later known as Duke of Denmark) and Cutfather. In a classic battle Duke and I battled DJ Peyk and DJ Jan on their home turf, Thomas P. Hejles Ungdomshus in Copenhagen (youth club used as meeting ground for the early Danish Hiphop-community), showing our skills, which I think surprised both them and the whole house. I was obviously an outsider being from Jylland, so it was quite a shock to them. Because I had practiced and studied especially scratching, I felt I probably was the best scratch-DJ in Denmark at that point, which is probably why Willer (founder of Solid Productions) asked me to DJ on the first Hiphop-release in Denmark for Solid Productions.
See-Que & DJ Soul Shock ’Break The Limits’ was your first record, the first release on Solid Productions and the first English-language Hip hop-record in Denmark, released in 1988. How did it come together?
It was an amazing experience. Just to be in a professional recording studio for the first time was mind-blowing. The studio was Teen Town, which later moved to other facilities and became our second home, where we recorded all our records. I remember being nervous, because I knew once my scratching was recorded, it would forever be on this vinyl record, competing with DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Cheese or any other great DJs, that had gotten a chance to put out a record.
Doctor Jam was the most knowledgeable about studio equipment and he had put the beat together on a sequencer. I went in and did scratching and added sounds. See-Que, who was discovered by Willer, laid his rap, and it was a mind-blowing moment to hear this actually become a real record. It was produced by Doctor Jam, which I am not sure, he ever got the full credit for. I then did, what became the b-side of the record (‘Cosmic Wild Cuts’ and ‘Wild Beats’), which was pretty much me going crazy on a 4 track-cassette recorder and then transferred to 2 inch-tape, which explains the poor sound quality.
See-Que and I spent hours in the studio discussing, how we should look, act and perform as this new group.
What happened to See-Que? I heard he put out more music in the ‘90s under the name Cherno Jah. Did you record any more material together? Will the fans ever get to hear it?
Even though we both took our skills very serious and were very dedicated to this project, we actually never really clicked. It didn’t really become a friendship, but more of a working relationship. I think for an act to take their career to the next level some kind of harmony or magic has to be there. We didn’t have that. He was from Sweden, I was from Aalborg, and we just didn’t connect. I connected much more with some of the other Swedish and US rappers, Willer brought in, like ADL, Kid Jam, Mack etc.
I don’t remember recording any other material. But you never know, Willer might be having some old tapes lying around…
You were respected as one of the illest battle and scratch DJs in Denmark in those days. Your scratches on ‘Break the Limits’ were so sharp – and there were scratches all over it! Do you remember how you orchestrated the cuts on the song?
Thank you. It was all that mattered to me at that point, and being able to put my scratches on a record was so big for me. Doctor Jam was very involved in helping both finding the sounds and producing where to put the scratches on the record. I pretty much just went in there and kicked some butt, as soon as I saw the red recording light!
‘Break the Limits’ was featured on the First Priority Music Family ’Basement Flavor’ album in some very good company with Audio 2, MC Lyte and Positive K, and the late, great radio host and tastemaker Kim Schumacher even played it on Danish national radio. What kind of impact did the record have on your career?
It was absolutely massive for all of us. You can say a lot about Willer, but without him nothing of this would ever have happened. He deserves all the credit for putting Denmark on the map in Hiphop-culture. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been very ambitious and driven, but without Willer I would not have had the chance to appear on US records so fast.
‘Break The Limits’
Back in the late ‘80s you also had a song with Doctor Jam making at stab at rhyming. In the song Doctor Jam raps about your skills á la Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince ‘The Magnificent’, and you copied a lot of current DJs’ styles, like DJ Cheese, Jazzy Jeff and Grandmaster Flash, even using their signature scratch-sounds. How did that song come together?
Shit, you got me. I don’t even remember that song. We did enjoy the chronic a lot in those days, so you will have to forgive me.
It was played on the radio once or twice, but never released. Will the fans get to hear it again?
I want to hear it too! Don’t remember the song.
Then in 1989 Solid Productions put out Solid Posse ‘Unity Rap’ feat. MC Mack, ADL and Kid Jam. You did the cuts in the hook. The song became a kind of anthem.
Yeah man, that was my joint. It was the most fun time, I remember from my Hiphop-days in Denmark, doing that whole album (Solid Productions ‘Taking Over’) and that song. We just had the most amazing times in the Teen Town studio. I was getting into making beats with Cutfather, which started us as a very successful production team. Everybody just had such a good time loving making Hiphop-music. It was heaven.
The UK press of ‘Unity Rap’ on Sleeping Bag had the two nice extra tracks ‘It’s Alright Now’ feat. MC Mack and ‘Listen To The Jam’.
The MC Mack record was actually one of the first productions, Cutfather and I ever did. It was done at Cutfather’s house in Holbæk (outside Copenhagen), where we had set up a “studio“ in Cutfather’s mom’s washing room. Classic! We recorded it at a studio in Holbæk as well. Mack later appeared in the infamous ‘Exit’ TV-series.
You wrote a few reports for Mixmag about trips to New York and seeing Melle Mel and Busy Bee perform at the legendary Hiphop-club Latin Quarter. That must have been dope! What is your fondest memory from those trips?
Cutfather, TNT, Duke, Willer, Lucas (rapper/singer) and I, we all started to go to NY a lot. It was the mecca for Hiphop, it was where it started, and just walking the streets of NY back in late ‘80’s was unreal. We sucked in the smell, the music, the heat on the streets, beautiful B-girls, the danger on every corner and of course all the Hiphop-music we could. It made me who I am today.
Still during the late ‘80s you got to tour with and remix songs for some rap heavyweights including Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Kings Of Pressure, Queen Latifah and Chill Rob G. The Chill Rob G ‘Court is now in session’ 12” is kind of collectable now. How did those opportunities come about?
Well, probably the biggest moment in my career – maybe still to this day – came, when I was asked to DJ on a world tour with Latifah, Jungle Brothers, Chill Rob G and True Mathematics. It was for a new management company, Flavor Unit, who also had De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Dave Funkenklein (rap manager), who has passed away since, together with Willer was responsible for this amazing opportunity.
DJ Red Alert was partner in the company and saw me at the DMC world championship, where I came in third on a very shaky performance, but good enough to convince him I was the right choice for the tour. I was to DJ both opening the show and then stay on stage and DJ for Latifah, True and Chill on the whole tour. It is hard to describe, how big it was going from seeing rappers with DJs on TV and records to actually becoming one of them. It opened the door to my international career as a producer.
What was it like making a remix in those days compared to the more elaborate ’re-recording’ type remixes that came later for songs like Slick Rick’s ’It’s A Boy’ and Tribe’s ’Scenario’?
Looking back, it’s absolutely crazy how we got away with some of those remixes. Most of the early remixes were done in my room in Aalborg together with Doctor Jam or buddies of mine on a 4 track-cassette recorder! We didn’t have much equipment, and if Doctor Jam didn’t bring his sequencer, I had to loop the beat with literally cutting two records back and forth to create a beat!
Later, when Latifah asked me to produce some tracks on her second album, I had moved to Copenhagen, and the outside washing house at Cutfather’s house now had its own sequencer AND Emax sampler, which is where we created the four songs, that ended up on Latifah’s second album. We were now official record producers.
Any funny war stories from touring with Jungle Brothers, Latifah, Chill Rob G and True Mathematics?
Plenty – but they are all X-rated!
Around 1989 Danish national TV made the drama-documentary ’EXIT’ about your adventures in New York, starting a career as a DJ and producer and meeting legends like DJ Red Alert, while also facing the crack epidemic and gay advances(!) How much of that show was true?
Hahahaha – that was a good description! Well, Niels Frid (Danish journalist), who came up with the idea and approached us, was interested in the Hiphop-culture and the DK/NY-connection. We brought in all the realness from the Hiphop-world, which was all real. Unfortunately, the director Frode had a lot of closet issues and kept bringing his transvestite dreams into this series ruining the reality of this great idea. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against neither shemales or gays, but it really had nothing to do with this Hiphop-reality show.
‘Straight Out The Jungle (Remix)’
You mentioned the Solid Productions ‘Taking Over’ album, which featured MC’s and R’N’B singers like ADL, Lucas and Fatima and production by yourself and Cutfather, Depete and Zimmer. Was this the time, you started to feel confident as a producer?
Once I understood the technical side of producing – which really didn’t apply to me, but is a necessary aspect of being a producer – I started thinking, I could get the same feeling I had, when I was DJ’ing or playing Hiphop-records, into my own beats. Learning to sample – truncate (or program) the snares and kicks, learning how to use a sequencer – once I actually got to know this, was when I could start having that same fun, I had DJ’ing, making beats.
Which is your favorite project or song from that period and why?
I really liked this joint, Zimmer and I produced for ADL (‘The Capital A’ on ‘Taking Over’). It explored the later connection, I have with R’N’B and the Swingbeat-movement, which Teddy Riley started, that to this day still is the biggest influence in my life. ‘Fly Girl’ with Latifah had her sing for the first time and was also a special record for me again diggin’ into the R’N’B/Hiphop-world. I also remember playing live drums on one of the songs on the Solid Posse album, where all the rappers made an appearance. Not sure how well it actually came out, but it was fun as hell!
‘The Capital A’
In the last couple of years underground rap from the ‘80s and ‘90s has had a comeback with groups like TDS Mob and JVC Force, and indie labels like Diggers With Gratitude and Ill Adrenaline are putting out previously unreleased material with success. Have you considered doing that, or have any labels approached you about it?
It’s funny you ask. I actually just had my first Hiphop-session in a long time with a new rapper, eXquire (aka Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire), for his coming album on Universal. He is an underground rapper from Brooklyn, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed doing Hiphop-beats again – feels a lot more real than doing X-Factor…
Eventually you moved on from Hiphop to working with some of the biggest names in Dance and Pop music, like Whitney Houston, Usher and Sting. What did you learn from Hiphop, if anything, that you now utilize in making popular records?
Well, I think working with Tupac and making ‘Me against the World’ and later ‘Do for Love’ and ‘Heaven got a ghetto’ was still the biggest moment, I had entering the US music scene. Hiphop was everything to me and still is – every production I do to this day has Hiphop in it in one way or another. I still listen to Hiphop-music, and it still drives everything I do to this day.
Thanks for talking to us and best of luck in the future.
Special thanks to Ras Beats and Tue Track for the music.
Jesper Jensen is a Copenhagen-based writer, documentary filmmaker and rap nerd. Holla at him: http://facebook.com/jesperjensen22.