Midway through my interview with Christopher "Free Sol" Anderson, the talkative, laid back front man of the Memphis-based "hip-hop fusion" band Free Sol, I ask Anderson if he thinks their own blend of hip-hop, rock, jazz, R&B, soul—even metal—will be easily accepted by the mainstream. He laughs. "I think we're gonna be the biggest in the world. It's gonna blow up," he says. Despite Anderson's jubilant tone, he isn't joking.
One might think these are big words coming from a band playing mostly bars and music festivals throughout the Southeast. But consider this: Jay-Z and Linkin Park's recent "mash-up" album, "MTV Ultimate Mash-Ups Presents Jay-Z/Linkin Park: Collision Course" topped the Billboard charts at No. 1, not to mention Jay-Z's recent hit single with former Run DMC-turned-Red Hot Chili Peppers producer Rick Rubin, "99 Problems," which featured a hard-rock guitar and drums lifted straight from Billy Squier. Ludacris recently performed a remix of his song "Get Back" with pop-punkers Sum 41.
While the trend isn't new—Rubin was mashing Aerosmith with Run DMC 20 years ago—it's certainly coming into its own as of late and not just in the hip-hop world, but the pop-music world in general.
But for Anderson, it doesn't stop there: "Everybody's playing with a band these days. Really, that is the beauty of hip-hop. There is no boundary to it; you can do a jazz track, and its still hip-hop."
Anderson insists he doesn't find anything especially new about Free Sol's special brand of hip-hop; for him it's always been there, waiting to come out: "Hip-hop has always been there. Jazz has always had hip-hop in it."
After dropping out of school, Anderson made a solo hip-hop album, selling copies on the street. He soon decided he wanted a band, asserting that "hip-hop needs that to stay alive." In 2002, Anderson pulled three members from varying backgrounds. Primo is a keyboardist who'd played mostly gospel but also R&B and soul with artists like Al Green. Elliott (or, WhiskE) is a former studio engineer and classically trained guitarist who names Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell as his hero. Drummer Kickman Teddy who, Anderson claims, "came straight out of church," has a gospel background. Additionally, Free Sol's influences read like the play list for some sort of jazzy adult contemporary station forced to infiltrate hip-hop into their mix: Prince, Sting, Outkast, 2Pac and Sade.
What's apparent is that, unlike Jay-Z and Ludacris' respective collaborations, this band is not simply a rock band with a rapper for a front man— Free Sol is a band in the truest sense of the word, even improvising at their live shows.
Although Anderson says the band's style, which often includes horns and bright keyboards usually found only in '70s soul, alongside metal guitar and a hip-hop beat, isn't completely embraced by the hip-hop audiences in his hometown ("They call me a 'head banger,'" he says), he isn't phased by the Memphis attitude.
"I don't think they get it, yet. I hate to say, but I think a lot of times that crowd needs video exposure (to accept new music). The whole Memphis crowd is used to a certain mentality and a certain style. Memphis is a hard place to stay. It's a great place to be from, but it's a hard place to stay. But I wouldn't want to do it anywhere else," he says, adding, "I think we're opening (new) doors."
Anderson says their next album "In the Spirit of David," the follow up to their debut 11:11, will hit stores this summer.
Free Sol will perform in the Hal & Mal's Red Room, Friday, July 15, 9 p.m. for a Jackson Free Press party.