The Musical Journey of Souleye
Souleye’s musical career began in the trunk of a car. The rapper, hip-hop artist and songwriter was on his way to a party in pastoral New England hill country in a car so laden down with his friends that he and another teen hopped in the trunk. The year was 1996, and Souleye was still Mario Treadway, a high school kid and basketball player who had spent his entire life in the New England backwoods around Sturbridge, MA.
“I just remember the trees and the bonfire,” says Souleye. He doesn’t remember who the girl was, where the party was, or the name of the kid by the fire dropping lyrics. “He was just another kid, rhyming by the fire. I jumped in and just started rhyming.”
As one verse flowed into another, Souleye’s love for music blossomed and by the end of that evening, that bonfire session propelled him onto a road into the world of music and instilled in him and his lyrics a sense of mystical spirit.
“I got one rhyme, and then another. Before long, I wasn’t aware of what I was going to say,” Souleye says. “There is a sense of spirit with voice and rhythm. It was like I was connecting to the lyrics coming from somewhere else.”
For the last twenty years, that sense of spiritual connection has driven Souleye’s music and life. From a mountainside bonfire to Mount Shasta, in Northern California, he has followed a path not of his own creation. Like the freestyle lyrics that flow through his songs, Souleye’s musical journey has unfolded from somewhere beyond him, somewhere in the intersection of coincidence and opportunity.
When a snowboarding accident threatened to derail his college career, something “just clicked” for Souleye. He had been attending college in Florida on a basketball scholarship—sleeping with a basketball and headphones—when the accident occurred. After a brief visit back to Massachusetts, Souleye made the cross-country trek to northern California’s historic Mount Shasta, a place he describes as spiritual and one of the chakras of the planet.
There, he found himself in an environment that fostered the kinds of spiritual connections he felt whenever he rapped. Meditation classes, yoga practice and Raki were just a few of the influences he absorbed in Mount Shasta, where he worked to “stay open like a sponge” and drink in the spiritual atmosphere. During this period, an imperative began to form in his mind: Music was a passion.
“If I didn’t follow this passion and be creative, then what am I here for? This is my mission,” he says.
Listening to hip-hop most of the day, though was somewhat disheartening. The music was innovative and challenging, with depth of creativity and performance. Yet the lyrics were often confrontational, frequently violent and rarely positive. Souleye knew that high-vibe words—the kinds of words with a power he was observing at Mount Shasta—could drive a positive hip-hop that was still cool.
“It’s not about changing hip-hop,” Souleye says. “It’s about providing something else for people to choose on the plate.”
He blended electronic beats and hip-hop, borrowed elements of trip hop and old school rhythms, and began a life-long practice of crossing genres. Instead of focusing on the negative, Souleye takes a circumspect approach that involves processing the negative, accepting the world around you and then looking at how you feel. At once intimate and confrontational, this is Souleye.
“There’s enough punching of people in the face,” he says. “It’s time we make eye contact.”
Though barely into adulthood, Souleye had found his calling and was well on the way to honing the talent that would eventually lead to world tours and critical acclaim. Yet, he still had a long way to go on the road of life and as with so many other journeys, home repeatedly called.
When a childhood friend, Zach, was stricken with cancer, Souleye returned to Massachusetts to be with him. The experience was both tragic and transformative. Soon after Zach passed away, Souleye’s brother presented him with a memento, a sticker that read simply, “Music Matters.”
Souleye wrote and re-cordered his first record, an underground hip-hop compilation he released on MySpace, not long after. Two months later, while on a trip to Florida, Souleye received devastating news. After years of struggling with bipolar disorder, his brother hanged himself. Again, the journey took Souleye back to Massachusets, this time to tend to his brother’s final arrangements. There, he found something that has steeled his commitment and drive. His brother had listened to Souleye’s first album and affixed a copy of the “Music Matters” sticker nearby.
He understands the pressures of life, especially in light of his brother’s illness that led to the decision. At the same time, Souleye exhibits a deep understanding of the “now” that moment in his life and the life of his brother, and he acknowledges there is nothing he could have done. He was, after all, still just a kid himself.
“Shit, I was trying to figure out what I was doing,” he says.
The music intervened again when a casual contact he had made years before reached back out. He was, as Souleye puts it, “a kid named Sam who wanted to make beats.”
Souleye had a spare room in Florida and a desire to make music. So Sam hopped on a Greyhound south. A year later, he was on Jam Cruise, a hip-hop festival organized by Mark Brown. On this cruise, Souleye’s music began to draw the attention of Bela Fleck and Les Claypool.
“They were coming to me,” he says, a sense of surprise still evident. For Souleye, recognizing his musical journey didn’t alleviate any sense of wonder he might feel along the way. When his roommates recommended a move to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, Souleye found himself before an audience of 80,000 at the Ultra Musical Festival. Since then, he’s played with Bassnectar, MIMosa and other groups, defying genre as he brings in hip hop, rap, R&B, soul, EDM, and even Bluegrass.
Six albums, more than 100 songs, and more than 400 shows later, Souleye’s music is capturing the hearts and minds of a devoted fan base. His musical journey is far from over, and as he continues to evolve, Souleye’s lyrics grow deeper, his songs more powerful, and his life and music more entwined.
In 2009, while on a meditation gathering, he met singer-songwriter Alanis Morissette. They married in 2010 and he opened her 2012 “Guardian Angel” world tour. The couple have two children, Ever and Onyx Solace, and make their home in Los Angeles.