“I found my people,” he says of the children’s music community. “We all have the same mission to make dope music, but our content’s different. Kids have all these ‘aha’ moments, so it’s a great relationship.”
Expanding his youth advocacy, which Neal says reaches over 100,000 kids annually across events, the artist debuts his first-ever musical theatre production. SaulPaul’s Alien Adventure runs Feb. 8 through March 1 at the Scottish Rite Theater, scored by Neal and directed by Delanté Keys. Neal previously provided original music for the theatre’s hip-hop musical Rap Unzel.
He penned Alien Adventure with creative partner Bianca Neal after dreaming up an outer space tale of self-discovery one night. Building in humor for older onlookers, the play begins when kiddos find a Walkman and are baffled by the old-timey tech. Naturally, it summons an alien with time traveling abilities.
Alongside new compositions, the production revisits SaulPaul’s discography, distinguished by blending acoustic guitar, rapping, and singing on a loop pedal. The lively “Home,” a bilingual duet with 123 Andrés, matches a dance number in Mexico. “Motivation,” a Zulu-language collab with South African duo Bongi & Collin, soundtracks a scene in the country.
“As a touring artist, I’ve been exposed to so many different cultures,” adds Neal. “You realize there are other ways to do things, and these nuances and distinctions need to be celebrated.”
The larger business of being SaulPaul is perhaps best explained by his past few months. In November, new memoir Be the Change detailed his transformation “from prison incarceration to college graduation.” The next month, he brought a program under the same name to Asheville, N.C., where the artist trained Buncombe County police on restorative justice practices.
Before Grammy weekend, he attended the Folk Alliance International Conference. During a presentation on looping, he built up a rendition of Lead Belly‘s early recordings of “Amazing Grace.” Layers of beatboxing and guitar eventually invited the folk-oriented audience to sing the chorus.
“Then I rapped, like gritty rapped, ‘Two years in the pen plus three on parole/ Now that’s five years of my life, and where did they go?'” he explains. “I created this space where I could be authentically me, spit how I spit, and yet have these people sharing the hook. That’s my secret – finding the memorable moment.”
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