A boy named Steven Ansara sat alone in his room, trying to force the rough, staccato sounds escaping his throat into words. He wrestled with his own vocal cords to choke out his brother’s name — Billy. But his stutter would only allow the first beat: “B-b-b-b-b—.” It was the sound of a drum, he realized. And he did it again.
The nickname wouldn’t be bestowed upon Ansara until high school, but by the time he emerged from that room, he had become Stevie Soul. Eventually, he overcame what most would consider a flaw, not by fighting it, but by leaning into it. “I started creating beats and patterns with it, just as a technique to work through my stutter,” he says. “And I discovered that I really enjoyed it.”
Now 32, Soul is best known around metro Detroit as a beatboxer with the ability to uncannily recreate the sounds of numerous instruments, such as trumpets, saxophones, and guitars, using only his mouth. Beatboxing may have been his first artistic talent to emerge, but it was far from the last. The multimedia artist writes and performs his own music while also producing films through his company, Woodward Originals.
Soul’s latest project is a summation of the various skills he’s built throughout his career. Soul is partnering with Detroit’s finest in fields from athletics to culinary arts to produce a series of videos inspired by the sounds of everyday life. Each installment will combine the sights and sounds of his collaborators’ trades with Soul’s beats and videography in an iconic Detroit setting. The results will be individual multilayered, audio-visual experiences.
Soul says he’s been practicing the concept in his head for years. “If I hear a car alarm or something beeping, I start adding a little backbeat to it,” he says. “I’m realizing there are sounds all around us that create unique kinds of beats and melodies.” The first episode in this project, for instance, features the rapidly succeeding sounds of cable smacking concrete, as competitive jump roper Eli Lindauer executes a perfectly timed routine.
For Soul’s next video, which debuted this month, he partnered with longtime friend Sadelle Moore. Though he’s best known as StockX’s “sneaker guy” (aka lead footwear authenticator), it’s Moore’s basketball skills that make an appearance in his musical debut. But when Soul first proposed the idea, Moore was hesitant. “I thought, ‘How is this going to turn out? Is this a good idea?’ because I’d never seen it before,” he says. So, Moore started watching Soul’s past collaborations for reference. “Once I saw a couple of his videos with other people, it automatically clicked, and I was all for it.”
The piece was to be filmed at St. Cecilia’s gym — an intentional decision meant to pay homage to Detroit’s past. Sacred to local hoops fanatics, the historic West Side church saw Pistons greats such as Earl Cureton, Dave Bing, and Joe Dumars grace its hardwood. “My goal is to film each video at a unique or iconic Detroit location so there’s this element of connectivity to it all,” Soul says.
The collaborative nature of his current project is no novelty for Soul. He has worked with a plethora of multidisciplinary artists, including fellow Detroit musicians Nicole New and Omar Aragonés. It’s this human connection, he says, that has always been the foundation of his artistry.
“Sometimes, you click right off the bat. It happens far and few between, but when it happens, it’s magical,” he says. “It’s that lightning in a bottle I’m chasing every time.”