Introducing Stevie Soul, a Detroit beatboxer — plus video producer, graphic designer and restaurateur — who refuses to be boxed in
By Katherine Martinelli
Photography by David Tappan
Beatboxer Stevie Soul’s career unofficially began as a kid, thanks to the b-b-b sound that came as he tried to spit out his brother Billy’s name. Now, decades later, on any given night you can find Soul performing his vocal gymnastics all over town, putting on solo shows and collaborating with local musicians. “From a young age I’ve always been obsessed with longevity in the music industry,” says the 32-year-old Detroiter, whose energy mirrors that of his music.
Born Steven Ansara, Soul had a severe stutter as a child, which made him an “easy target” for bullies. Through the frustration, he noticed that sometimes his stutter sounded like a snare or a bass drum, and so he started to play around with those sounds. “I would kind of reshape them into decent patterns,” he says. “And before I knew it, I had a little rhythm and I was beatboxing.” Although he didn’t quite know what beatboxing was, he says, he knew it sounded cool, and that he liked doing it.
Music runs in the family. Soul’s older brother, Nabil “Billy” Ansara — a.k.a. DJ Sandman — set up a studio in the basement of their Redford home and Soul spent much of his free time there. The budding entrepreneur would clean his brother’s friends’ shoes for a few bucks, so he garnered the nickname Stevie Sole. But soon they noticed him beatboxing along to the music and decided the moniker Stevie Soul was more appropriate instead.
When Soul began beatboxing at school, the kids who had been picking on him changed their tune and began asking him to “do that thing you do.” Friends started signing him up for talent shows and asking him to perform at parties. “I went from not really having an identity and trying to figure it out as a chubby kid who stuttered to having almost a brand and a vibe,” Soul says. “It was just incredible to go through this 360. I just really leaned into it — and became obsessed with this art form.”
Fast-forward to today, and Soul is a beatboxer who won’t be boxed in. He’s a human instrument, a one-person band who can transform his voice box into a drum set or an entire horn section — and he’s constantly finding ways to flex all his creative muscles while staying relevant in a competitive field. One of his signature moves is plugging a microphone into a guitar loop pedal to create layer upon layer of vocals. And he’s moving beyond just making beats: In 2019’s “Up All Night,” an original R&B music video, he beatboxes as well as sings along with a musical accompaniment. (To hear his tunes, check out his website or Instagram, listed at the bottom of this story.)
Soul likes to challenge the conception that beatboxing only works alongside hip hop, and has jammed with the likes of jazz vocalist Nicole New and violinists from Detroit Youth Volume.
To say that Stevie Soul keeps busy would be an understatement. By day, he works as a video producer on commercials and short documentaries for Woodward Original, a local production company he helped found. He’s also a graphic designer and involved with two restaurants — La Pecora Nera and ChickP — in downtown Detroit. Somehow, between all of this, he also finds time to work out.
As Soul — whose stutter is nearly imperceptible today — describes the daily work he puts into his career and the new ideas he’s constantly exploring, it’s clear that his mind rarely rests. He credits this drive to the time spent growing up in his family’s jewelry store. “My parents, like a lot of Jordanian parents and Middle Eastern parents at that time, were entrepreneurs,” he says — though he’s quick to point out that entrepreneur wasn’t really a word back then. But experiencing firsthand the ebbs and flows of owning your own business instilled an innate sense of hustle and drive in Soul.
For 2020, Soul is planning a video series of collaborations with local non-musicians. “I’ve been obsessed with the sounds of life and the rhythm of life,” he explains. The first video shows an athlete jumping rope while Soul beatboxes along to the slaps and tempo of the movement. Another will feature a chef chopping a knife. “I want to watch them and score what they do and work with them to produce these fun videos in unique spaces in Detroit,” he says. Soul wants to use his craft to better understand theirs, all while bringing a completely fresh perspective to something people have seen and heard a million times before, like a basketball player dribbling a ball.
For Stevie Soul, the goal is to continue doing what he’s doing, but to keep taking it to higher and higher levels. “I’ve always been inching at it, every day taking a crack at new things,” he says. “I’m constantly growing and evolving.”
For more information, visit steviesoul.com or his Instagram @mrsteviesoul.