Small town rapper Josh Sallee left big impressions on thousands this week at South by Southwest.
Sallee isn’t the typical rapper from New York or California but is from Oklahoma and found his footing in the Midwest. He currently has about 5,000 listeners on Spotify, but he does not expect it to stay that way for long.
Sallee officially started his career a few years ago but his attraction to music goes further back and is rooted in a much larger commitment.
“I always loved music,” Sallee said. “Loved rhythm. Dancing. I always liked to watch how much someone enjoyed listening to their favorite song. But I think I started making music because it gave my entire life meaning. It gave me a purpose.”
His full length album Know Society demonstrated Sallee’s ability to draw from artists but maintain a distinct sound. On tracks such as “Garth Brooks” Sallee changes up the speed and intensity of his lyrics in distinct clean-cut measures and switches from high energy bouncing lines to slower, more deliberate speech.
Sallee doesn’t limit his inspiration for artistry to just rap, though.
“Guys like Eminem and 3 Stacks, Mr. Pookie, lots of southern guys, Incubus, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Citizen Cope, [these] are guys I think inspired me in ways,” Sallee said. “It’s hard to pick out what I drew from because I just try to create by feel, but I’m a firm believer all originality draws from some sort of inspiration.”
Sallee attributes part of his distinct sound to his producer and life-long friend Blev, who produced ‘Garth Brooks’ and helped highlight the variable speeds in Sallee’s lyrics.
“My best friend I grew up with who makes most of my beats, his name is Blev, he’s easily been the biggest influence on my sound,” Sallee said. “We came up together and he’s never shy to tell me when something isn’t as good as it could be. He’s really a genius musically.”
As the rap troupe has released numerous EPs and singles since Know Society, their sound has developed as well. In a recent single, “Awayo”, the production and lyrics combine into a tight, repayable four-minute track that wouldn’t be out of place on a main stage.
Sallee’s lyrics are smart and touch on many of the problems he sees in society. There won’t be Childish Gambino levels of word play, but the lines are filled with the same earnest thought provoking accusations of Chance the Rapper or Macklemore at ever changing speeds.
Over the past weekend Sallee performed at SXSW.
“SXSW isn’t like a usual festival with a huge stage, central location, enclosed space,” Sallee said. “It’s all of 6th and Austin. There are parties everywhere. You can walk in on a big name playing for free. You can run into Bill Murray at a bar. That’s so unique.”
Additionally, Sallee said SXSW is different than most venues because of the inconsistency from show to show.
“Performance wise, honestly, SXSW is difficult,” Sallee said. “Short sets. Sometimes packed, sometimes not. When you’re an independent artist, it’s a toss-up each showcase. Which can also work in your favor. I enjoy performing because usually people don’t expect me to come with such a high level of energy and lyrics.”
As the group moves forward Sallee has a clear vision for how to progress both his own brand as well as the entire Oklahoma rap scene.
“I hope to build something national, while also shining light on where I’m from,” Sallee said. “Oklahoma has built a unique hip hop scene that I think, given the right attention, could give the world some really talented artists. We have a strong plan, a strong team and are hungrier than ever. So I see it developing into something that really grows.”
Sallee’s next EP, Hush Hush is set for release this April. Producer Blev is also at work on his first solo project due out this spring.