Josh Sallee makes it cool to care
The Oklahoma City rapper is releasing his third album, ‘Know Society,’ and helping build the hip-hop scene in his home state.
Josh Sallee has plenty to say about society, and he’s delivering his thought-provoking messages in rapid-fire fashion to an almost cinematic flow of beats.
“I feel like society is in a spot where it’s kind of cool to not care. It’s just this vague, this weird kind of apathetic way to look at things. And I don’t really agree with that,” Sallee said Monday during an interview at the OPUBCO studios.
“I think you should kind of care about your surroundings. You should care about yourself. You should care about life in general and people around you and your happiness, long-term, short-term. Those are all things that should matter. It’s not just like ‘Oh, no, I don’t care.’ So I’m kind of trying to bring that to my music.”
On Sunday, the Oklahoma City rapper is releasing digitally “Know Society,” his third album in three years. The album is the first local label Pairadime Music Group is dropping via Empire Distribution, which helped garner national attention for Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q.
Sallee is planning a local listening party Saturday night at Twisted Root Gallery, where entry will be free for those who pre-order the album on iTunes.
“We’ve never actually sold a project,” said Sallee, who offered up his 2011 debut “Return to Sender” and the 2012 follow-up “Probable Flaws” as free downloads.
“With this project, we came to the point that like, OK, we have it big. We have enough cities to tour, we can tour a few different markets in a few different states, … so we were like, let’s see what we can do.”
Gray Thomas, Pairadime co-founder and Sallee’s manager, said that the rapper has embraced the creative freedom of making music as an independent artist over the past couple years.
“In hip-hop so much music comes out for free every day, so there’s a pressure to try to keep up,” Thomas said. “A lot of stuff happened like up and down that he talks about on the album, just how close we were to a couple of things — signing a couple of deals, doing different things, a couple of major things almost working out and falling through – to some friends moving away. … It took those two years for him to like really grow up as a person and know what he wanted to convey with that music.”
Sallee, 26, started rapping freestyle as a Bixby High School student but has made it his true vocation the past three years.
“I quit waiting tables after I graduated college,” said Sallee, who played golf and earned his advertising degree at the University of Central Oklahoma. “It was the week before my first album came out. So, we like sold out the release show, and ever since then, this has been my job. And this is what we’ve kind of geared toward, making it a career. And we’re on our way.”
He returned to his home turf to make “Know Society,” which he recorded at Tulsa’s Shwing! Studios, working closely with engineers Steve Carpenter and Tyler Reynolds as well as his childhood pal Courtney “Blev” Blevins, who often deejays for Sallee as Bleverly Hills.
“It’s nice to like create the project and not go outside of my friends. My friends are cool and then the guys at the studio are good because they’re not yes men. I’m like ‘Do you think that sounds good?’ and they’re like, ‘Naw, I don’t like that.’ That’s a very strong quality I think in making a good project is having creative people involved and taking their opinion on it, even if I’m like ‘Well, I do think it sounds good; let’s keep it,’” he said.
In turn, music has helped Sallee widen his circle of friends: Helping local filmmaker (and NewsOK videographer) Kyle Roberts fundraise for his movie “The Posthuman Project” introduced the rapper to up-and-coming Oklahoma actress Alex Harris, who stars in the new music video for “Switch Lives,” the first single from “Know Society.”
A mutual love of hip-hop also connected him with arguably the best basketball player on the planet: Kevin Durant. The Thunder superstar has even invited Sallee into his home studio to record, which led to the December drop of “Whole Life,” a collaborative track by Durant, Sallee, Privaledge and CL McCoy.
“We were watching the All-Star Game … and my friend was like ‘Dude, you have a song with him.’ And I was like ‘that’s so weird.’ It was such an organic friend-to-friend meeting,” Sallee said.
“He’s a fan of good music, he’s a fan of hip-hop. You know, he’s all about it. We were just recording for fun. He’s just having fun with it.”
While “Know Society” isn’t quite a concept album, Sallee had a specific flow in mind when he began paring down to the final 12 tracks.
“I wanted it sonically to sound kind of like how a movie goes,” he said. “A movie I like, let’s say maybe ‘The Great Gatsby’ or something like that, it starts out … very high energy, so that’s kind of where the intro comes from. But then the movie like immediately settles down after the pre-credits with the cool scenes.”
The album builds to a big climax with “Garth Brooks,” a track that addresses, among other topics, his recognition that hip-hop isn’t exactly the genre that most people think of when they think of Oklahoma.
“Country music is just so big here. There’s always a good country show to go to. And it’s not that people aren’t taking it (hip-hop) seriously, it’s just that it’s OK for it to be from here. And people may take it differently outside, like ‘Oh, he’s from Oklahoma, where’s his cowboy hat at?’ … But there’s no reason that it can’t happen from here,” he added with a smile.
“That song ‘Garth Brooks,’ is just like ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re here, Garth. Like, recognize.’”
Although the UCO alumnus initially considered moving to Los Angeles to pursue his music dream, now his dream is stay in his home state and help build its rap scene.
“Being this rapper in Oklahoma, it’s a different career choice, let’s say, for a college grad. The name Garth Brooks is so substantial here and the name Toby Keith and country music. And there’s nothing wrong with it. Absolutely nothing. I mean, I’m a Casey Donahew fan,” Sallee said.
“But it’s just so different, playing shows in Stillwater at the Tumbleweed, playing at SWOSU (Southwestern Oklahoma State University) with Stoney LaRue at ‘Raps and Chaps,’ these are things that not many people who come up in rap music go through. …
“It’s kind of like, look, I’ve done this hip-hop thing, it’s solidified, and I want it to become to where if people come out of Oklahoma – whether it’s me, whether it’s a different type of alternative band, whether it’s a DJ – it no longer needs to be weird.”
Josh Sallee’s “Know Society” Listening Party
With: Mike Turner, Mon and Blake Bass.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Twisted Root Gallery, 3012 N Walker.
Admission: Free with iTunes pre-order or $5.
Information: 208-4288 or www.Twitter.com/joshsallee.