Web and flow

Photo: Mark Hancock

There’s a lyric from Josh Sallee’s new album, Know Society, in which the 26-year-old Oklahoma City rapper confronts this very issue: “Who is he?/ Is he who he sees?/ Is he everything that he ever liked or seen?/ Is the game of fame influencing?” 

The song — “TLD – Technologicallogicaldreams” — serves as a cautionary tale, whether for aspiring artists or, perhaps more likely, Sallee himself. On the surface, it’s about staying true to one’s roots, having an authentic sense of self in a field rife with inflated egos. But it’s also a pivotal examination of an artist who, at this point in his career, could just as easily become what he fears most.

From the moment he stepped foot in then- shallow OKC hip-hop waters, Sallee always stuck out. That he was a bony white kid from Bixby in a historically inner-city game was enough to raise a few eyebrows, yet his natural ability — an enviable flow and razor-sharp wit — would soon outweigh his demure, boyish stature.

“When I first started doing shows around here, I was the only white rapper at a high level, so the shock factor was there,” Sallee said. “The quality of the music at the time wasn’t great, but the potential was there. I had a very strong flow for being new to it.”

Golf and grit 

star athlete at Bixby High School, Sallee attended the University of
Central Oklahoma on a golf scholarship. After unearthing his talent in
college, he uploaded some freestyles to YouTube and began to make a name
for himself. He graduated with a degree in advertising in 2011 and
waited tables until releasing his debut album, Return to Sender, later that year.

In an effort to focus on music full-time, he quit his job and hasn’t looked back since.

was raised in a household where values took precedence. Both his
parents were involved in the church — his father as a pastor — and
served as models of positive conviction through even his darkest

This innate
positivity is especially evident in his music, which echoes a new wave
of socially conscious rappers like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar while
carving a lyrical niche unique to Sallee’s own life experiences.

caring is kind of the ‘cool’ thing, but when I meet those kinds of
people, I’m turned off. I don’t want to represent that in my music,” he
said. “If I were to be the most famous person in the world but I lost
connection with my entire family, it wouldn’t be worth it for me.”

Don’t be fooled by his selflessness, though; Sallee’s tracks hit hard. Between
the fiercely slick production of longtime DJ and collaborator Blev and
Sallee’s own venomous cadence, the searing confidence their songs exude
leaves little to the imagination.

This makes it all the more surprising — for many, even refreshing — that profanity is virtually nonexistent in Sallee’s music.

not that he has some moral opposition to it — many of his favorite
songs would suggest otherwise — but actually something far more
sensible: In a genre where words are valued at high dollar, Sallee opts
for a more efficient use of language.

left out curse words in my music and was able to still get the same
message across,” he said. “It’s not a stance; it’s just this respect
for listeners and knowing that I’m talented enough to make great music
and say the things I want, mention my downfalls.”

would be imprudent to point to his religious upbringing and pigeonhole
Sallee as a Christian rapper. While he is, indeed, a spiritual person,
it’s not something he flaunts.

a man of faith, but religion is so skewed right now and such a hot
topic,” he said. “For me, the things that hurt religion are people in
religion. What they’re saying overall is a good thing, but it’s people
who have done things to put it in a bad place.”

‘Coming to fruition’ 

sentiments might sound familiar to those acquainted with Jabee, another
rising, homegrown emcee. In addition to sharing the local hip-hop
limelight, the two have witnessed firsthand and contributed to the
scene’s rapid ascension.

is quick to drop such names as OKC’s Frank Black or Moore-based
wordsmith Wildcat as evidence of a recent influx in local talent. But
when he first arrived, it was largely a one-man show.

I started, it was Jabee; that’s the only name I knew or heard,” he
said. “Now, it’s incredible, the level of talent. There are people who
are paving their own way. Everything I saw four years ago is now coming
to fruition, and that’s cool.”

weren’t cool, however, between Sallee and Jabee four years ago; Jabee
was the scene’s revered kingpin, Sallee the hotshot gunslinger with eyes
planted firmly on the throne. It was a rivalry that epitomized a common
theme within the broader hip-hop landscape, though theirs wasn’t
exactly healthy.

the beginning, it was kind of a competition. We had to get comfortable
with each other,” Sallee said. “I used to hate him, and he used to hate
me, but we settled it. I guess you just grow up.”

the time since, Sallee has recorded at Atlanta’s prestigious Tree Sound
Studios, established a fan base that spans coast to coast and performed
with some of the biggest names in rap music, including Mac Miller, Big
K.R.I.T. and Curren$y. Know Society, his third full-length album,
drops February 23 via local indie label Pairadime Music Group through
Empire Distribution — yet another cog in the rising emcee’s evolutionary

Things have
clearly changed since his YouTube freestyle days, and so has Sallee. But
where others have strayed from who they once were in pursuit of their
dreams, Sallee is discovering himself and realizing them at the same

“[Know Society] is deeper, and it addresses things that I
want to address,” he said. “It’s hard to really judge anybody, but we
all do. I just put something out that I think is true to me and says a
lot about myself, and I think that, in itself, will be processed well.
And if it’s not, then we’re gonna make another one.”

The official Know Society listening
party is 9 p.m. Saturday at Twisted Root Gallery, 3012 N. Walker Ave.,
and will feature performances from local rappers Mike Turner, Mon and
Blake Bass. Admission is $5 or free with a pre-order of the album
through iTunes.

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