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Detroit, Michigan, United States | SELF

Detroit, Michigan, United States | SELF
Band Hip Hop Alternative


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"Who the fuck is SelfSays?"

Who the fuck is SelfSays?
Journeyman emcee moves to the Motor City and takes over ... London?
MT Photo: Doug Coombe
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By Travis R. Wright

When this cat Charles Vann stepped onto Detroit's rap scene last winter, newly dubbed as SelfSays, he arrived as a new face and a fresh voice. For some vet local emcees, DJs, promoters and hip-hop heads who've kept track of important and upcoming names and faces over the years, Vann's move to Detroit was inevitability — especially given Detroit's recent rap revival, with such acts as Black Milk, Guilty Simpson and Danny Brown breaking out of here. In other words, there was no better time to make the move — and Detroit welcomed SelfSays into the city with open arms. Funny thing is, though, during the last year, Vann's music hasn't received the most attention in Detroit or even Michigan but rather in London, England.

To dispel any rumors you may have heard about this much-talked-about rapper, no, Vann is not from London. (To confirm another: The man is seriously funny.) Vann's mother fulfilled a lifelong dream four years ago when she moved to England. Her roots however, like those of her son, can be traced back to our working-class state capital of Lansing. A few months ago, Vann flew out to London for the first time since his mother had made the move. What happened while he was there was one of those "chance of a lifetime" moments.

"You never know who's listening to your music," he explains. "And you never know who they might know or where they work or what they could be connected to."

Up until then, Vann had tracked his growing popularity in London via downloads on blog posts; soon thereafter, he began receiving countless e-mails from genuinely loyal hip-hop fans, and has only continued to get more over the last few years. One fan was a chap named Tom. Tom knew his good mate Alex would also dig the recently released SelfSays EP, Something Out of Nothing. Well, it turns out Alex did dig it — and it turns out Alex also works at Browns-wood Recordings, the record label of iconic British radio DJ Gilles Peterson. And it turned out that during what was originally planned as a visit to see Mom ended up with Vann visiting BBC Studios and making an appearance on the disc jockey's weekly show.

"The way I heard it, they were working in the [label] office one day and Alex had [the SelfSays track] 'Little Things' playing in the background. Gilles was like, 'Oh, who's this? This is kinda sweet.' Well, Alex told him a bit about me and that I was coming over soon.

"So I get to London and meet up with Tom and Alex, who asked, 'You want to go to the radio station?' I couldn't believe it! We get to BBC and Gilles is there doing his show. He quietly invites us in while a song is playing, fades the song out and softly leans into the mic: 'We got SelfSays in the studio — Detroit — oh, yeah!"

At that point, Vann says he pretty much "lost it." But a little later on in the show, as the now-comfortable rapper was lounging on the couch, watching Peterson pluck records to spin, he hears the intro to "Little Things."

"Alex told me that he didn't know it was going to happen. I definitely didn't think that was going to happen," Vann recalls. "I'm still tripping over that shit."

Even more hits to his website — and taps on the "click here to download" button — immediately followed. The opportunity wasn't lost on Vann.

"It's hard to explain to some people who don't follow music culture just how big that moment was. There's no American equivalent for Gilles Peterson."

Of course, it's a pivotal moment in any musician's career to be played on the radio — but Peterson's internationally aired show is, for many, the portal to Western urban music, from acid jazz to afrobeat, rap and R&B. So here was a kid who wrote his first raps in middle school — but didn't let anyone hear them — witnessing firsthand a song of his being played, quite literally, around the world.

Growing up in Lansing, Vann was not your typical hip-hop runt. "I was a nerdy kid — I did well in school," he recalls. "This whole rap thing is one of the only extroverted sides I have."

Becoming a rapper wasn't about trying to invent a hip alter ego, though: "I never wanted to be cool. I just wanted to not suck."

During those formative years, when the innocence of cartoons still has some sway on the soul, Vann was also being seduced by music he heard from his cousins and uncles as well as from the trendsetting video show, Yo! MTV Raps.

"Early on it was Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD and stuff like that. Later, it was Wu-Tang, Mobb Deep — super East Coast and super lyrical. If it wasn't super lyrical, I wasn't with it."

Yes, Vann had found exactly what it was he "didn't want to suck" doing. First, he took the name XCel, "but then I found out that there was a guy named Chief XL from the Bay Area group Blackalicious." So he changed it to MI-Self, an ode to his home state and his solitary nature, before sticking with SelfSays.

In Lansing, he found the music scene was just a party; its focus was on getting fucked-up, not cultivating music. "I wanted to be heard. I wanted to find any place I could rap, and in Lansing there weren't any," says Vann, who took off to Ann Arbor in the mid-2000s. "I saw Athletic Mic League [which spawned 14K, Buff 1 and Mayer Hawthorne] and OneBeLo doing some big things, so I thought I should head out to A2. It sounded cool, but it wasn't my time."

Although he didn't blossom, fame-wise, in Ann Arbor, he did succeed in beginning to build a rep for SelfSays. He won over crowds at open-mic nights and collaborated with some of the best rappers in the area, including work on Lawless Element's 2005 release, Soundvision: In Stereo, which features such rap royalty as J Dilla, Madlib, Melanie Rutherford, Phat Kat and Big Tone — all big-shots alongside a young upstart named SelfSays.

Though the allure of hip hop took the man from Lansing to Ann Arbor, Detroit's rich music community was only a fraction of his motive for a second move to the D. Musically, he already had some allies before moving here, including rapper-producer Nick Speed and the United States of Mind crew. Unemployed and surrounded by creative and musically inclined acquaintances, Vann made the decision to "give it a go more than ever."

But he discovered that that it's a city that's thick with rap cliques. It's a hard town for nomadic rappers that way. "At times, I felt very alone," he affirms. "I thought people weren't getting it and that the people who did get it weren't digging it. But I had to stop thinking about all that stuff and just make music. Once I took control and shed the bullshit, things started happening — fast. All of a sudden, I put a record and, all of a sudden, people were listening to it."

Discuss local music with Vann and you can see that he gets agitated, even frustrated, because there is so much Detroit-bred talent he wants to work with but so little time and money to make it happen. It's not just about rap music, either. Vann says he wants to collaborate with the city's indie music elite, including electro-pop sensation Deastro and deep groove melody makers Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. just as much as he does such pedigreed rap acts as Nick Speed, Black Milk, Danny Brown and ElzHi.

But turn the focus to what he could bring to the table, musically, and Vann's social insecurities flare with his defense mechanisms taking over. That is, turn the spotlight on Vann and he tries to downplay what rap music — clearly his life passion — means to him.

"I never wanted to be one of those dudes who are like, 'Yeah, man — watch the fuck out, son! I got my record coming out and you can't even comprehend how dope it is,'" he laughs. "I'm just not that guy. It's just rap. It's just rap."

Yeah, Charles. Keep trying to tell yourself that. You ain't foolin' no one! - MetroTimes

"SelfSays – Something Out Of Nothing"

What's so good?

Charles Vann and his music are not aesthetically pretty. Charles (aka SelfSays) is an awkward 20something kid. He’s from a Detroit suburb, but he’s not affiliated with Black Milk or Slum Village, and his music is more immediately akin to Aesop Rock; he doesn’t rap about his Escalade, trips to the strip club, or the notorious 7 mile. Instead, his music combines the usual rapper braggadocio with small, socially clumsy moments he experiences daily.

His Something Out Of Nothing EP did not receive huge praise upon arrival, but a year or so after its release, it’s aged surprisingly well. Recorded over two years ago, the EP’s production list looks like a who’s who of electro beats before they got “big” (that being an extremely relative term, since the sub-genre itself is niche). Folks like Knxwledge, Devonwho, Samiyam, Buillon, and veteran Dakim craft the moody, off-kilter soundscape for Charles to lay his hopes and worries over.

This kind of rap is not currently in the spotlight, but it is refreshing, honest and original. - IndieShuffle

"SelfSays “Something Out Of Nothing” EP (FREE DOWNLOAD)"

Rapper SelfSays (Charles Vann to his friends) doesn’t take himself too seriously. But fortunately for him, the rest of the music world does. The self-described “cat lover” and “professional face-maker” has been making moves in recent months — collaborating with producers Blockhead (Ninja Tune), Shigeto (Ghostly), Samiyam (Brainfeeder), and Subtitle (Lab Waste), just to name a few. One of the rawest talents outta Lansing, MI since Magic Johnson — his “Lost and Found” EP is due out on Earnest Endeavours’ record label later this year. To celebrate, he’s offering his “Something Out Of Nothing” EP as a FREE DOWNLOAD - Urb Magazine


Kollage (2) - Volume.01
2009|CD|Not On Label|none
Dym Cut Off Branches Time SelfSays Rap [Featuring] Self Says Language Heartbeat Russell Tate (2
Ki En Ra - City Of Moment EP
Instrumental Electro Uni uni Way Back wayback SelfSays Rap [Featuring] B.B. Thing bbthing The Journey ... thejourney SelfSays Rap [Featuring] Golden Child goldenchild Phoenix phoenix Question question That's Love
Matt G (2) - Dead Duck
2009|CDr|Not On Label|none
Rap [Featuring] SelfSays To Ga-Ga (Instrumental) SelfSays Producer Needed SolPercussion Producer
SolPercussion - Karmatic Kolours
2008|CDr|Not On Label|none
] Plee (2) Rap [Featuring] DJ Erwin Plus Scratches Dreams, Life And Fame Plee (2) Rap [Featuring] SelfSays ... Change D. Allie Rap [Featuring] Translated Asylum 7 Rap [Featuring] SelfSays Rap [Featuring] DJ Erwin
Self Says* - Something Out Of Nothing
2009|All Media, File, File, File, File, File|Not On Label (SelfSays Self-released)|none
SelfSays Self Says Something Out Of Nothing Not On Label (SelfSays Self-released) none All Media EP
Ki En Ra - City Of Moment EP
Instrumental Hip Hop Uni uni Way Back wayback SelfSays Rap [Featuring] B. B. Thing bbthing The Journey ... thejourney SelfSays Rap [Featuring] Golden Child goldenchild Phoenix phoenix Question question That's Love



Charles Vann, an ordinary man, is poised to be one of the most refreshing new voices in hip-hop. As SelfSays he makes music that balances quirky, off-kilter rhyme styles with more serious, straight-aced lyricism. The soundscapes that he has chosen as vehicles for his voice are just as interesting and innovative as his own skills. He has been one of the earliest rapping proponents of the production of Samiyam and Devonwho and he has been dilligently at work with producers like House Shoes and Blockhead.

The Michigan-born MC grew up with a natural proclivity towards language arts. Talk Too Much by Run DMC is his first memory of hearing hip-hop as a child and as he grew his attachment towards the music grew with him. In particular he looked up to his older cousins and uncles who watched Yo! MTV Raps and had EPMD 12" sleeves all over their walls. "I know my mom didn't approve, but I couldn't get enough," SelfSays recalls. In middle school, on a whim, a young Charles tried his hand at rapping with some friends. Imitating Common and Big Pun at first, soon the young MC began the search to finding his own voice. Michigan State Radio helped introduce him to the thriving scene in neighboring Detroit, but he still stayed watching from afar. A self-proclaimed late bloomer, some idle time after high school led to SelfSays delving deeper and deeper into rap. He wet his feet with small battles locally and freestyling whenever and wherever he could. Soon he began cutting demos with friends. When he wasn't crafting demo recordings, SelfSays was taking down his foes in battles and performing at open mics. Somewhere along the road those rough cuts found like-minded artists. One such artist was I Heart Lung from record label Asthmatic Kitty. That connection led to SelfSays remixing one of I Heart Lung's tracks for a compilation. During that time, he also made his first recorded appearance on Lawless Element's Soundvision: In Stereo album.

The Lansing native's writing and recording came to a head in February 2009 with the release of his EP, Something Out Of Nothing. A free download, this project offered that aforementioned balance SelfSays so easily achieves. Something Out Of Nothing is a mixture of SelfSays's quips and insights across futuristic, spacey boom-bap from, among others, Samiyam, Dakim and Bullion. Something Out Of Nothing was mentioned on sites like XLR8R, singled out in URB Magazine's Next 1000 artists as well as highlighted on a weekly MySpace Music feature, the social networking giant's weekly independent music showcase. In August 2009, SelfSays dropped the digital single "Contra/Another Ughh Letter" on Paramanu Recordings. Those tracks, which date back several years ago, chronicled some of the first collaborations between SelfSays and Samiyam.

SelfSays has performed at the Detroit Electronic Music Festival. He has also shared the stage with local hip-hop luminaries One Be Lo, Finale, Phat Kat, Slum Village, Buff1, Shigeto and many others. He is currently immersing himself in creation like never before and has several interesting and creative projects dropping sometime in the near future.