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San Francisco, California, United States | SELF

San Francisco, California, United States | SELF
Band Hip Hop R&B


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"Tryin’ to Make a Livin’ Not a Killin’’: an interview with Frisco rapper and promoter Sellassie"

by Minister of Information JR

Sellassie at China Basin, San FranciscoFrisco’s Sellassie is one of the artists in the Bay that helps to keep the independent scene together, with his partner Gina Gallo of Inhouse Talent. They are the architects of the “We All We Got” concert series, which moves around from club to club in San Francisco and features some of the hottest underground talent in the Bay.

Besides being a promoter, Sellassie primarily is a rapper that attacks a lot of social problems in the ‘hood verbally through his music. His new album, “Tryin’ to Make a Livin’ Not a Killin’,” is a testament to the kind of change that he wants to see in the streets. Check out this intellectual artist in his own words.

M.O.I. JR: When did you start rapping? And who inspired you to rap?

Sellassie: I started rapping when I was about 14 years old after hearing an old school Watts Prophets tape from my Dad. I used to rap for my classmates and friends in the hallways and school yards.

I was inspired to rap, listening to the conscious sides of Too Short tapes, Watts Prophets and Ice Cube. I remember loving the bass and the real life lyrics as I seen it, coming up in the ghettos of San Francisco and Sacramento. I always asked god, if I could rap I would rap about what’s going on in my community and how and why things were so messed up. I felt it was my responsibility as a Black man to never sell my people or my culture out for money.

M.O.I. JR: What inspired you to do conscious music?

Sellassie: I was always a conscious brotha and wasn’t raised by house negroes. I was never a follower and was always a leader. So coming up I had a strong sense of knowledge of self and a historical timeline that went back 5,000 years to the golden age of Africa.

I understood the struggles and prejudices against us Black people, poor people as a young child. I used to get kicked out of class in grade school when the teacher began to talk about history because at home I was taught differently. I remember some of my classmates thought I was crazy and wanted me to shut up because they weren’t taught what I was being taught. I knew that my people weren’t just a bunch of slaves, or the Native Americans just a bunch of braves, feel me.

M.O.I. JR: For people who have never heard your music, how would you describe your sound?

Sellassie: I would say it’s original in a game of gimmicks and guise. It sounds like a brother that’s just being himself.

I’m not trying to make no money with my music. My business is right so I’ll have a plate of food, but not by designing my flow on a fabric of lies and materialism and in most cases fabrication. I know cats that say in their raps they’re millionaires?! Come on, man, you’re a millionaire bruh?! Stop perpin. That’s why these youngstas are so mixed up. Out of 1,000 rappers I’ll always be able to separate myself from the house negro emcee.

M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us about your new album, “I’m Tryin to Make a Livin’ Not a Killin’”? What does it sound like?

Sellassie: It sounds different, original, well thought-out, creative, old school. I’m actually a brotha that can rap. It’s Black rap music, not hip-hop. Tell you the truth, “the man” gave rap music the name “hip-hop” to make it more acceptable to white commercial audiences. It’s a Black man speaking on Black life issues. It sounds like me, my own sound. I’m not a biter.

M.O.I. JR: What are some of the topics that you cover on the album, and how do you come up with them?

Sellassie: Black on Black crime, genetically modified meat that poor people, Black people consume every day, haterism, the U.S. occupations and wars the United States participates in for money, the realities of the killings and the drug culture that has destroyed the infrastructure of every Black neighborhood for the last 50 years and counting, a host of other things that a listener wants to hear, not that bull*%#@.
The glorification of how we don’t have a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out of is on every radio station across America; 99.1 percent of the rappers are Euro-centric and 0.9 percent are Afro-centric. I’m in the latter category.

M.O.I. JR: Where can people see you next? Where can they get the album? If people wanted to get at you, what’s your online contact info?

Sellassie: I have showcases for local talent every week I host in San Francisco. I play all over California at various places. But you’ll catch me at a school or a museum or a library if you really look. Check me out at Power to the Peaceful Festival this year in Speedway Meadow in Golden Gate Park. Seventy-five thousand people will be there Sept. 12, 2009.
- SF Bayview Newspaper

"Cormega Gets Crowd Moving at First-Ever Bay Area Show"

June 17, 2010
The Rockit Room
Better Than: South Bronx. South, South Bronx.

The latest in Sellassie's on-going hip-hop series We All We Got brought Cormega to the Richmond District for his first Bay Area appearance ever. Rockit Room's upstairs venue was a fragrant hotbox stuffed with partygoers of all shapes and stripes. In between sets, Sellassie DJ'd, encouraging the crowd, "Don't be afraid to dance."

And I'll be damned--they did just that.

Whodini's "One Love" had people actin' fools and getting stupid. Hall and Oates had big dudes dropping their guards and singing, "I can't go for that." Much respect to Sellassie for bringing together a large, enthusiastic, and fun crowd.

And another dose of respect for bringing through one of New York's finest storytellers.

Cormega grew up in the Queensbridge Projects, a hostile environment that has produced some of the greatest emcees. Cormega first gained notoriety when Queensbridge neighbor Nas shouted him out on Illmatic while he was in prison. Nas nudged him toward a Def Jam contract, but it only resulted in conflict and a shelved record, and he's been repping himself with Legal Hustle Records for a decade.

Last night, the fans let him know that they had hung on every word since his tumultuous Def Jam tenure. Though a light crowd tepidly welcomed Cormega, they quickly filled in and made up for lost time. By the time Cormega's Bay Area colleague The Jacka accompanied 'Mega and checked the pulse of the various area codes, the crowd was wild. Sellassie even had to multi-task, passing out mics while trying to keep people off the stage.

What sets Cormega apart from most street lyricists is that his violent narratives don't just report the Five Ws (who, what, when, where, why), they explore the stories' underlying themes--heady matters like betrayal and redemption--with honest and humility. Cormega's steely eyes cut right through the smoke as he alternated between casual recitation on "R U My Nigga" and a rabble-rousing approach on "Get Out My Way." He also pleased the crowd with a pair of acapellas.

At the show's finish, some ravenous fans started shouting for "Testament," off of 'Mega's previously-shelved The Testament. 'Mega admitted that he didn't have the track with him, but he let the most rabid fan spit as much of the lyrics as he knew--he got through nearly a verse before stumbling. And it looked like 'Mega couldn't have been happier with his first visit to a Bay Area stage.


"Local Licks"

Sellassie anoints himself a "revolutionary black gangsta" in "Stay Believin'." In the very next track, however, he warns: Don't disrespect and bring the killer out in me. A series of weed references pepper the chorus to the song after that. This San Francisco emcee commendably strives to be positive and progressive, but can get lost in tired clichés. — Nate Seltenrich - EAST BAY EXPRESS


Interview By Kirk Walker aka Mr Critical

KW: What made you decide on Sellassie as your artist name?
Sellassie: The name Sellassie was given to me by my mother at an early age, she would call me little Sellassie because I always was a leader, always the one plotting the scene.

KW: What influence does Halle Selassie have on your life?
S: Not much, I’m familiar with the brother and respect all he’s done for the people of Ethiopia and the African Diaspora.

KW: What is your take on the state of hip-hop?

S: I think the state of hip hop today is in trouble because we as a nation of people are so starved for images, that we accept negative images. We have allowed hip hop to slip out of the hands of the ones that produced it, the indigenous peoples of the ghetto. And now it’s run by corporations who have no interest in the culture, which is much broader than negative, insecure, barbaric, genocidal lyrics and concepts that influence these youngsters so heavily today.

KW: What are the most important things you learned during your period of self-education and how are things or lessons reflected in your music?

S: Never make excuses. Free thought, free expression are at the soul of truly being free. If you allow your art to be compromised for money or fame or vanity you have allowed someone or something to control you - you have become a spiritual, emotional, mental slave of some sort to that entity. If I had to be controlled or censored in a land that was based on free speech, I’d just work at the post office. It is reflected in my music because my music is totally creative and deals with topics that every black man in American is faced with - trying to stay alive, trying to feed his family, trying to have fun and dodging the police, the courthouses & unjust laws set up to railroad black youth.

KW: What truth are you exposing and what stand are you
taking with your music?

S: The truth that I’m exposing is the hypocritical government taxation, homelessness, racism indoctrinated in education, police brutality and racial profiling. I’m trying to stand up for the African Americans in this country and put us back into the respectful commentary of history. And to include Africans in the discussion of the contributions to world civilization, past, present and the future, from an afro-centric stand point.

KW: How do you feel set up to fail as a young black man and how would you advise young black men to avoid or counteract this “set up”?

S: Scarce to unlimited social resources, a generational attraction to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, the fascination with the block & the illusion that you actually make money selling drugs. Read.
KW: What can you tell those who glorify street survival and street life about the actualities of street survival and street life?

S: Half the time the cats ain’t even really from the block. They watch tv and see what they think someone is suppose to look like on the block and the emulate it. Half these rappers are insecure with being themselves in the first place, how are they going to tell someone else to be secure. Anyone who’s from the block like me, knows that drugs have destroyed every black community across America, and we’ve lost hundreds of thousands of young black men and women from the ages of 14 to 35 to senseless black on black violence and petty drug disputes. Me - myself in the past 10 years have lost over 100 homeboys that I grew up with since I was a kid and everyday faced the reality that I could be one of them too. So if you’re secure like me and a black champion and you have knowledge of self, you’d be one of the biggest house niggas to sell your people’s struggle for money. And any rapper that does, I aint fucking wit em. They work for the F.B.I. trust me, they work for the f.b.i.

KW: How did your start in writing short stories and screenplays lead to your writing rhymes and becoming a MC?

S: I’ve always write in class as a child and read a lot and got a good imagination.

KW: How do artists as varied and disparate as the Ohio Players, Bob Dylan, Too Short, & Teena Marie influence your music?

S: All the music was funky, soulful and had substance. My music is filled with substance. You might not like the beat, but you can not say that I do not speak on something. That’s the kinda music I grew up with. I mean from like KRS-One “Self Destruction” to Too Short’s “The Ghetto.” With Teena Marie, she has a lot of passion in her music like “Portugese Love” singing about Rick James, one of my favorite artist. And Bob Dylan was one of the first rappers. I mean if you listen to some of his stuff today, its crushing 95% of what these emcees are talking about today. The industry now is not set up for the people. Never has been, probably never will.

KW: Are you eventually going to release all of the 200+ songs you have made? If you come up with new songs while you’re in the midst of releasing these 200+
songs, would you release the new songs first or would you work to release some of those 200+ songs?

S: No. Because some songs aren’t for the public. They wouldn’t like me probably. but the 200+ songs was a personal goal I made 2 years ago and it just kinda blew up. I went from saying I wanted to get 50 songs, I got 50. Then I said 100, and then I wanted 150, and to this date, I have 226 songs and will have 300 by the summer. so fuck it, I’ll have 400 by my birthday, Dec 31st.

KW: What advice would you give to aspiring MC’s that have a mindset similar to yours who are trying to get into the hip-hop industry or simply trying to get exposure for their music?

S: Have drive. Don’t be afraid of ”No.” All anyone can tell you is “yes” or “no.” No has always inspired me to get more yeses so if you’re not afraid of everyone telling you “no,” do it yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

KW: How can you get your music to be received by the mainstream hip-hop fan base when militant, conscious, and political style rap isn’t exactly the most popular
or supported form of rap these days?

S: Beats me. Maybe I can get a movie deal like Tupac cuz mind you, Tupac from out here. He did his first album at Hyde Street Studios in SF. I got partnas that really roll with ‘Pac in his Marin City, San Francisco days. And he wasn’t popular mainstream until he went to NY for “Juice” and by chance, the director wanted him. He wasn’t even originally cast. So opportunity & chance and I’ll tell you this, A&R’s would have balls if they signed me because I’m capable of getting the whole world behind me.

KW: How have your previously released albums been received by the fan base?

S: It’s a breath of fresh air when you listen to a radio station that plays the same songs 20 times a day. Some of my fan base are scared for me because Im too real, kinda how Obama feels right now.

KW: Can you describe your upcoming collaboration with the Slap Factory?

S: Very Exciting. Cuz these are all young guys, 19, 20 and 21. But they’re very talented. They all go to school for music and they make something that is the original hyphy, what we call here in the bay; Slaps. Cuz that’s the Bay sound, conscious lyrics with slappin’ ass beats. Hopefully with my releases, I’ll be able to expose some of the great talent here in the Bay that’s not given an opportunity to shine by the mainstream chicken-shit motherfuckas.

"New Local Talent Showcase Debuts Tonight at Levende Lounge"

One of the most commonly-heard grouses from the local urban music contingent is the lack of industry support--being outside of the Big Two media centers (NY and LA) and not being able to, ahem, consistently count on commercial airplay from Big Corporate Radio---the Bay Area has had to hustle, scrape, and scrap just to get heard, ya heard?
Instead of complaining about the situation, however, local music maven Gina Gallo (Guerilla Management/ In-House Talent/Power to the Peaceful) has taken matters into her own hands by promoting a new weekly mixer, open mic, and live performance showcase at the Levende Lounge (home of the specialty cocktail known as the Diggler!) called We All We Got. Gallo's intent is to present opportunities for local, independent talent to beef up their networking skills while sharpening their live chops, as well as building up their fan base and local buzzworthiness. Up-and-coming emcee Sellassie has been tabbed as host, and DJ Mike Biggz holds down the decks. We All We Got premieres tonight with a featured performance by Ise Lyfe , and the schedule for the coming month looks promising, with Don P, Deuce Eclipse, Netta B, and Kev Choice all lined up. Presale tickets can be had here; for more info, email here .

"Bay Area revolutionary sets up local hip-hop show"

The first of a new monthly independent hip-hop artist showcase is taking place this Saturday at the appropriately-named Underground in downtown Reno. The series, dubbed “We All We Got Reno,” will feature a handsome lineup of local hip-hop artists, many of whom have escaped the notice of even dedicated local audiophiles. Even stranger, the entire event was concocted 400 miles away in the Bay Area.

“I don’t know how he did it; I hadn’t even heard of these guys,” said Remi Jourdan, owner of the Underground. “They are as good as the mainstream guys, but nobody has heard of them.”

Jourdan is speaking of the San Francisco-based hip-hop artist and organizer of the event known simply as Sellassie, or, if you like, The Revolutionary Poet Sellassie.

Sellassie really is a revolutionary in the way that he has empowered emerging artists and set them free from the conventional, big record label way of promoting their music.

“I would give promoters my music, see them a week later and they don’t even know me,” Sellassie said. “They didn’t even take the time to listen to one track. So instead of getting mad I decided to fix the problem I saw in the Bay Area scene — lack of support from my fellow artists.”

The solution to the problem turned out to be working with similarly disillusioned artists and creating a grassroots record label/production company called InHouse Talent. InHouse uses “buy-ins,” where each artist purchases their own promotion materials, tickets, fliers etc., and then promotes the event. Sellassie likes to call it an “invest-in-yourself” program. The bundled events are then easier to sell to the venues.

“You’re going to have to pay dues before anyone wants to have you at their show, let alone pay you,” Sellassie said. “This is a perfect way for independent artists to get their feet wet.”

So far, InHouse Talent has produced dozens of “We All We Got” events throughout California. The next big show, “We All We Got Big Apple,” takes place in New York City, but Sellassie still has a special place in his heart for Reno.

“I’ve always liked Reno,” Sellassie said. “I had a great show at Underground with Jelly Bread last year and it was slamming. I’m not coming to Reno to step on toes, just coming to spread some love and show the locals that they’ve been sleeping on their local hip-hop. There are stars in Reno — you just have to open your eyes and ears.”
- Reno Metromix


Poetry & Expressions
Scrilla Scratch Records/MYGHETTO, 2006

Sellassie's First record, "Poetry & Expressions" produced in his early recording days of late 2005- 2006. Its his most poetic release to date and was his introduction to the Bay Area Hip-Hop scene. 14 tracks, Featuring "Fo My Pops" & "Is It Because I'm Black."


Clean Heart
Scrilla Scratch Records/MYGHETTO, 2007

Sellassie's second release "Clean Heart" is his most lyrically aggressive album to date. Released after some trouble with the law, Sellassie displays his frustration at the system like only he can lyrically. Featuring "I'm Not Crazy", "The Yard "& "Right On For The Darkness". Sellassie opened up some eyes and raised some eyebrows with this release. "The Streets Loved It" says, Sellassie.


I'm Tryin' To Make A Livin' Not A Killin'
Scrilla Scratch Records/MYGHETTO, 2008

Released Aug 19th 2008, "I'm Tryin' To Make A Livin' Not A Killin'" definately made Sellassie a household name to emcees all around the world. With songs like "Is It Even Meat?", "Rice & Gravy" & "Why You Worried About Me", Sellassie caught national attention and received the West Coast Hip-Hop Award for "Knowledge Record Of The Year" at The 2009 West Coast Hip-Hop Awards In Portland, Oregon. With absolutely not one curse word on the entire record. Selling out the trunk more than 4,000 units independent and counting. Truely a Bay Area Classic!!


Sins Of Your Forefathers

Released March 29th 2010, Its one of Sellassie's most political record to date. Featuring 19 tracks of uncompromised, anti-house negro Rap Music..PERIOD!!!


Next On Deck
Global Networkz, 2010


Emcees for Peace, 2010



Sellassie has carved his niche as a leading progressive voice in Independent Hip Hop. With an acclaimed and award-winning debut release, I’m Tryin’ to Make a Livin’ Not a Killin’ and recent follow-up, Sins of Your Forefathers, Sellassie has garnered a street level buzz with his authentic hip hop and unrelenting perseverance. San Francisco trendsetting Poet and Activist Sellassie is proof that there are young black artists that can make music that is creative, street, positive and smart. With a powerful live performance and charismatic stage presence, his music reaches the masses. He is also the creator and co-producer of the Independent Artist Series, We All We Got + the 2Racks Rap Contest, which had a 2010 stop in Austin during South by Southwest Festival. With over 85 shows on the calendar in the last 2 years in over 15 markets nationwide, Sellassie has created and is continuing to create a very strong grassroots fan-base. He is also working with many social, political and youth based initiatives, and is a contributor to various special projects including the film, It Doesn’t Cost Nothin’ to Dream.

Sellassie has independently created a vast catalogue of hundreds of songs to inspire his community and to express himself. Sellassie brings light and knowledge and his music is revolutionary. He has shared the stage with many great artists, Saul Williams, Michael Franti And Spearhead, Ziggy Marley, Alanis Morissette, Raekwon, KRS-One, The Indigo Girls, The Goodie Mob, Mos Def, Sly and Robbie, Vieux Farka Toure, Dead Prez, Rebelution, Warren Haynes, Goapele, Canibus, The Hieroglyphics, Mr. FAB, Ise Lyfe, One Block Radius, Lyrics Born, Kev Choice, Martin Luther, Cormega, Silk-E, Bayonics and Zion I among hundreds of his hip hop peers. Bringing a fresh perspective to 21st century Hip Hop, Sellassie is destined to be a working emcee for many years to come.