Top My Game: Q&A with Selekwa [Interview]
Ottawa, ON – For many up-and-coming rappers in the Canadian scene, the industry and all it’s splendors stay locked behind a door seemingly impossible to crack.No where else is this more true than within the nightclubs and venues of the nation’s capital; atmospheres dominated by big-tier promotion agencies who tend to only put on coach-class, selling artists in a city where the entertainment scene is thought to have died out many years ago. This reputation is only more justified when ‘guarantees’ don’t break even and turn-outs don’t turn up, leaving Ottawa on the blacklist of tour date prospects and it’s local artists without a headliner to support.
But, Selekwa may have the key. Following his debut EP release, Top My Game (Download), the horizon appears limitless for the Ottawa-Gatineau MC whose singles are making an appearance on national and international air-waves.
Removed from his studio environment and backstage greenrooms, Selekwa sat down with HipHopCanada in Ottawa’s ByWard market to talk about the game behind the name, promotion efforts, musical taste, favorite artists and more. Check out the interview after the jump.
Photo by John Pottie of Ravish Entertainment Inc.
HipHopCanada: Selekwa is a unique name for an artist. What’s the history behind it?
Selekwa: It’s a weird name. But, how many Selekwas are coming out with tracks? Just one. Selekwa is actually my name on my father’s side of the family. When I go to visit relatives in Tanzania, that’s East Africa, they call me by Selekwa. It’s a Swahili name. However, my birth name and actual name is Joseph. The name Selekwa just really stands out, you know? It’s sounds better than Lil’ Joe.
HipHopCanada: It certainly does. Now, you released your debut EP entitled Top My Game in January. You had a solid attendance at the preview party at Ottawa’s Bijou Nightclub and the response was nothing less than positive. Now that the EP is all wrapped-up and your focus is aimed at promotion efforts, what does Top My Game mean to you in retrospect? Theoretically speaking…
Selekwa: [Top My Game] was a presentation of what Selekwa is. The sophomore album, without ruining any surprises, will be the follow-up to that. The EP was definitely a taste of what I have to offer. TMG should leave fans anticipating my new releases.
HipHopCanada: Speak of surprises. You have developed tight connections with KO and Classified. You’re working with them on miscellaneous projects. How did this relationship come to be? Where do you stand with Halflife Records?
Selekwa: KO and I have hit it off a couple of times. I actually met him before introducing myself to Classified… I met Class about two years back and we’ve really got to know each other more since then. The [Halflife] team is full of great people. I think they are very organized and know how to run a label.
HipHopCanada: Okay. Let’s get more specific. What was it like to work with KO; an artist so diverse in terms of making music which is unreserved for an exclusive genre? I mean, he’s all over the map. His music takes elements from rap, folk, reggae and even rock. How did you adapt to his style in a cooperative manner?
Selekwa: I really liked what KO brought to the table. You know, I listen to all genres of music. Even when I make my own music I always touch a little bit of everything. Rap wise, I like staying strict to the origins. However, I like to infiltrate what the world has to offer, even it’s a little more dance-y with more reggae and island vibe. KO has that sound, he does his thing and I find a way to blend in with his style. I think it’s cool. It allows people of all genres to fall in love with Selekwa. I want to serve every type of fan… I want the night-lifers to be down with one of my club-bangers dropping on the dance floor. I want the average hip-hop head to be down with my verses when he or she is just taking a late night cruise, you know? Hip-hop is a changing element. I can already tell my next album will have evolved in sound-style in contrast to Top My Game and that’s necessary to keep fans intrigued.
HipHopCanada: So, you’re certainly going to ‘Top Your Game’ with this one?
Selekwa: Yes, if you want to look at it that way. I want to set up a fan-base in every city, as much as I can. Having a following will make the biggest difference for turn-outs while doing shows on the road. It’s the ‘word of mouth’ that’s going to go a long way in helping make Selekwa and Ravish a brand. We want to start in Canada, no doubt. Once we have the following we need, we’ll branch off to the United States and continue what we are doing with our connections in New York City.
HipHopCanada: While we’re talking about promotion, it’s understood that you and Ravish are currently working out radio packages with colleges and universities across Ontario. You know as well as I that hip-hop does not drive much appeal with secondary-institution stations up North. So you’re doing what any smart artist and manager would do and heading for New York City. What do you have to say on the recent success you’ve had with American radio stations?
Selekwa:It’s hard to get radio play in Canada, that’s true. Heavy rotation for many hip-hop artists in Canada is hard unless your Classified, Drake or Kardinal Offishall. On the bright side, we’ve done very well in New York City. We’ve hooked up with a great radio promoter whose worked with Wiz Khalifa and J. Cole. About eight weeks ago, the single “Mad Hatter” featuring Choclair made it from the 38 to second spot across the States. Our connections with Halflife Records really showed us the ropes to commercializing the name and music across the border. The radio promotion campaign is surprisingly more successful in New York City than locally.
HipHopCanada: Does this mean you see an American tour being more commercially successful than a domestic one?
Selekwa: If I start tracking a high spot on EarShot it could be very possible to tour Canada. I mean out of any rapper in Canada, who can tour cross-country? Not many. Classified has the potential but he is one of few. I haven’t even seen Kardinal do cross-country dates. It’s very difficult in provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba who have a very scarce hip-hop following. Then there’s up-and-coming rappers like SonReal and RichKidd who are slowly approaching that level of heavy touring. Even five years back, you wouldn’t see big names make it to Ottawa. You never heard of Raekwon or any Wu-Tang members coming through. Aside from the major stadium acts, the genre didn’t get much appeal from the public so bookings never happened.
HipHopCanada: Artists are known to seek inspiration from beyond their genre. What artists keep you motivated – who do you listen to on a daily basis?
Selekwa: I was introduced to Ray Charles at a young age and I’m still a fan to this day. My mother was really in to the classics. I remember Charles, Marvin Gaye and Barry White being the soundtracks to my childhood. When I started listening to rap it was all about Tupac, he really got me hooked. I was new to the rap scene and I adapted to it quick but I always kept true to the roots and it shows in my music production. Emotion is really important for when I’m trying to feel inspired to write. I mean, I could be having a bad day before throwing on ‘Georgia’ by Charles and relating to the emotion. It gives me chills, honestly. I look up to Charles, man. He’s a legend and he really inspires me to make music with feeling, you know? I want my fans to have the same connection to my music that I have to Charles’. But rap-wise, it’s Tupac that was first showed me that I could get lost in the genre. I’m a fan first and the history of hip-hop and rap. It really gets me. I’ll even throw it back to Jam Master Jay and Kurtis Blow every now and then.
HipHopCanada: If Tupac was still alive today, do you think he would have sold out?
Selekwa: I wouldn’t say ‘sold out,’ but it would be totally different. I mean, I don’t think they would be doing songs with Lady Gaga or Adele but who knows, really.
HipHopCanada: What adversities did you face in the production phases of Top My Game?
Selekwa: That’s actually a great question. The EP was a great experience, overall. But we had to go backward many times. We switched many producers, re-did tracks and what not. It was a trial and error process that involved me actually re-doing the entire album in the end. Still, it was a great learning experience of pros and cons which every successful artist endures at least once in their career. The second time around ran much smoothly and we attribute that to our mistakes prior. They say nothing worth doing is easy and that’s entirely true in this case.
Interview conducted by @ZackNoureddine for HipHopCanada.