Between a debut mixtape with his former crew known as Blood Coalition & two solo mixtapes released almost within a year of each other, Yonkers emcee SELAH THA CORNER has been steadily emerging as one of the brightest new voices in pro-Christ hip hop music even before (and after) his brief tenure with New York’s Kingdom Time Music. With the gifted DJ YNOT as his ‘co-pilot’, he soars into new musical horizons; Selah’s standout wordplay & introspective accounts of his environment was front and center on his debut ‘tape “We Own The Night”- a mostly boom-bap dominated voyage into the world he feels deeply compelled to minister to. Now with the recent release of March 2013‘s “Hoodie Season”, we see his passion & urgency deepen for his community even more, along with his artistic approach.
“We Own The Night” was very much a free flowing display of his lyrical prowess but his latest release, “Hoodie Season” finds the MC born Nathaniel Martinez putting together more fully formed singles, matured songwriting & collaborations that often seem to inspire some of the best verses from his collaborators. With YNOT once again behind the mix, Selah ‘ups the ante’ from his last outing & sets the tone for standard of East Coast hip hop that has been long been discarded or solely missed with a rejuvenated sense of relevance. It seems like one of Christian hip hop’s biggest artists was also paying close attention to Selah’s maturation as well, when BIZZLE announced on April 20th 2013 at his album release for the “The Good Fight”, in Houston Texas, that ‘The Corner’ was officially the newest member of his independent label ‘GOD OVER MONEY’. On behalf of DA SOUTH, “THE PROFILER SERIES” I just started at https://pardonthemovement.net & your burning curiosity, yours truly decided to investigate the story that marks the personality behind the wordsmith hailed by esteemed Christian hip hop emcees and producers from Kambino to TEE-WYLA to Eshon Burgundy, as one to watch.
It’s SPRING 2013, but ‘Hoodie Season’ is still very much in effect..
Conquest: You know when ‘Hoodie Season’ opened with what I believed to be a familiar movie score & your mother imploring you to fully embrace who you are, it almost felt like some lost scene from “Return of The Jedi” & you were the new ‘Luke Skywalker’ looking to go to war with ‘Darth Vader’ one last time to save ‘The Rebels’. That’s the feeling I felt when I heard it. Very cinematic, yet tension filled. Was that your intention? Exactly what was the tone you trying to establish from the start?
Selah: My parents were just as pivotal in my development as an artist as they were in my development as a man. I can honestly say that both parents being in my life operating as a unit had a big impact on how I approach music and expression in general. I wanted the listeners to have an understanding of who I really am because then a real bond can actually form, and when you hear my parents speaking to me you can start to understand where my foundations lie. Furthermore, I wanted the listener to understand the importance of both parents being in the lives of their children. If you dig the music, just know that it took both parents being active in my life to allow me to do this in the way I’m doing it, so make sure you’re active in your little ones lives so they can accomplish their goals.
CQ: I get a sense that on “We Own The Night”, you were cementing your reputation as a top-tier lyricist, On ‘Hoodie Season’ that element is still a ‘Corner’ staple, but I’ve noticed that you’ve made a more definitive effort to become a better songwriter. That’s something I’m a stickler for, so I definitely caught that. What inspired the progression this time around?
STC: A hard lesson I had to learn especially being from NY is that bars aren’t everything. Every bullet fired has a destination and likewise so should every song have a purpose. I love spittin’ bars, but if my bars aren’t intentional in that they add on to an actual message, then the song becomes more of a circus then a lesson. As an artist you’re usually asking the listener to give you a minimum of three and a half minutes of their lives that they can never get back to your song. The least you can do is repay them for their time with something with structure and purpose. The bars can be there (and they always will be) but if the message isn’t I think it’s just a waste of time.
CQ: I remember working on my album & coming across the Eshon Burgundy production that ended up being used for “Where I’m From”. At the time I thought “This is dope, but this doesn’t fit what I’m doing”, so it was great to see you, Eddie Nigma & Datin make such a great song out of it. How did the combination come about & what was your reaction’s to both Eddie & Datin’s highly transparent verses when you first heard them?
STC: Eshon is an incredibly soulful producer, as are most products of Philadelphia. When I listen to his tracks, I see the hood and all its horrors, but I somehow seem to only focus on the ‘beautiful rose growing out of the concrete’ and that’s the emotion “Where I’m from” came from. I think one of the solutions to the problems of stereotypes between the races and classes is a lack of understanding about what the other side is actually going through. Someone from the burbs may see me with my hood on and assume a lot of things because the media has been the one teaching them and not me. “Where I’m from” is my attempt at educating the other side of the tracks and the world about what’s actually happening over here so that they can have a proper basis to build an opinion upon, and furthermore, teach them that “Yea, we have problems, but the beauty within us is still there and worth saving”. Eddie and Datin are my like my big brothers and when I told them my vision they were more than willing to join me in my mission with the record and as expected they didn’t disappoint with their verses. God shined on the song and I’m really happy so many were blessed by it.
CQ: Speaking of collaborations, I see you brought Conscience back on “Move”, worked with Glamour The Voice & Rigz which I really appreciated & you even got KJ-52 to drop what I thought was an incredible verse on “Summa Cum Laude”. Plus, you worked with a Grammy winner in Wit along with someone I consider very under utilized in Jay Lafe. So I gotta ask, what motivated these choices as far as the personnel you ended up working with.
STC: I think collaborations have been and will continue to be a new standard in music. My big bro Vois brought my attention to an article some time ago that said the name of the number 1 artist out right now is “featuring”, because it seems many of the big records out now have two or more artists joining forces to create something greater. I thank God my bros thought it not ‘robbery’ to work with me and it was incredibly humbling for all of them to take time out and be a part of the project. It’s a kind of a tight rope walk when you collaborate in hip hop, especially in CHH from what I’ve seen, because it seems there are so many political elements associated with the music. I thank God for wise counsel from those I trust, but on several occasions I just had to go with my instincts about my collabs whether people agreed with them or not. You mentioned the “Summa Cum Laude” record, at first glance it seems a bit difficult to fathom how it could come off well. KJ, Rigz and myself have such distinct styles that I think a lot of people thought it was going to be a “nice try” record, but it ended up coming off nicely thank God. KJ is a total professional, and you could hear it in how he kicked it up a notch on his verse which just reminded me how warranted attributing the title of ‘legend’ to his name is. Rigz’s style is timeless, I could listen to him all day, even if we weren’t cool (which we are), I couldn’t front on what he brings to the table. Wit was dope for how he handled me as an artist and how he was willing to be patient with the vision I had for the record. In discussion with him, I found out he grew up in Yonkers which was dope and made perfect sense as to why he’s so ahead of his time haha, but honestly I feel like collabs create friendships and build bridges between artists and frankly everyone I worked with whether artist or producer I’m a fan of. If I ask you for a verse it’s because I listen to your music pure and simple, which makes it such an added bonus for me as an artist because I can look back and say I worked with ‘spittas’ and music makers who I actually dig. Kambino, Lavoisier, Datin, Eddie Nigma, Eshon, Wit, KJ, Consci, Ynot, these are all people who had my ear long before they ever worked with me and I’ll always be thankful to them and to God for giving me favor in this whole thing.
CQ: You & I have spoken about impacting the state of music period, almost with the attitude of a superhero looking to ‘save the day’ in a sense. Not just in “Christian hip hop” as it’s often called. Do you feel like you’ve stuck to that ‘script’ & do you see others that have inspired you stay in course in doing so?
STC: I think inspiration is a beautiful thing in moderation. A lot of cats are too loose with their standards and allow anyone to inspire them to do anything and that’s when they find themselves in a hole they can’t dig their way out of, but as to what you and I spoke about, I really don’t have that superhero mindset anymore. God is the only one that can save music in whatever way it needs to be saved, my job is to put in whatever work He needs me to and just play my position. An Earthly superhero is nothing but a villain who hasn’t upset enough Earthly people to be called one yet. The real superhero is Christ because he’s flawless and blameless and so no one’s criticisms are valid about him, so I leave the saving to Him…But me?…I see myself as more of a glitch in the matrix that signals something crazy is coming. There’s a new wave of artists pushing through that will force a change in the music our generation is listening to, and I believe it’s going to aggressively change the face of hip hop as we know it. You can almost see how the old heads in music are respected by the younger generations, but are politely being moved aside. I believe that polite move will eventually turn into an assertive push as time goes on and it’s important that we as artists hold ourselves to a certain level of operation so as to not become outdated and ineffective. So in that sense yea I’ve stuck to the script to answer your question, because my goal has always been to be the best possible shooter in God’s army. I don’t have to be the best rapper as long as I put myself in a position to be the best man for the job when God calls.
CQ: As a New York based emcee myself, I find that people who prefer ‘boom bap’ insist on keeping East Coast emcees within those confines sonically. But I noticed on two of my personal favorites ‘Ride The Slowest’ & ‘El Presidente’ you step outside the musical identity of your region artistically, kinda like how a Harlem emcee A$AP ROCKY did with his sound. Do you find that there’s a slight pressure, even from your die-hard fans, to sound a certain way, or is that even a consideration for you? Also, what’s the deal with your fascination with chopped & screwed vocals?
STC: Yea there’s definitely that pressure because a lot of my homies and fans are accustomed to me sounding a certain way and expect certain things to be present in what I produce. I’ve had several lengthy discussions with dudes around my way about how being versatile is so important as an artist, and how progressing from just being a “rapper” to being an “artist” is the difference between longevity and just having a “nice run”. My bro C.H.R.I.S. used to tell me that I had talent but I was too predictable on records and that if he could pick up patterns in my music then the listener could too. It’s cool to have a signature sound, but you have to resist the urge to get too comfortable in your way of doing things or risk losing the opportunity to move forward. That’s why I love people like DJ YNot because he refuses to allow me to make a project that doesn’t stretch me in some way so that the listener doesn’t assume we can only operate in one box. Coincidentally that’s where the ‘screw’ style on the project came from, because I knew my listeners would never expect that from me. ‘Chopped and screwed’ is a serious deviation from what I’ve put out so far in relation to projects like “We Own The Night”, but I wanted people to see that we could go there and still get the job done and I think we’ve done an ok job at it. ‘Chopped and screwed’ evokes a different emotion from the listener, and if placed properly, can be a good addition to most songs in my opinion, A$AP is proof of that…but I’ll say ahead of time in that I don’t intend to make my style solely synonymous with it even though I do enjoy incorporating it in the music.
CQ: This next question is pretty stereotypical…but whatever (Laughs). For a rapper who’s building a favorable reputation & following with his bars. Who is Selah’s all-time favorite MC and why?
STC: Honestly my favorite rapper has always been Styles P. Many will assume it’s because he’s from Yonkers but the real reason is his ability to describe everything he talks about in incredible detail in music. It wasn’t just “I’ll shoot you” it was “I’ll fire this kind of bullet and rupture this artery and put you in this hospital at this time”. His attention to detail was crazy even if he wasn’t talking about the most wholesome subject matter, and his articulation was perfect so you heard every word. By the time his verse was finished I didn’t just have a picture in my mind, I had a ‘feature film’ playing, and as an artist I strive to be just as detailed in the music I produce. It’s weird because he and I speak about totally different things, but as an artist I want to be as good describing the positive in life as he is the more negative things.
CQ: Let’s switch gears for minute & discuss Selah outside of the music, it’s obvious in your music that genuine family ties, friendships & your ‘hood is very close your heart & your pen. Why do those things impact you so heavily & how have they shaped your worldview as an adult?
STC: I believe everything in life is a product of its environment in some way. Where and how you grew up shapes your way of thinking and the way you act and react to situations. So in essence where you grew up can end up building up or tearing you down and everyone who is affected by you. That’s why I’m so grateful to God for allowing me the opportunity to have a whole family that was rooted and grounded in the scriptures because that foundation, even though it didn’t numb me to the violence, gave me the will to resist being engulfed in it. There are a lot of pressures to be a part of negativity for a young black man in Yonkers, and it usually takes a willing teacher that’s invested in a child’s life to help them make those positive choices and I have two in my parents. Family and community have always been everything to me, and it factors into my rhymes and my motivation so much because I’m fighting for the future of my city and my family. A lot of people ask why I went down this route musically; I hear a lot of people say “Why not rap about this or that…you could get with this label or that label if you just talk about stuff they talk about.” My answer is always the same to those questions, “Does it matter that I pack out a stadium in some far distant location if my mother has to think twice about stepping out of her house after a certain time of night…or if my brother has to always look over his shoulder when he goes to the store to get milk?” I’m trying to pump God to the hood where God is needed most because home should be the focal point of an artist who is pumping hope as a profession. Even the flight attendant says “In case of an emergency put on your mask before trying to help someone else” Well me putting on my mask is me flooding where I’m from with as much Godly hope as possible. I never grew up needing money, I always had whatever I needed whether legally or illegally so the value I give money is the same value that I give a wrench cuz it’s only a tool to me. So if I had to pick between my future sons and daughters being able to play in a Yonkers playground safely and being rich in some remote location then you already know which way I’m going to go.
CQ: A while back, you were one fourth of Blood Coalition, which from the outside looking in, had the makings of ‘super group’ of sorts. Then suddenly it was over before it really began. You’re obviously still close with Noah, he’s on ‘Hoodie Season’, you did a verse on Slave’s project with Gauge & I assume you & Daarinah are still cool. So even with your current success as a solo artist. Is there any part of you that misses B.C. as an active group at all?
STC: I miss the BC everyday…but not like it died or something…more like the way you miss a high school sweetheart that you had to break up with because y’all moved far away from each other. The BC is forever, it’ll always be there though it doesn’t necessarily function as a unit because it was more of a movement than a group per se. The idea that NY unity still existed and that varying east coast styles could positively co-exist in a dope way was something the BC embodied and I think our example has fueled a lot of other collaborative efforts in our regions. Noah is my brother for life…that’s someone that can call me at any time for anything and I appreciate the BC for linking us. Slave is no different and we’ve definitely formed a bond that I believe will be a lasting one and the same goes for Daarinah. Same love goes out to Marcus Hall and everyone that attempted to help us make the BC something special I appreciate all of them.
CQ: Y’know for a group who beat me out for mixtape of the year at the Kingdom Choice Awards in 2011, the least y’all could do was stick around for at least 3 years (Laughs). Seriously though, do you see guys coming back together at some point or is this particular ‘season’ over?
STC: Haha, man I don’t know what God has planned for that situation. I’d not be opposed to putting the plough to the ground with my fam’, as you can see with the work we’ve done together recently. I just honestly haven’t considered the possibility of us reuniting on that level again. We’ve all made considerable changes within ourselves as artists and as adults and I believe our focuses have changed since then, but ‘God’s Will’ will always will be done so I won’t say anything is impossible.
CQ: Your mixtape titles always seem to be declarations in a way, first it was “We Own The Night” & now we have “Hoodie Season”, why that title this time around?
STC: A lot of people saw the title and automatically assumed that the whole record was going to be hood related, which wasn’t far off because reaching ‘those that are hurting’ is my mission, but the title had a more simplistic purpose that many wouldn’t understand unless I explained it to them. When you think of a Hoodie, you think of the weather Hoodies are required for, which is usually for cold weather. Cold weather has a person is at his/her truest, because the average person isn’t caring about being flashy when it’s 15 degrees outside. Them rims are traded in for snow tires and that chain gets tucked in and zipped up under that heavy coat. When it’s cold it’s about bare minimum survival and what people are truly ‘made of’ coming to the surface, some flee to a place that’s warmer, others tough it out and earn back their spring and summers. I’d like to see hip hop go through a ‘Hoodie Season’ of sorts where it’s not enough to just rap to get on and be successful. I feel this way especially concerning CHH because of the prerequisites for being “dope”, I don’t think they are as solid as they’re supposed to be. Bars aside, I think there isn’t enough honesty in what we do. People feel like just because we’re Christians means that we shouldn’t tell someone we don’t like their song or that they should change some things. There’s no real unwritten rule in the genre to police it, and so it seems anyone can just drop anything and feel comfortable doing so, that’s where ‘the cold’ should come in and separate the hungry and true from those who aren’t really about the craft. You look at Crae and Bizz’ and you see how much time and energy they put into what they do. You as a CHH artist should feel compelled to do the same and furthermore obligated to do so, aside from the fact that Christ is worth your very best, you should feel like ‘If I don’t bring a certain caliber of artistry to the table, ain’t nobody gonna feel it”, but that just isn’t so at this point. Dudes drop music and never give it a second thought when they should’ve given it a third or a fourth. That’s one of the main reasons that I asked God for big brothers in the game to be my critics and keep me grounded. At any point I could shoot a record to Vois, C.H.R.I.S., Wyla, Ynot, or Datin and be totally confident in the fact that an honest and raw opinion is going to be handed to me. Words like “This is wack ‘Corner’” or “This is dope fam’” or “Take some of that reverb off of this” are a part of my every day creative process. I try not to leave much room for myself to be too comfortable in my own wisdom because leaning on my own inexperience usually led to me making costly mistakes. Mentorship is extremely important in music and I believe the genre lacks it greatly, and so what you have is a lot of artists dropping music, not understanding the importance of having a record properly mixed and mastered or worse…not even caring. It ain’t ‘cold’ enough in CHH, cats don’t feel like they need to prepare because they’re too comfortable. The Bible says “I press toward the mark of the high calling” but you gotta be in proper condition to run this race. You gotta train; you gotta make it your business to be ready. People prepare for the winter, and so should artists prepare for the booth. ‘Hoodie Season’ is my promise to God that I’ll do whatever is necessary to keep the art form that he gifted me into as ‘cold’ as possible in whatever way he sees fit. The title is my pledge to God to never become so comfortable that I abandon excellence and that I’ll do my best to help produce excellence wherever and whomever he places me with or around.
CQ: Last question for you sir. “Intercessor” struck me on a lot of levels, it seems that you were very much encouraged to follow your passion as well as be the benefactor of sound wisdom when it came to your gift which a lot of artists don’t always receive. How did that, as well as your own personal relationship with God, inform the evangelistic mission that you’re on today on and off the mic?
STC: Like I said, mentorship is incredibly important in whatever you’re doing, and God placed a bevy of resourceful experienced people in my path to keep me going forward in what I’m doing. God is the greatest mentor of all time and keeping my ear to his words has saved my life so I’d be a fool to abandon him now that tracks are in front of me instead of bullets. I’ve always had a heart for the less fortunate even before I got serious with God and now that I’m in a position to influence the masses, that passion to help those who are hurting has increased exponentially along with the urgency to do so. People are dying, poverty of the wallet and mind have spread like an epidemic throughout the world and we having the cure in the form of the Good News have an obligation to offer people a better way. I still have a problem making music for people to just groove to without including some sort of edification element within it. I honestly feel that we dance more than we learn, but God is showing me how to create a balance in the bars. My heart will always be with street though for as long as God has me there, I’m in no rush to deviate from the path
CQ: ‘Hoodie Season’ is officially here…and word on these ‘internet streets’ says “God Over Money” is now the movement. What’s next? Any last words?
STC: Christ is Life…God is Good… Hoodie Season is here …Bundle up or fly South…click click
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