Josh Sallee, 25, is already thinking about how he can help other artists—once his career blows up, of course. The son of a preacher and a public speaker, raised in Tulsa and now living in Oklahoma City, Sallee started rapping when he was 14.
A player on a competitive, urban basketball team—a sport completely integrated with hip hop—he heard his teammates freestyling on the bus after a game and thought, “I’m better than all these guys.”
He impressed his teammates, and later his friends, with his ability to make rhymes off the cuff, and by 2008 he was recording himself rapping and posting the videos to YouTube. He developed a following, people from all over the country watching and liking his videos. Folks in OKC were taking notice, too, inviting him to play shows around town.
In 2010, he released his first CD, Return to Sender, while attending Oklahoma Christian University. In 2011, he hooked up with Pairadime, a local independent talent buyer, and decided to make a go of music, quitting his job as a waiter. He released his second album, Probable Flaws, in 2012.
“I haven’t had to go back,” he said. “Now it’s about reassessing goals and taking it to where it’s not just something I did for a living in my 20s but carries over to one day having my own management company.”
He recognizes that rapping for a living is an “unorthodox career choice” for a kid from Oklahoma, but he also thinks it gives him a competitive advantage. “Here, it’s easier because not as many people are doing it, and it’s easier to gain attention— as opposed to in L.A., where everyone’s doing it, so everyone has two jobs and is chasing their career out there.”
He concedes that, to make it outside of Oklahoma, he’s got to get on his feet and tour—“I was only here for four days in February,” he said—but he doesn’t think he’ll have to move to make it big. Instead, he wants to stick close to home and eventually—and with the help of Pairadime—make it easier for the next generation to base their careers in Oklahoma.
“Once I get done, I’m going to put my focus toward other people and making it happen for them,” he said. In 10 years, he envisions Oklahoma City being a place with more venues, more opportunities, a major independent label, and a destination for talent scouts.
“People don’t realize how different we are in this little state than in the rest of the country, even in the Midwest,” he said. “It’s an actual home, whereas I wouldn’t call New York a home. It’s more of a hub, as opposed to a home.”
Being white and from Oklahoma, while it makes folks cock their heads at first, only adds to his marketability, he says, because he can relate to listeners in the middle of the country, where it’s hardest for East and West coast artists to sell albums and tickets. His religious upbringing adds to his relatability and is reflected in his music, he said.
“Faith and lust is a fight for a lot of people,” he said. “I’m a man of faith, but I’ve also been a man of the world, so it’s a fight. But it’s a very relatable fight.”
Salee was on stage at SXSW this year, and he’s also playing Sunset Revival in Kansas. At the end of March, he’ll tour the West Coast and then be back in town at the end of April for Norman Music Festival, when he hopes to be dropping a new EP. He’s still gathering the music for it, as well as planning the promotional materials and more videos—things he things his fans have come to expect from him.
“I don’t want people to forget I can rap well—and I don’t think they will—but I think they want to see great music and progress and artistry and see it all take off.”
Check out Sallee’s latest video, “Not Following,” below.