INTERVIEW: Salloum – Staying True To Himself

Salloum started writing rhymes in 2007. After honing his skills over the next five years he released Epitome Perennial (2013) followed by HollowDreamz (2014) and Energy & Rhythm in 2019. Looking widely across various genres you’ll find a category of artists like Bob Marley, Mos Def, and Rage Against The Machine whose music hit on various levels; one, the sheer gut level – strong musicianship, attitude, and power; two, the emotional level – inspiration, justice, and empowerment; three, the intellectual level – articulate, poetic and thought-provoking lines that stick with you. Salloum’s artistic prowess identifies with this same category of artists. With his smooth delivery and unique poetry Salloum explores universal ideas bringing new flare to the game with his awe-inspiring songs.

  1. Tell us something about how you got started making music?

Salloum: It was while I was a freshman in college at Virginia Commonwealth University that I witnessed others on my dorm-room floor writing raps and making songs. That initially gave me the idea and sparked a change in my focus toward writing poetics and studying the greats. My character and unique point of the view on the world made me appreciate the outlet of hip-hop all the more, and served as the turbo of my new-found direction and purpose. I knew I was able and capable from the get-go. That’s what allowed me to flourish after days and months of writing and practicing.

  1. Who were your first and strongest musical influences that you can remember?

Salloum: Immortal Technique first and foremost. When I realized that this was possible, for somebody to speak truth in the way that Felipe was, that opened a whole new canvass of potential that I saw within myself, to really flourish and speak my own mind and heart. That was around the same time that Lupe Fiasco was hitting the scene with his debut album, and a co-sign by Jay Z. Him being Muslim, I thought, ‘ OK, I definitely can belong in this culture, and pave a unique lane for myself just based on who I am naturally’.

  1. If I was to turn on your media player right now, which five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?

Salloum: Right now you wouldn’t hear any music from my stereo. Currently what I have playing in my car CD player is a knowledge CD, one of 70+ that I’ve created. These knowledge CDs consist of information and insights and wisdoms by eminent authors, politicians, artists, athletes, and thinkers. I try to always keep myself surrounded by knowledge and bits of information and insights during certain points of my creative process and living of life. But besides that, it’s usually mix-CDs featuring radio hits of the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, plus The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and rappers like Nas, Jay Z, Tupac, Lupe Fiasco, and some of the newer generation artists.

  1. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners?

Salloum: Naturally, first and foremost, the beats. The productions I use are different and unique. Lots of dope producers and beat-makers out there in the world. I’ve scoured the internet and have listened to some thirty thousand plus instrumentals to find the beats that I end up recording to and releasing; each instrumental takes me about 10-20 seconds to listen to for me to know whether I like it or not. Then next would be my unique voice and flow, and the cadence and rhythm of my talent. Then following that would be the actual words that I’m saying, giving meaning and inspiration I hope, to the listener’s heart and mind.

  1. What do you think mainly separates you from the massive crowd of artists emerging right now on platforms all over the web?

Salloum:  Beyond my skill-level and the verbiage and words I use, I write and create thematic projects, each with a formulated website featuring the concept behind each of my releases.

I create hip-hop music projects via my authentic experiences. Life philosophy is also added to wholesomely portray the experience in a more complete way. I create a website for each music project. I write an informative essay and also incorporate knowledge from other sources – such as passages and quotations, found in the middle and end of each website’s homepage. I obtain a leasing contract to use the music; I write the lyrics; I record the lyrics; I write the essay; I configure the website; I own the website domains; I compose, edit, & incorporate the additional knowledge.

  1. Do you ever write a song with current trends or listener satisfaction in mind, or do you only compose what comes from within your natural instincts?

Salloum:  I’d say I write my lyrics based on current and modern-day proclivities, but naturally I’m not too interested in following a trend through conscious searching. My ideas and thoughts naturally give me enough to work with, based upon the sources and daily happenings I surround myself with and come across. If I notice something happening, I don’t go out of my way unless it fits the bigger picture of what I’m trying to do. I’ve thought of creating cover songs before, and that’s something I may still do, but what’s been keeping me from doing so so frequently is the fact that the rhymes that I write, I like to exclusively feature on the instrumentals I have. For me, it’s been a bit more about quality than quantity. At some point it’s going to be important for me to increase the quantity at which point I very well may spit to some beats you’ve heard before.

  1. What is your process when recording your music? Do you collaborate with others or outsource any of these tasks?

Salloum: I record my vocals in my studio using Reaper, whatever microphone I’m experimenting with at that time, and my laptop. For mixing and mastering, I work with an engineer on Fiverr, and I also then run that session through Landr to maximize the richness of the sound.

  1. If someone has never heard your music, which keywords would you personally use to describe your overall sound and style?

Salloum:  A smooth flow to good beats.

  1. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your career or life so far, and how did you overcome the event?

Salloum:  I’m 31 years old. My life has been filled with so many blessings up ‘til now. One thing that was challenging was maintaining my belief and conviction in myself and my dreams, by myself, introverted, and focused. It was difficult at times, the lack of sociability. The gift and talent and vision and passion behind my aspirations is a blessing without a doubt, 1000%, but the sacrifices that are made, at a certain point you begin to feel a bit of a toll that comes with such aspirations. The completion of tasks brings a fulfillment in and of itself, but needing to persevere through the tough patches has equated to a, “shut the hell up and do it” type of mentality.

Some of the most challenging things I’ve recalled thus far was when I allotted a whole month listening to over 15,000 beats for my Energy & Rhythm project alone. I had a huge list of links to producer home-pages, featuring their productions for sale, which took me approximately 5 hours a day to do over a thirty day period. That wasn’t fun, but essential. Most of the tracks you hear on Energy & Rhythm were discovered during that time period. I also have over three hundred dope instrumentals in the stash, unique and melodic, some of which I’ve already purchased leases for and others not yet.

Another episode is always my vocal recording process. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to having the sound of my vocals on the mic sounding just right. That’s why I could never pay for time at a studio. It would be literally impossible for me to record vocals for a song and be satisfied with its outcome, without going into financial debt. Consistently finding the right energy and mood for me to record the vocals for my tracks so it translates accurately, after I’ve mastered the articulation and style in my mind – getting that to manifest into real-life performance is the most challenging and love-hate relationship I have with my talent and these music projects. I am getting much better at it however, in finding my process of efficiently recording, recording, recording, and then editing, editing, editing, and then recording some more stems if need be. The whole process at this point takes me about a good 10 days to record just one track and to finalize the stem-edits to perfection. And this is prior to me hearing the track once it’s been mixed and mastered, whereby certain vocals tones are heard making me want to go back and edit furthermore to alleviate whatever discrepancies I may find, or whatever doesn’t sound right to the mood I’m aiming to portray. All of this, in world of social media and distraction – it’s when you realize that perhaps I’m thinking too much about this all and I just need to be releasing music without caring all this much about the different master versions and imperfect vocals performances. But I stick with it because the last thing I want is for me to be unable to enjoy my own songs. So I work through it. Also with time, I’m getting better at knowing what works and what doesn’t, so that refinement process helps a lot for my productivity.

And that’s not to mention the thousands I spent experimenting with different engineers. Finally I found a process where my songs, based on three various engineering techniques, exudes my vocal performance at its best and to my liking. Thank God for that. So as you can see, perseverance and pushing through the obstacles and lack of accomplish eventually leads to somewhere fruitful and worthwhile. It’s a blessing. I’ve learned this same ideology through sports and athletics, in shooting free-throws and three-pointers in a row on the basketball court, and in juggling a soccer ball a certain amount of times in a row, and in hitting a tennis ball against the wall a certain amount of times in a row under litigating circumstances serving as a challenge set for self, marking a certain threshold of improvement I’m holding myself accountable to. The process is what it is.

  1. What would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your career so far?

Salloum:  That I’ve kept at it for this long. Long enough for me to have seen improvements and progress and advancement beyond all of the competition and distraction and hype and “expectations” set forth upon me by family, peers, society, or others. I stayed true to self, and have developed the ideal wayward life and ideals that inspire me to live every day. The goals and aspirations are all a byproduct of the mentality I live by. And that mentality was developed with the best in mind, influenced by sources sought out uniquely for my own awareness and over-standing of the world. This leads to my organizational and time-management skills as well, from the macro all the way down to the minute details of the micro tasks at hand. It’s been threaded to make sense; bridged in a sense. That too adds to the flavor of my genius not only in music but other areas of my life as well.

  1. Is there anything you would change about how the music business works right now, or you completely happy?

Salloum: No quarrels with the music business. It is what it is. All of the information one needs is out there, for anyone to trek toward whatever it is they want and define as “success”. It only takes time. I’ve found a way to build an email list of Hip-hop listeners and potential fans of mine through my Rap Song Reviews marketing and promotion blog. This idea came to my mind while I was living in Palestine during late 2017 – early 2018. After contemplating the best means for me to formulate a following online, I came up with the idea of providing a service, free of charge, to others living in a similar situation I was in, which was seeking feedback on my music but also wanting others to hear what I’d created with an open and honest ear. From that point forward, I formulated the website, created a logo, hired an Upworker living in Greece to do the Facebook and Instagram niche-audience marketing for me, and low and behold I began a high conversion rate based on the landings on my site.

Whether I’m happy about the trajectory of the music business or not, it’s not going to necessarily make a difference unless it itself doesn’t make sense inherently, at which point that’s an opportunity for somebody to invent something to make it work better. That’s how you get your Spotifys and Shazaams and so forth. Rap Song Reviews is my little shin-dig made especially for me and those seeking such type of service.

  1. How do you handle criticism and/or haters in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?

Salloum: I’m always up for constructive criticism – meaning criticism with good intention behind it. The haters are critics in a negative and demeaning and envious sort of way, and that sort of energy only breeds more of its kind if one isn’t careful to not fall for the entrapment. Besides that, it’s good to feel the hate and to be doubted, so long as you have the correct mind-frame prior. At that point, the hate and doubt from others will only sharpen one’s own mentality to double and triple-up. That friction is what allows airplanes to rise and glide in the air, as an analogy I once heard before.

A friend of mine reminded me once, while I was thinking too much about the negative effects of what others thought on me, that I was thinking so much about the past because I wasn’t taking action in the present. What he said struck a chord. If you focus on what’s next and keep moving and looking forward and taking action, inevitably everything else that is non-important will fall to the wayside. Besides that, we’re living in a day and time where there are people who have already reached where you seek to go, and so it’s great to learn from those who are successful, about the adversities and hate and envy and failures and doubters they’ve come across in their journey, and how they’ve overcome. Once you realize that the hate and the criticism is more so a reflection of those dishing it than of you actually doing you, you look at it in a different light, with more objectivity rather than through an emotional-reaction. As someone famous once said, “There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic.”

So you either see it as motivation or empathy, it just depends on you perception of the person dishing the hatred toward you. I would say that the more you care about the person dishing the hate, the greater impact it has on you, but that wouldn’t be a true statement, as I’ve plenty of times pondered and wondered why some random “hater” or “critic” said something the way they did. But fuck it. Gotta keep trekking. The good thing is if anything, it can add value and help you question your own self and the image you’re putting out into the world. Sometimes you also gotta check yourself to make sure the energy you’re putting out isn’t the thing causing the hate in the first place.

  1. Which aspects of being an independent artist excites you most and which aspects discourages you most?

Salloum: most excitedly is the freedom and learning that comes with doing it on my own. And at the same time, the lack of assistance that’s there can also make it difficult.  But thankfully with the internet and certain websites and sounding boards out there, you can pretty much hire anybody at whatever price to help you figure out the things you don’t know how to do. The benefits, by far, outweigh the downsides of it all. The music business at this point is a great industry to get into. It takes very little cash-capital to get started, and if you have the talent or find somebody who does, you can build something substantial over time, so long as the vision and work ethic is there 100%. There’s always ears available for dope styles to fruition.

  1. What is your relationship with visual media? Do you think videos are important for your music, and do have a video clip you would like to recommend that fans watch?

Salloum:  Visual media is important in a time where without it, you’re performing under-par with everyone else. Unless your brand is mysteriously appealing in a fashion where creating a visual media takes away from the image you’re innately representing as your brand, to your audience, a lack of media in general will make it difficult if not impossible to penetrate and stand-out from the crowd. With that said, regular basic music videos also probably won’t cut it, for if one’s music is as unique as it needs to be and shines through in whatever way that it does, then the visual media itself needs to compliment those standards.

I’m working on creating more music videos with Joy-Gaba, a videographer and photographer here in Charlottesville that I’ve worked with before.

  1. In general, do you consider the Internet and all of the social media platforms as fundamental in building a career in music today, and what is your personal relationship with the new technology at hand?

Salloum: The internet, for sure. But I think more importantly than social media, getting the e-mail addresses of your fans is essential. I don’t own Instagram, nor do I own Facebook, nor Spotify. If any of these platforms tomorrow were to cut off, my fans and followers would also disappear. Having my fans’ email addresses allows me a direct and instant connection. You could say the same for Gmail and Hotmail and these other platforms – that if they were cut off tomorrow then lack of access to my fans would also evaporate. And to that I’d say touché. Nevertheless, a big difference between e-mail and social media is that everybody checks each email message they receive, dedicating a specific amount of time solely to each message. This isn’t the case with social media, where your post can get swallowed and missed amidst the waterfall of other posts displayed on the home-pages of your followers, who are also following numerous other profiles. This is where knowing what time to post your post, and how many times to repeat-post posts, and using what colors schemes or visual media tactics so as to catch the attention-of all comes into play. That’s a difficult and competitive arena to stand apart in, and I think it requires much more trial-and-error and experience to succeed in, then just getting one’s email and sending them a message including all of the information you want to share right then and there. It’s much more efficient, costs less money, and according to statistics people are still very much using email as a primary form of communication, whether for work or personal.

  1. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of artistry and entertainment?

Salloum: I think of it as both education and entertainment. Too much education and you bore your listeners. Finding that right style, vibe, and appeal is essential to one then maintaining interest-enough to productively educate and function as a vehicle of political, cultural, and social change and influence. Put the two together and you have “Edutainment”, as termed by KRS-One. My debut project, Epitome Perennial, behind the scenes, in my creative process of it, was all about the idea of placing monumental speeches of “Truth” to awe-inspiring music. The effect this has to inspire, and to change one’s perception on reality is very powerful, because music by itself is powerful in influencing one’s mood. Then adding powerful rhetoric to the equation, if done right, can be a remarkable tool of influence. And I’m not the only one who knows this. Much of the censorship that happens on the radio and elsewhere depicts the control and operations of agendas pushing for certain cultural realities to maintain. Whether for better or worse is subjective, based upon who you ask, and the agendas behind the for-profit, or for-change ideals serving as pillars.

With that said, there’s no doubt that the greatest of the greats have always had some message relevant to the socio-political atmosphere of their time. The great artists narrate the times with insights. Some through the absorption of knowledge from sources, others solely through living, and the change-makers undoubtedly through both.

  1. Do you only create and work in a studio environment, or do you also find time to perform live? And which of these two do you ultimately prefer and why?

Salloum:  Both serve as the yin/yang to one another. I do not work in a studio environment. I write my lyrics and come up with my ideas while at my laptop, or reading a book, or walking through life, or being exposed to some other creation or piece that I come across, or based off of something I hear, or on my own contemplations leading to epiphanies from God knows where.

Performing live is one of my favorite things to do. As of now I’m focused on building this fan-base on the internet by retrieving email addresses from the demographics I’m targeting specifically located in America, Canada, and Britain. My time to perform live will undoubtedly come if I continue to focus on the creative out-put process, and also collect the emails of those who I think are relevant to being a part of my fan-base.

Performing live is where the cake is made, both through the selling of tickets as well as merchandise.

  1. Do you have a recent favorite track in your catalog that has a specific backstory and/or message and meaning very dear to you?

Salloum: My projects on the whole entail specific meanings and messages. My songs themselves are a broad brush-stroke specifically acquainted to the thematic concepts of my intellectually-creative music projects. My favorite tracks so far on my new project Energy & Rhythm have been ‘Join Us’, ‘End of the Road’, and ‘Starry Eyed’.

  1. Could you tell us something about the making of your latest project Energy & Rhythm (2019)?

Salloum:   It took me a solid 3 years to create. It is the end of my Music Series which also consists of Epitome Perennial and HollowDreamz. Energy & Rhythm signifies infinity, amidst the alpha and omega of existence, both of which are signified by Epitome Perennial and HollowDreamz, respectively. The website for Energy & Rhythm is Definitely have a look at your convenience to check out the meanings behind it all, including the bridging of my Music Series in general:

  1. What do you find most rewarding about what you do? And do you have a specific vision or goal that you would like to achieve in the near future?

Salloum: My vision and goal is monetize and build a foundational following for touring and merchandise-selling. At some point or another I have faith that people will catch onto the imaginations of my creations and the reality behind the reflections I portray in the concepts and themes implemented for each project. Real life stuff.

What I find most rewarding is that my art is my life and my life is my art. This is partly the reason why it’s taken me five years to release three projects, the first one being in 2013, and my third one in 2019. That’s nearly six years in fact, but what pushed it back to 2019 as opposed to 2018 was my actual recording process and the time it took to complete each track to perfection.

What comes next will be different and exciting. I don’t want to speak on it too much because I myself haven’t figured out all of the details, but indeed I have another project I’m working on right now whose lyrics have been completed, consisting of about 10-15 songs, entitled AdvanceRoyale. As of now I’ve garnered 700 emails from Rap Song Reviews. My goal is to hit 1,000 by New Year’s Eve (this interview took place on September 18, 2019). That’s easily obtainable based upon the scale-cost of my current target audience and its current conversion rate. What’s more difficult is constantly keeping up with these music reviews. Hopefully I can reach a point where I will hire somebody to do this part for me. Until then it’s on me like it’s always been.

Follow and Find out more about Salloum at his WEBSITE and on INSTAGRAM.

Debut Project: Epitome Perennial (2013)
Philosophy incorporated: Perennialism
Essay: The Stature of Universality
Website with original content, essay, knowledge:

Second Project: HollowDreamz (2014)
Philosophy incorporated: Ubuntu
Essay: The Spring of Individuality
Website with original content, essay, knowledge:

Third Project: Energy & Rhythm (2019)
Philosophy incorporated: Taoism
Essay: The Encompassment of All
Website with original content, essay, knowledge:

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