XXL just named Shelton Harris one of the 15 Seattle rappers you should know, alongside the likes of Sol and Fresh Espresso. And it’s no wonder why. Harris, who’s only been performing since late 2011, has made a name for himself opening for artists like Macklemore, G-Eazy and Hoodie Allen. We talked with Harris about balancing school and music, “Same Love,” and what the future holds before he and DJ/producer Tyler Dopps play Sasquatch!, right before their single “Wake Up” hits iTunes.
Shelton Harris performs at 4:35pm today on the Cthulhu stage at the Sasquatch! Music Festival
How did that first show with Hoodie Allen come about? Macklemore’s manager, Zach Quillen, plugged me with that. I shot him some music, and he emailed it to the people that book at the Crocodile. I had never done my own full live set yet. I slapped together a bunch of songs because I was still doing a lot of remix songs. That was hectic, but it ended up working out pretty good.
How did you and Tyler meet? I knew he made beats, so I hit him up. I asked him if he would DJ the show, and one thing led to another. By the fourth or fifth show, he’d already made a couple songs for me and it was like “Do you just want to be the go-to guy?”
Are you still in school or are you a full-time musician? I’m not in school, but I wouldn’t say I’m a full-time musician. I’m working part-time, but I wanted time off from school because trying to balance working, school, and music was impossible. I took the last couple of quarters off to see how things played out. I plan on going back in the fall. We’re looking into some tour stuff, so I don’t want to go back to school if it’s going to be a repeat of the last time I was there.
How has your sound evolved from Nothing Better to The Fresh Start ? Nothing Better was like a sampler. Half those beats were leaks off the Internet and half of them were Tyler’s. I wouldn’t say I had a sound at the time. I was just listening to beats and putting raps over them [laughs], doing what I thought I was supposed to do as a rapper. The Fresh Start was completely produced by Tyler. We were making the music we wanted to make … Using a sound that was different from other people, we were afraid people weren’t going to like it. It ended up going a lot farther than the last project did, so we were happy.
Do people still recognize you from the “Same Love” video? If someone recognizes me, they’ll be like, “This is really awkward, but I have to ask,” and I’ll be like “Yeah, that’s me.” Sometimes they’ll ask how it happened or if I know him in real life. It definitely still happens, but I don’t mind.
That’s a nice claim to fame. People will say “This kid raps,” then someone else will say, “He was in the Macklemore video,” so it’s a whole new level of interest. I go from that random kid that rapped to someone that someone might think is actually making moves [laughs].
What’s the biggest challenge you face as an independent musician? The hard part is promoting our music to an extent that we get it into the hands of someone important … It’s really easy to be an independent artist out of your own state but to branch out, that’s when you’re going to start needing some help.
What’s your ultimate goal as a musician? I want to be able to do what I love to do and make a life off of it. Whether that means getting signed or taking the independent route, it really all depends on where the next few years go ... We’d like to start touring and working on a full-length album and turn this into an actual career. I’m 20, and Tyler just turned 19, so there’s plenty of time left. I’m probably going to stay in school so I have a degree to fall back on, but we’re not giving up by any means.