2022 was a huge year in the life of Clondalkin rapper Selló. From signing to Warner Music, releasing his debut project ‘SellóTape’ and selling out his very first headline show in The Academy, it’s been a year of firsts not only for him but for Irish rap in general.
“I’ve done some major stuff in terms of making music history” Selló admits over Zoom as he reflects on a year which has seen him become a household name across the country following last month’s Late Late Show appearance, “and I’m doing things that have never been done before. Pushing Irish rap to new heights”.
Irish rap and hip-hop has been on the up for over a decade now, but despite it’s rising status there are very few artists who could say they have ‘broken through’ to mainstream Irish culture, fewer still who consider themselves very much part of Irish street culture.
Selló has done just that, and become a figurehead not only of a scene but of an entire subgenre, even if he himself doesn’t subscribe to the label.
“The whole label of drill rapper or drill artist, I wouldn’t call myself a drill rapper” he explains, “Irish media have pushed that label on me, the drill rappers don’t call me a drill rapper; it’s more so people that don’t know what drill mean or are new to it that would call me a drill artist”.
Drill, he goes on to explain, refers to a track’s BPM (beats per minute). Originating in Chicago in the early 2010’s, tracks in generally ranged from 60 to 70 BPM and would heavily rely on 808 drum machines, with minimal accompaniment thereafter.
“For me personally, I’ve made more songs that aren’t drill” Selló adds, “Like ‘Dublin’ isn’t really a drill song, it’s what I’d call Gaelic drill. When people say drill music, Gaelic drill is more Irish infused instruments.
“You’d hear more violins than drill drum beats or 808’s; but I’m speaking too musically. The whole stigma of what comes with drill is… I don’t stand for the same thing. I don’t hate the tag but what I’m trying to make is new, there’s no label to it”.
“For now I’ll take it as a compliment” he quickly adds, “drill music has never done what it’s doing now in Ireland ever before so being the forefront of that is a big deal”.
“I’m trying to work with the biggest artists in Ireland, all the Dermot Kennedys, letting them know that I’m in the loop as well”
Selló traces the beginning of his music career to his secondary school days, where he would spend lunch breaks rapping for his friends. In particular, Selló recalls, it was his music teacher Mrs. Cunningham (“she got married recently actually, so congratulations to her”) who pushed him to think about a career in the arts.
“It was good to see that someone believed in me more than I believed in myself” he smiles, “she really gave me the belief that there was a possibility that I could break through”.
“At the time I wasn’t listening to much Irish music and I was thinking of the probability and likelihood, so I was thinking of the chances of me taking it to the levels of Stormzy and Jay-Z in Ireland, and what’s the furthest a rapper has gone in Ireland” he notes.
“And she jump-started the whole idea and really gave structure to what I was doing in the yard and turning it into a rap song with a very and a chorus and the likes”.
From there, Selló would spend hours locked in his room, working on verses, studying hooks and bridges, and dissecting what it really took to make a rap song. Despite the time it took, Selló insists creativity has always been effortless.
“I know what people want to hear” he replies, when asked about his process, “If I chilled with someone for a day, without them playing me any music they like, I know 100% I could write a song they liked.
“Maybe not the same genre, but a rap song about you or where you’re from or with your interests, and people with similar interests would like it too. I want to make music that people who believe in the same message as I enjoy”.
In 2021, Selló dropped his debut single ‘Dublin’, and within a matter of weeks labels were showing interest. When majors started to reach out, he turned to the man whose hard work has built Irish street rap unlike any other, Solomon Adesiyan, the founder and CEO of Trust it Entertainment.
“He’s the biggest contributor to black Irish hip-hop ever” Selló says of Adesiyan, “He’s done more for hip-hop in this country than any other outlet or radio station, bridging the gap between major labels and streets. Everyone who was making music, be it Offica or any of the big players, are all linked to this one guy. He played a huge part in everything anyone released”.
“As a rap scene we’re bad, not quality wise but resource wise” Selló notes of the street rap community as a whole. “We’re probably one of the worst ever. Either you make it or break it yourself, there’s no infrastructure. You had to want to learn and go get it”
In a sense, this makes Selló’s rise a blueprint for all who are to come? “Absolutely” he smiles, “Lots of people are looking at what I’m doing right now and trying to be as professional as my team are. I help people take their music more serious”.
"If I chilled with someone for a day, without them playing me any music they like, I know 100% I could write a song they liked"
Despite his status nationally, however, Selló is very committed to helping his local community of Clondalkin and the surrounding area. Shortly before being signed to Warner Music, Selló did a tour of schools in the area to perform for students who were too young to make it to his shows. The tour was done in collaboration with South Dublin County Council.
“It was my manager’s idea” he explained of the project, “We didn’t do it for promo,” he insists, “We just did it in our local area in Clondalkin, just telling the kids we notice them and recognise them”.
“People need to know that Selló’s from Clondalkin” he smiles, “that he lives next door, that he plays for the local football team, to really raise community spirit. It was just showing people that I’m no different to them, I went to the same school, had the same teachers and I know what’s like. I want to show them anything’s possible”.
The conversation is slowly creeping towards an end, but before we say our goodbyes talk turns to 2023 and all that’s to come. “I’m trying to work with the biggest artists in Ireland, all the Dermot Kennedys, letting them know that I’m in the loop as well” he replies of his plans,
“I linked up with 49th & Main while we were at Eurosonic and I’ve been working with Robert Grace too. I’m trying to work with the popstars, link the streets to the mainstream”. So far the plan is working perfectly. Everything’s coming up Selló.