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Sethro in the 'Beginning'
By Sounni de Fontenay
(more articles from this author)
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Sethro [SE], hailing from Washington State, is striving to redefine Hip Hop by bringing intelligence and meaning to an otherwise declining (quality, that is) scene. With a very unique style, this lyricist, producer, and performer creates a vibe that is not to be missed. Read for yourself!

BE What is your background in Hip Hop? When and how did you get started?

SE I don't know what would constitute as what you consider a background. I mean I really didn't grow up in any hip hop scene or have any major influences in the music. Basically, I just always loved rap. I think my brother bought a Run D.M.C. tape when I was about in kindergarten. That was probably my first exposure to rap. And from then on I just loved it. It was pretty much all I listened to until I broadened my musical appreciation later in highschool. As for how I got started, I had this one friend who rapped, nothing special, just him and another friend having fun. One day he told me that if I wrote lyrics and he liked them, he'd use them and give me credit. So I wrote a couple first drafts, gave him a couple, kept a couple. Then on one boring Saturday, I wanted to see what I could do, busted out my mom's kareoke machine, put in an instrumental and recited some of the lyrics I wrote for my friend. So that's pretty much it. I started writing for myself, kept at it, kept adding equipment, kept advancing.

BE How would you describe your style?

SE Well, I'm still young in my development and haven't formulated a specific, personal style, but I would call my flow mellow, deliberate, and focused. I know that sounds kind of indescriptive, but I can't come up with much more. It's kind of more like story telling or poem reciting to a beat. I mean there are influctuations in how I drop the words, on some tracks more than others, but it's pretty mellow.

BE Do your rhymes have a certain message? Directed to which audiences?

SE Well they definitely have a message. To me it's all about the message. That is the foremost thing in my music. I strive to be intelligent, positive, and come up with things that, in my opinion, need to be said. There's so much rap out there today that says nothing. I mean you can go buy an album, one hour in length, and not one thing will be said. Sure it'll have metaphors, insults, claims of grandure, etc..., but what is it saying? I don't waste any lines, every sentence that comes out of my mouth means something and is a piece of the completed thought. I think we as musicians, especially rap artists who are speaking to a large number of lost, disillusioned, and angry people, need to basically be preachers.

That's what I try to do, preach. Preach about what's right, what's wrong. And I put some personal shit in there too, but that still carries a message that I hope people can relate to. In terms of audience, I don't try to direct it anywhere. I know that my music will appeal to those who focus on what is being said, to those who like intelligent lyrics, to those who like positive music, but I really wish everyone would listen. I'm in this for two reasons. One is my personal expression. The other is to make a difference. And when you are trying to enlighten people or give them something to look at, you can't limit yourself in who you are trying to reach.

BE Which musicians or events influenced you and your music most?

SE No specific musical influences really. I mean, the more I listen to different kinds of music, the more I appreciate musical form and try to put that in my music. I listen to everything, rap, rock, oldies, jazz, classical, you name it. You find those little sequences, that in no matter what form, are quality music. That's what I want to create those universally quality pieces. One person or group that I might say influences me is The Coup, a not so well known group out of Oakland, California. Their lead lyricist, Boots, always says something, whether it's political, or his view on this or that, he says something intelligent that people need to listen to. I think that helped me see the way it can be done and the way to do it.

One event that made a difference is Jerry Garcia dying. Now, I never liked the Grateful Dead, never ever listened to them, but the day after he died I was looking through the newspaper and saw articles and pictures of what this one man and his music meant to people. That was the day I realized that music really reached people in a way other shit didn't. I realized that I could hit home with alot of people through my music, and after that day I just turned it up a notch.

BE Your music has a very unique style. Tell me about it.

SE Well it's definitely different. It's about as far from Puffy as you can find. Not alot of glitz or glamour, nothing really to dance to. The moods laid by my tracks were set up to accompany what I was saying so that each track stands alone as a complete piece. I mean I'm still working on things, and one thing I want to do is step up my energy a little bit, but my previous work has really been about setting a scene, an idea, a concept that has meaning to me. Different music highlights certain lyrics, from track to track, line to line.

BE You have a CD out now, describe it to me.

SE The concept of the entire CD was completed before I wrote any lyrics. I was reading a piece of writing by Chief Seattle, a Native American chief who had to deal with settlers invading his people's culture and land. He described the process as "the end of living and the beginning of survival." I would consider myself a pessimist in that I truly feel the human race needs to get its ass in gear or we're going to kill ourselves, so I really related to thought as well as really appreciating the words used to express it.

So I pretty much wanted to do an album that would put forth my thinking on the world, what's wrong with it, and what needs to be done. I also really wanted to do an album that was a complete piece. Each track can stand on its own, but when put in the context of the entire album, I wanted it to be even that much stronger. So the first track is "The Beginning" which outlines our earlier life of let's say hunters and gatherers and comparing it to the way we live today.

From there I take a journey through the album discussing different aspects of our lives, some personal, some not. Then as we near the end of the album, we have "Red Skies", which is an apocalyptic view of where we are heading. It's a very hard track with a background consisting of eerie sounds, large battles, and air raid sirens signifying an Armageddon type event. The final, all encompassing track is "The Fittest", which looks at in my opinion what it will take to survive this life we've created. Basically, who will be those fit to survive, that kind of thing. Thus the title and album itself, "The Beginning of Survival", hopefully bring the full picture of 20th century survival.

On the technical side, the album took about 1 year to put together, cost more money than I have, was self written, produced, performed, and recorded, and is a total of 13 tracks making up 48 minutes of music.

BE Are you happy with the it?

SE Yes, very. I mean of course I hear things wrong with it, and things that I would change. Sometimes it sounds great to me, sometimes not. I know I have a long way to go and will advance musically and lyrically, but for where I am, and this being my first attempt, I am very pleased. I said what I wanted to say, and put out the best piece of work I could. And as I said earlier, half, if not more, of this whole thing is for my self expression. The work I had to put in on this, the thinking, the discovering of things that mean something to me, that makes it worth it right there. The fact that other people get to hear it, and they appreciate it, and they take something from it, that's just all the better.

BE Where can people buy your CD?

SE I'll tell you, distribution is tough. Being independent makes it very tough to get your music out there, especially when it's not the mainstream, mass appeal kind of music. So it's pretty much an online thing so far. And that's where you'll find the album. If you go to you'll find info on me, the album, including how to purchase it and some samples, as well as a few other hip hop resources on the site. If you don't want to deal with that, you can just send $5 and a request for Sethro's "The Beginning of Survival" to Bottom of the Ninth Entertainment, P.O. Box 8600, Kirkland, WA 98034.

BE You have your own label. Tell me about it.

SE I've always been a guy who has done shit for himself so this was pretty much a no-brainer. I wasn't going to wait around to get signed, and I wanted to be heard, so I made my own label. It started as something just to release my music under, but I'm starting to work with some new ideas and projects. I'm working on putting together a compilation, a second album for myself, as well as another album for another local artist, a friend of mine from way back. I'm not expecting to be the next Master P, and money is secondary to music for me anyways, but I'd like to see the label grow.

BE What are the advantages and disadvantages of operating your own label?

SE The advantages are you don't answer to anyone. You are free to make the music you want to make without worrying about whether a label will like it or not. You also don't have to wait for them. No waiting to get signed, no waiting for studio or production time, no waiting to be released. When you are ready you go. Disadvantages are that you are independent. You have very little resources behind you. You have no marketing. You have no distribution. If money is being spent, it's yours, if marketing is being done, it's you out there trying to get people to listen to you. Picking up a distributor is tough, so you're pretty much selling them out of your house, as I am. It's tough. A crappy artist can come out, but with a label, money, and marketing behind him, he can sell plenty of albums. No matter how good you are, if you are independent, you're going to have a tough time getting yourself heard.

BE Has it been difficult getting to where you are currently? What have you had to contend with in the music business.

SE Yes, in a way it has been difficult. I mean I can't complain cause I've had the desire to do it and done it myself. But I know this might be as far as I get and that this will be the way it will always be. First off, I'm white, so I got a strike against me. No matter what you do, what you say, how you act, if you are white, the hip hop culture will most likely consider you second rate, and will not take you seriously. Some will give you a chance, and it is getting better, but it's tough. Secondly, I'm not putting out feel good, dance party, mainstream shit. I'm not smooth enough for MTV or anything like that. I don't have consumer appeal really. So it hasn't been tough doing it on my own, anyone can do that. But getting beyond that, reaching the mass audience, making it big so to say, that's going to be tough, if not impossible.

BE How do you see Hip Hop today? How do you see it evolving?

SE I honestly have a very negative view of hip hop today. I'm very frustrated with it. There is a great lack of awareness, honesty, and down to earthness. It's so much about image now. Who has the clothes, who has the cars, the money, the women, all that shit. Rappers are just talking shit about what they got and how they can kill this, fuck that, smoke these. Don't get me wrong, there are some great groups out there like the Black Eyed Peas, Goodie Mob, Common, etc... but there is just too much bullshit. Rap shouldn't be about that.

Rap is an art and expression of a lost voice for many of the urban youth. When it started it gave a voice to the urban city. Now it's all about money and status. How do I see it evolving? Pretty much the same as I see the world evolving. There will be some absolutely unbelievably great groups out there, with great music and words to back them up, just like there will be extraordinary people with great messages in this world. But unfortunately, just like our society, they will be few and far between amongst the groups rapping of money, violence, sex, and anything else that will sell.

BE How do your musical ambitions reconcile with your business ambitions?

SE My business ambitions are to support my musical ambitions. My goal is not to be successful, at least not in the common description of success, to have money. My goal is to make enough money doing whatever I do to support me doing the things that matter, whether that is music or whatever. If I have a house over my head, food in the fridge, and am able to express myself and make a difference, that's all I need. Hopefully I can make a business that will do that.

BE Finally, what are you views with respect to Hip Hop in the international market and the Internet?

I think it's great. The main thing I like is that the farther you get from the U.S. the farther you get from consumerism. You find artists who are doing this for expression and love of hip hop rather than money. There's a great group up in Canada right now called Mood Ruff and another group called Marxman, an English and Irish group from the UK, both of whom I think are doing some great things. There are some truly talented groups all throughout the world, and I love to see the hip hop scene growing internationally.

And the internet is helping that. It allows those in the U.S. access to music outside the country and vice versa. It's all about diversity. It's about the exchange of new ideas, thoughts and concepts. The more people, and especially the more different people you have contributing to the general brain pool of hip hop, the better result we will have.

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