Dear Silas wants you to know that Mississippi has something to say — Andscape

Dear Silas wants you to know that Mississippi has something to say — Andscape
Dear Silas wants you to know that Mississippi has something to say — Andscape

I love you dear Silas. I love Dear Silas like I love Mississippi. I love writers Kiese Laymon and Jesmyn Ward and academic Eddie Glaude for the way they remind us that Mississippi is home to some of the most beautiful and black literary traditions of Richard Wright and Margaret Walker. How I love activists Arekia Bennett and Asia Brown for reminding us of the legacies of the civil rights movement of Fannie Lou Hamer and Medgar Evers. I love Dear Silas because it reminds us of the musical traditions of BB King, Muddy Waters, Crooked Lettaz, 5th Child and Big KRIT, a reminder that all black greatness came from a state where it was least expected, but shouldn’t be.

You don’t love Dear Silas… yet. Chances are you haven’t even heard of him, but you may have seen his work, even if you don’t know him. That viral video of West African kids dancing to a hip-hop version of “Gullah Gullah Island” a few years ago? That was Dear Silas. The 2018 Dexter cartoon meme that became the “SKRR SKRR” song that everyone shared? Yes. The hilarious Hip Hop Harry rap to accompany the dances? Another viral clip from Dear Silas. There was also the remix to “Rain” video that he rapped, that Missy Elliott herself loved. And the “I Ain’t Stressing Today” video that has become a feel-good anthem on the internet. Dear Silas has been in the corners of social media for years, but with his next project, It is Giving SELF-LOVE! (on sale June 24), is turning it all into his most complete project yet.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Dear Silas, whose real name is Silas Stapleton III, told Andscape. “This is my offer for people to love themselves.”

Dear Silas has had his own battles with depression, insecurity and self-doubt, which is what allows him to channel the positivity needed to create inspirational songs.

“I hated the way I looked,” she said. “I hated the way it sounded. I didn’t like my rap voice. I don’t like my singing voice. I wanted to be taller, just a bunch of things. And right now, I’m promoting just loving who you are, being the person God made you, and understanding that there is only one.”

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Dear Silas is from Jackson, Mississippi. His musical training came from his father, Silas Stapleton Jr., who was an alto saxophonist. He started with Dear Silas on piano, then trumpet, which he would use to earn a scholarship to Louisiana Monroe University. Dear Silas would eventually start playing at different venues including BB King’s Blues Club.

While Dear Silas was playing the trumpet, he was also honing his rapping skills. It was mostly a hobby during high school where he would hand out mixtapes, dismissing suggestions that he should actually make music. While those suggestions lingered in the back of Dear Silas’s mind, he too was figuring out how to master the Internet. He started out by uploading comedic videos to YouTube that also ended up getting hundreds of thousands of views on WorldStarHipHop. At the end of those videos, he was promoting something called wave fat, a mixtape. But she didn’t tell fans what it was or even if it was music. They brought him down by force of being comedy fans of his. While they would appreciate the project, the promotional tactics left Dear Silas with a bad taste.

“I still felt like, ‘I’m misleading people in this situation,’” he said. “I want people to get involved in a project on their own and like what I have going on.”

That realization caused Dear Silas to change his entire focus, including his name, which used to be Trey Parker. (“My name is Dear Silas because I always write myself a letter and speak out loud to help me get through whatever I’m going through,” he explained.) He also made a switch from trying to copy popular trends to focusing on music that he felt most true to himself.

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“My frame of mind was like, ‘I have to have something for the girls. So I have to have something for the guys. I have something for the streets and I have to have something for the club. I was all over the place, man, trying to please everyone but myself,” he recalled.

“Now what I like to talk about is what’s going on with me,” he continued. “I have to put things in front of my brain to remind myself that I will get over this.”

The new Dear Silas’ first big internet moment came in 2015 when he launched “Gullah Gullah Island”, an ode to the popular children’s show of the 90s about the Gullah culture of South Carolina. In the lead up to the song’s official release, Dear Silas released a short video of the hook playing over a scene of West African children dancing. The video soon went viral. The song sums up the Dear Silas experience. First of all, it highlights his ability to find moments on the Internet to spread everywhere. But he also talks about how he harnesses nostalgia to connect with his audience.

“I love that so much of my music is driven by nostalgia,” he said. “I love looking at things from when I was still a kid. It keeps me comfortable and helps me forget about being an adult sometimes.”

Nostalgia is great, but it’s a Trojan horse of what Dear Silas is really doing. In “Gullah Gullah Island,” for example, he doesn’t just pay homage to a show many grew up with. He uses the song to imagine a black utopia where the police don’t harass us and “where they couldn’t bring crack into the neighborhood because there’s no neighborhood.” It is Afrofuturism linked to the parts of our lives that give us the most peace.

That’s the Mississippi in him.

“Everything comes from here,” he said. “Blues, rock and roll, whatever. I think it’s important to me to try to tell the story of Mississippi, but also to tell the story of where Mississippi is going, and what kind of people do we have here right now, and what are we doing.”

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Dear Silas does all that with It is Giving SELF-LOVE! Throughout the album he chews on the worst that can happen to us and spits out affirmations and promises for a better tomorrow. The opening song, “Thank You,” epitomizes that approach as he makes an anthemic love song for his enemies, showing appreciation for how they motivate him. (“The enemies had made me lose my sight, but you put me back in that mode,” he sings.) “I Love Me” is a rebuke to self-doubt framed as a date with oneself. The emotional punch to the guts of the album comes on “March 28th,” a song about losing her father. While the pain is palpable and the devastation almost overwhelming, he distills that into a loving message about what his father’s greatness portends for future generations of his family. “I’m my daddy’s son I can’t lie I’m a proud son of a gun/my daddy was smart but I gotta tell you Silas Stapleton III will be so much better”, he raps.

SELF-LOVE! is the most complete work of Dear Silas and one of the best albums released this year. More importantly, it is a balm. A declaration of a better life. And the kind of project that gets us through tough times.

“I’m talking about where I’m coming from on this album,” he said. “This is my biggest attempt yet to let people know that we can be with the best, if not in front of them.”

David Dennis Jr. is a senior writer at Andscape and a winner of the American Mosaic Journalism Award. His book, The Movement Made Us, will be published in 2022. David is a graduate of Davidson College.