In the '90s, Travis Henry made headlines as a star running back at Federal Way High School and Central Washington University. But, for the last decade and a half, he's been known as Shyan Selah, and he's been rocking stages from here to Los Angeles.
In 1999, Selah founded his label, Brave New World Entertainment, issuing his full-length hip-hop debut, “Brave New World,” a few years later. But, since 2010, he and his band, the Republic of Sound, have become known for a more eclectic sound that incorporates elements of rock, pop and R&B.
His next local performances are at Seattle Hempfest, at 1 p.m. Aug. 18, and at 8 p.m. Aug. 31 at Tacoma's Jazzbones. Those will be followed by a national Starbucks tour, and we hear something about him going Hollywood after that. Could this be the year he breaks through nationally?
Tacoma Weekly: How did you get started?
Selah: I was raised in Federal Way, but I really got my start in Hollywood. Another Federal Way kid, named Erik Willis, ended up being one of the singers in an R&B group called Shai. (He) was the head of music for the Wayans brothers. I actually got my start being on “The Wayans Bros.” show, and kind of got introduced to entertainment there, working at the WB.
I was exposed to acting and modeling and the business side of things very early and got the chance to cut my teeth performing during the intermissions and stuff.
TW: Over the years, I’ve seen you do a lot of different things, from the music to having a radio talk show at one point (“Life: The Shyan Selah Show,” on Seattle's KKNW-AM 1150).
Selah: Really, that was centered on community outreach. For years, I’ve always just taken the entertainment infrastructure ... and used it as an instrument to teach inside of schools and colleges.
The agenda was to just show that kids don’t have to focus on being the star, per se. They can look at all these different occupational roles that support any celebrity or any star. You’ve got accountants, you’ve got attorneys, you’ve got people in PR. You’ve got so many different (jobs) that can play a significant role.
TW: We’ve seen your music evolve over the years, from more of a traditional hip-hop style to the stuff you’re doing with your band, the Republic of Sound. Tell me about that transition.
Selah: In black culture in particular, you’re usually just crammed with funk, R&B, gospel - maybe some blues and hip-hop. But my dad, his cache included country and western, bluegrass. It included pop, rock ‘n’ roll, of course - new wave. I listened to everything from James Brown to Culture Club when I was growing up. Then I had two older brothers that were really involved in hip-hop, breakdancing and whatnot. So I was always pretty diverse. It’s just hip-hop gave me my first break.
I just wanted to be able to expand and become a little bit more authentic with what was musically going on inside of me. So I developed a band; and with the Republic of Sound, now I finally feel like I’ve found my true voice. I love hip-hop, but I also love rock n’ roll and soul music. It’s all just kind of finding a way to mesh together.
TW: I saw on your web site that you're working on a new full-length album.
Selah: Yeah, the album is called “City of Angels.” The first single release is gonna be “Pink Butterfly.” We were originally slated for this month, but we're gonna go ahead and move the entire campaign to October.
The band is pumped. We've had some great, great shows in Hollywood, at the Whiskey (A Go Go), and are getting ready to embark on some other touring opportunities. People are really liking our sound and our style, and I think it's gonna do something.
TW: So you're doing a big tour of Starbucks. How did that come about?
Selah: I basically was arranging a national tour anyway, and … there's a Starbucks everywhere you go, no matter what city you're in. They just so happen to have a really cool initiative with these community stores they're trying to launch where they have are a really strong give-back component in each community. They have one in Harlem, one in Houston and one in L.A. And they just launched one in Seattle where I was able to perform and do the inaugural event there.
TW: What else do you have coming up this summer?
Selah: The biggest thing I'm waiting for is really not a summer thing; it's coming up in October. It's my first feature film role with “Bronx Bull.” It comes out on Oct. 11.
TW: What are you doing with that?
Selah: I have a small scene with William Forsythe, the lead actor who's playing the role of Jake LaMotta, the former Italian middleweight champ.
I'm playing a retired boxer who's a good friend of Jake's. Our scene is really at a critical stage in Jake Lamotta's life where he's just holding onto the bootstraps and trying to make ends meet. We both work at this venue in New York City, and we have a little exchange on camera. So it's kind of fun. And them I'm on the soundtrack as well.