Bigger than the Dexter meme: How Dear Silas is changing the narrative of making it in Mississippi

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“That’s the icebreaker right there.”

That was Jackson hip-hop artist Dear Silas’ initial thought when he first saw a fan-made version of November’s viral Dexter meme that featured his song “Skrr Skrr,” a single from his latest album titled The Last Cherry Blossom.

Born Silas Stapleton, Dear Silas wasn’t surprised to see the remixed clip of a 1996 episode of Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Laboratory in which two smitten girls at school implore the whiz kid to, “Say it again, Dexter.”

During the episode, Dexter falls asleep while listening to an audio recording of a French language lesson. The next day, only three words come out of Dexter’s mouth: omelette du fromage. In the edited version – the one that launched Silas’ career to new heights – instead of saying the romantic-sounding French phrase, which translates as “cheese omelette,” upon request, Dexter sings Silas’ “Skrr Skrr” into a girl’s ear. She swoons.

Only 26 seconds long, the video has garnered more than 131,000 views on YouTube. As for the video of the full song, it is Silas’ most watched video on his YouTube channel with over 833,000 views.

“I knew the potential of the song before,” the 32-year-old rapper said during an interview with Mississippi Today. “I was like, ‘This is gonna be a big thing. All it takes is for the right people to see it.’”

And the right people did see it.

With the help of endless social media sharing, “Skrr Skrr” landed in the Top 40 on iTunes’ Hip-Hop/Rap chart, according to Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, Silas’ manager.

“Silas’ fans are some of the most aggressive fans that are out there,” he said. “They really want people to know about Silas.”

“Skrr Skrr”  has also been streamed over 1 million times on both Apple Music and Spotify. For nearly 12 consecutive days, the song was named the No. 1 Viral Record on Spotify.

Those aggressive fans almost didn’t even get the chance to hear Silas’ “Skrr Skrr.” The track was the thirteenth and final song to be added to The Last Cherry Blossom.

After hearing the instrumental one summer’s day while at work at the Apple Store in Ridgeland, Silas began singing “skrr skrr” to the beat of the music. The next day he heard one of his coworkers, who was stocking shelves at the time, singing the two words just as she had heard Silas singing them the day before. Silas realized just how catchy his cadence and lyrics were. That night after work, he went home, listened to the instrumental and decided to finish the song. It made the track list just a month before the album was sent off for final mixing.

Lucky number 13? About a week after the Dexter meme and “Skrr Skrr” took force, major record labels booked their flights to Jackson in hopes of signing the Southern, trumpet-playing hip-hopper.

“Several people were competing for his services, but RCA (Records) and Sony won out,” Franklin said.

It was RCA’s interest in Silas’s artistry and the label’s extensive research beyond the viral sensation of the meme and the song that ultimately sold Silas and his team. Silas, his wife, his manager and his engineer flew to New York City, and Silas signed the papers the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, making the deal official.

“It didn’t even hit me in that moment when I was sitting down in the room signing the papers,” Silas said. “They put the paper in front of me, and cameras started flashing. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ Then I was like, ‘Oh yeah, this is a big deal.’ I’m always in work mode. For me I was just like, ‘Okay, I just got a new job. When I do I clock in?’ I had to sit back and realize, ‘Man, my dreams are coming true.'”

 

Rather than seeing it as a traditional record deal, Franklin recognizes Silas’ recent signing to RCA as a solidification of a partnership. He encourages other artists to present themselves to labels as “entities” in order to retain complete creative control.

“Signing as an artist directly to a label is indentured servitude basically,” he said. “We already had momentum going. Silas is going to be an inspiration to other artists out there. You should go there with your chips on the table.  Approach it not as an artist, but as entities and companies. And form partnerships as opposed to being signed. Silas is the leverage. Silas is the entity. They can’t spend  a dime unless we green light it.”

How did Silas manage to attract numerous record labels and build such a loyal fan base without even leaving Mississippi? For him, it all falls back on staying true to himself.

“You have to take time to cultivate what it is that you have going on,” he said. “Don’t be concerned with everything else going on on the outside. Stuff started to change for me once I decided that I wanted to make music for myself and people who think like me. The people who take to you will gravitate to you in time. Focus on yourself. I focused on me.”

At one point, Silas did decide to leave the state to attend college at the University of Louisiana in Monroe, where he studied music performance. Only 18 hours shy of obtaining his degree, Silas says he stepped out on faith and left college to focus on his music career. Unlike many aspiring hip-hop artists, his next move wasn’t to Atlanta, home to two of Silas’ biggest inspirations: Outkast and Ludacris. It was Mississippi, home to Silas and his biggest supporters.

“My 8-year-old daughter loves Silas,” Franklin said. “She gets to see Silas succeed here in the city of Jackson. So when she grows up, I may not have to persuade her to stay in Mississippi. She can get use to seeing people from here succeed. I think Silas is the beginning of this. This is going to be happening in many different fields and many different genres. I think Dear Silas is a prime example of what you can do if you stay here and fight the good fight.”

Mississippi leads the U.S. in losing millennials. Often referred to as the “brain drain,” the outmigration of the state’s educated and skilled young people has evoked continuous conversation since Mississippi Today first looked at the trend in 2017. When it comes to music, hip-hop in particular, only a few Mississippi artists may come to mind. Franklin hopes Silas’ success will change that.

Photo by Ron Blaylock

Brad “Kamikaze” Franklin, member of the former hip-hop group Crooked Lettaz, is a pioneer of hip-hop in Mississippi. He is also Dear Silas’ manager.

“We’ve lost so many talented people because they have been told and groomed and conditioned to think that being in Mississippi is like being in a position of inferiority,” Franklin said.” This is the birthplace of American music, and it’s time that we start acting like it. We should have music labels and entities coming here to mine our talent. Dear Silas is going to change the narrative of what’s going to happen here in music. People are calling me asking, ‘Who’s next in Mississippi?’.”

As he continues to write music dedicated to himself first, hence the name “Dear Silas,” he wants his art to be an eye-opener to those who listen as well. And he hopes his story of hustle, self-awareness and success will help put a positive spin on the narrative of making it in Mississippi.

“It’s such a dark cloud over Mississippi as a whole when it pertains to music,” Silas said. “This is the birthplace of a lot of music, and a lot of people don’t know that. If I can be a beacon of light that can change that just a little bit, that makes me happy. If I can make people talk about music in Mississippi more than they’re talking about it now, I’m all for that.”