Dua Saleh’s first musical recording was like the electronic-rap version of those towering wood structures they make at Burning Man Festival: It was online for 24 hours, then gone in an instant.
“I still wasn’t taking music seriously at that point,” said Saleh, who intentionally deleted that debut song (“Black and Blue”) just one day after posting it. “I was like: ‘Does anybody really want to hear this?’”
The answer was a firm “yes.” People have been clamoring to hear more from the Sudan-born, St. Paul-reared rapper/singer/poet ever since, thanks in large part to another performance clip from a Button Poetry Live event that went viral via YouTube, titled “Pins and Needles.”
Saleh, 23, finally becomes a full-fledged recording artist in the form of “Nur,” a debut EP on tap for a release party Tuesday at 7th Street Entry. The five-song collection was co-helmed by Minneapolis production wiz Psymun and features other local collaborators such as Mike Frey, Velvet Negroni and Corbin (fka Spooky Black).
A nonbinary performer who prefers gender-neutral “they/them” pronouns, Saleh explores gender and racial issues alongside a fantastical array of personal experiences, haunting dreams and an airy, surrealistic pillow of beats and synths on “Nur.” The EP is truly unlike anything you’ve heard before, though comparisons to innovator FKA Twigs and a hip-hop Björk come close to describing it.
Saleh still wasn’t seeing music as all that viable a pursuit when approached by Psymun, who caught on to the viral buzz. A producer of late for Atlanta rappers including Young Thug and Lil Baby after his work with local all-star quartet the Stand4rd, Psymun was “curious more than anything” to work with Saleh, according to the rapper.
“We wanted to make songs that were representative of both of us but also had a single sound,” Saleh said. “We didn’t really know what that would be going into it, but I think we achieved it.”
The title, “Nur,” is an Arabic title that means “light” but is also a common, gender-neutral name. Songs on it range from the sexually salacious but socially thematic opener “Sugar Mama” to the slow-stewing, identity-pondering “Albany” and the coolly hypnotic and sleepy-eyed single “Kickflip,” which features references to Power Rangers and other childhood imagery.
Saleh left Sudan at age 5 as the family sought political asylum amid mounting civil war. They spent almost five years in a refugee camp before finally settling into St. Paul’s storied Rondo neighborhood, which Saleh simply described as “complicated.”
“Growing up there exposed me to a lot of poverty and a constant police presence, but it also exposed me to all the rich culture and art that is a big part of who I am now.”
A recent Augsburg University graduate, Saleh studied sociology, aspired to be a community organizer and has also worked as a stage actor and — as of this past week — was writing a play for 20% Theater Company. It’s no surprise, then, that it took so long to go all-in as a musician.
“My music career still feels accidental,” Saleh said, “but I feel like I was always going to be an artist one way or another.”
Tuesday’s party at the Entry will also feature Kamilla Love, Booboo, R.A.D. and “surprise guests” (7 p.m., $10-$12).
On break from his first year as a hip-hop educator at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Toki Wright will give a free lecture of sorts on all things vinyl at the Minneapolis Central Library on Saturday at 1 p.m., a kickoff to tout the library’s Vinyl Revival program. …
Speaking of vinyl revival, Soul Asylum’s last recording efforts for Twin/Tone before signing a major-label deal, the Chris Osgood-produced 1986 LP “While You Were Out” and the 1989 EP “Clam Dip & Other Delights,” have been newly combined into a double-LP vinyl set and single CD by collectors label Omnivore Recordings. …
Minneapolis-via-Duluth lyrical rocker Mary Bue is enjoying a busy month that includes a residency gig every Sunday at the Aster Cafe and every Thursday at the 318 Cafe in Excelsior, plus she just posted a gorgeous, piano-led version of the Tom Petty nugget “Insider” featuring duet vocals with Low’s Alan Sparhawk. … About to shove off to pursue musical avenues in Nashville, rootsy and soulful singer/songwriter Kari Arnett is heading up a special farewell show Thursday at the Turf Club dubbed “Cabin Fever” and featuring collaborations with Adam Levy, Jillian Rae, Savannah Smith, the Home Fires and more. It’s also a fundraiser for the Minnesota Music Coalition (8 p.m., $12). …
Start storing up your sleep now: Drone Not Drones returns to the Cedar Cultural Center next weekend. The 28-hour free-form music marathon (and Doctors Without Borders benefit) starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25, and will continue through 11 p.m. the next day. … Perhaps an even more physically daunting live music experience, Pert Near Sandstone and the 4onthefloor are booked to headline OTC on the Ice, an outdoor festival on a frozen lake in Otter Tail County the weekend of Feb. 8-9. Good luck tuning the banjo at that one.