Like the rest of the world, Detroit’s hip-hop community has been rocked by the pandemic caused by COVID-19. Live performances, pop-up shops, in-person interviews, and album-release parties have all been rare.
Detroit emcee Sam Be Yourself, who received national attention from his appearances on Netflix’s hip-hop reality show Rhythm + Flow, has felt the hurt as hard as anyone. “A lot of shows got canceled, as well as some music festivals like SXSW,” he says.
“The pandemic has definitely had a negative effect in terms of many opportunities getting squandered, but I have been able to really connect with my fanbase and even grow my following by constantly dropping new freestyles,” he says. “For a couple months every Thursday I was doing a live show on my Instagram called the 'Be Yourself Lounge,' where I would perform, chop it up with a special guest, then let random folks come in to display their talents in an open-mic format. It was fun. We'd have piano players, dancers, singers, painters, rappers, and photographers, or anyone that wanted to show off a specific talent.”
Born Peter Samuel Buis, the 26-year-old Grosse Pointe native first got into music in third grade. By high school, he was rapping under the moniker Sam B and was a mainstay in local ciphers and talent shows. “It was the last era of the CD,” he says. “I started off ripping beats from YouTube and the internet. What was big then was rapping over other people's beats.”
Buis graduated from Grosse Pointe South in 2012 and spent a year at Kalamazoo Community College studying business, but with encouragement from his father, he decided to enroll at the Recording Connection Audio Institute in Rochester Hills, where he studied studio and audio engineering.
“My dad told me I was wasting time and money on the business stuff and I should be working on music,” he says. “The time spent at Recording Connection Audio Institute allowed me to take my product to the next level. I was able to incorporate more into my production.”
Buis began hitting the stages at the Old Miami and TV Lounge for open-mic nights and ciphers to sharpen his game. He acknowledges he got a few “Who’s the white guy?” looks, but says it was never an issue. “I’m sure that runs through people's heads still today. But if you’re nice, you’re nice,” he says.
Trying to find the best but preferred musical lane to grow in has always been a slight juggling act. Sam’s a versatile lyricist who can spit over a boom-bap beat but also can make sonically killer cuts over trap and club beats. “Some days I want to make more fun and energy music. Some days I want to make more fun and goofy music, but that's just not how my brain operates,” he says. “So I go through patches where I make 12 boom-bap beats in a row and then I’ll go off the rails where I’ll make five different songs that sound completely different.”
He adds, “At the end of the day, emceeing is first. I want to be known as a kid that can get busy, but I also want to be popping.”
The “popping” officially got underway when Sam submitted an application in November of 2018 for Rhythm + Flow. He was confident even though thousands of artists applied. Within a couple of weeks, he got a response.
“First they wanted my backstory, then an audition tape, then an a-cappella freestyle video, and a week or two later they asked me to rap over a batch of beats,” he says.
By January of 2019 they had him onstage performing in front of Chance the Rapper, where he was told he made the cut of 30 for the show.
“I felt like I won the Super Bowl type of shit,” he says. "I was super stoked."
He arrived in Los Angeles ready to take on the world. “I was serious while people were joking and shit,” he says.
Shooting a reality TV show is no easy task. Buis says they had to be on set by 5 a.m. most days, and many times the days would last 14 hours (but with only two hours of actual filming). Ultimately, Buis was able to survive till the eighth episode (there were 10 in total).
“At that point, I felt like I won regardless. I was on eight out of 10 episodes. You come meet my family, you come back to the D. I mean I didn’t feel like I was the weakest link though for sure, but I was good,” he says.
Rhythm + Flow debuted in October 2019. Buis's Instagram followers went from 1,500 to 144,000, and his streaming numbers went up dramatically. He released tracks and visuals on his social media accounts that synced up with the show’s air dates. Even though there wasn’t big label interest, Sam still understood the ball was in his court.
“The winner was the only one that got signed,” he says. “We were all unknown, bro. I wasn’t surprised. At the end of the day, they gave us a platform. They allowed us to go viral without doing anything stupid. Now it's about staying in people's faces, making the best music possible.”
Currently, Sam Be Yourself is trying to get the most out of what 2020 has to offer. “There have been some good things,” he says. “I recently signed with a new management team and collaborated with some legends. I did a brand collab with Big Sean and Budweiser to help promote the release of Sean's album Detroit 2 and got a song coming with Guilty Simpson... I have a ton of singles dropping in the next couple months, so be on the lookout!”
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Kahn Santori Davison is from Detroit, Michigan. He's a husband and father of four and a self-described, "Kid who loves rap music." He's been featured on Hip-Hop Evolution and Hip-Hop Uncovered. He's also a Cave Canem fellow, author of the poetry book Blaze (Willow Books), a recipient of a 2015 Kresge Literary...