Steelo is a duo out of Seattle that definitely deserves your attention. One part Hip-Hop with emcee A. Uno (pictured right), and one part R&B with singer Bobby K (pictured left), Steelo’s brand of club ready music is on full display on their debut LP, simply titled Music. Steelo is about more than just music, though. The duo started a student empowerment program and have been going into schools in the Seattle area for a number of years now. This week RapReviews caught up with A. Uno and Bobby K to find out more about their work, both music related and within the community, as well as their thoughts on the current situation in Iran, which is something A. Uno, who is half Iranian, has some very strong feelings about.

Adam Bernard: Let’s start with the obvious; you guys have some diverse ethnic backgrounds, break em down for everyone.
Bobby K: I’m Italian and Irish. Some people call it a volatile combo. When we were starting out it was kind of like a show and prove kind of thing. People would always say “oh, you guys do music? Oh, whatever.” They would take one look at us and say these guys do NOT look like your quintessential rapper/singer dudes. I had to sing on the spot for people all the time, whether it was in a barber shop, or on a street corner, or in a dorm.
A. Uno: And I’m half Iranian and half Mexican. I’ve been told it’s a unique mix. I’m definitely at home in cities like Los Angeles.

AB: Being half Iranian I’m guessing you have some thoughts on everyone having a green Twitter icon and the Iranian election.
UNO: Yes, of course. Actually, we put a video up on our YouTube and it highlights the recent events in Iran from the protests. Our album Music, I don’t know if you want to call it a coincidence or what not, but when we were working on it we did a song called “On The Rise” that basically talks about going out for what you want, but also highlights the fact that we show ignorance to the immigrants that come over here and how we have problems with racism. Bobby definitely kills the hook – “we’re gonna make it if we try / we won’t stop till we die / this is for my people on the rise.” We thought that it was very fitting for the time and for the situation over there, so with my cousin’s help we took photos of the protests going on and certain highlights of events and then that song plays as the background.

AB: So you definitely support the party that’s in the streets making some noise right now.
UNO: Exactly. I don’t know if I necessarily side with one candidate or the other, but I think that the whole society is in need of change and basically the regime of the past needs to have their brick walls cracked and crumbled. You can put this in the interview and I’ll probably be targeted by Iran, but you know what, people need voices and I hope those young people just continue to fight for what they believe in because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re Iranian, African, Italian, Mexican, whatever it is, everybody wants to be able to believe that they have free will, freedom, freedom of speech and just the basic necessities to live a fulfilling life.

AB: I don’t know the site metrics of RapReviews, but I’m pretty sure the Iranian government isn’t a big part of our fan base, so you might not be in that much trouble.
UNO: I guess that’s wishful thinking, right?

AB: Right. Now, let’s talk a little bit about your debut LP, Music. First off, I love the title. Second, what do you hope people get out of the album when they listen to it?
BK: As far as the title Music, we want to make sure that people see it as that and not strictly rap, or strictly R&B. We try to take the musical spectrum and pull from every side of it and make sure that people know that it’s just music at the end of the day. That’s really what we want the message to be.

AB: You guys don’t curse and your subject matter is relatively clean. How do you feel about the pop-rap label many reviewers have given you?
UNO: I think, especially in the Hip-Hop scene, when we hear the word pop we’re automatically quick to kinda turn that down and be like you know what, no I don’t do pop music, but pop is just a shorter word for popular. We have stayed relatively clean just for the fact that we want to have that broader audience. We see a variety of people at our live shows, a lot of different groups, from ages to ethnicities, who buy the album. I think that it’s worked to our advantage, so if they want to label it as that then that just gives us a good indication that our music has the appeal of a broader audience and that it has legs to be able to be on more of a global platform.
BK: I also think it comes down to A. Uno and I are very respectful guys and when you do Steel Empowerment sessions with high school students then you want to make sure that your product fits and that you’re not talking about guns and drugs and bitches and hoes, but rather stuff that is relevant and that’s gonna be appropriate for them, too. At the end of the day we want to make sure that we are role models. We’re not trying to be the cool guys that are cussing our brains out and talking about stuff that’s been done before because it’s getting old as far as the quintessential Hip-Hop lifestyle and what people think that is.

AB: I’m glad you mentioned being role models because you do go into the schools and you do take on that position of a role model. How does knowing this affect other aspects of your life?
UNO: I don’t know if it necessarily affects what we do outside of it because we always make sure that we’re as real as possible. It’s not like we’re putting on an act and then leaving that spot and doing something else. I think what these students really appreciate is the fact that we give it to em real. We tell em hey, you wanna go for your passion, well lemme tell ya, you’re not always going to be backed up by the people that are closest to you. You’re gonna have a lot of doubts. It’s gonna take a lot of money. You’re gonna have to take a lot of risks. You’re gonna fail a lot of times, probably more than you want to, but at the end of the day with faith in yourself, faith in God and perseverance, you can make things happen.
BK: Just to add, it kind of reciprocates for me because when it’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’m on my computer again seeking out new fans, while it’s kind of tedious I know that every time it starts to get kinda rough I can just think about the fact that now I’m someone that people look up to, so I have to keep that going.

AB: How did Steelo Empowerment come to be?
UNO: Steelo Empowerment was essentially an idea that was birthed by Bobby, myself and Amalia, who is our publicist with Blue Shoes Media. I have friends that are high school teachers and they would invite me into some of their classrooms to talk about what I did at college and Bobby was a part of that. One of the highlights that we talk about a lot is the fact that we threw one of the most successful Hip-Hop shows with no major act and had about 450, close to 500, students in there who had never heard of us. That was a testament to what we wanted to accomplish. We also tell the students about putting on Lowrider car shows and Hip-Hop concerts to show a different side of college to these students.

AB: Not just the books.
UNO: Yeah, exactly, not just books, it needs to be an overall experience. You need to have that balance of in the classroom and outside the classroom. I told Bobby and Amalia this and Bobby has always had a passion for telling people about his experiences and wanting them to go for their dreams because we’re doing the same thing, so we put together a program where we talk about finding your passion and dealing with adversity, but then give em our story along the way. It’s been great. These kids are so receptive. They’re used to having somebody go in there talking about “this is how you need to fill out an application” and more traditional things, where we go in and we tell them look, you want to go to school, do it, and this is how you can also use it to your advantage for what you want to pursue.

AB: As a Hip-Hop act going into schools have you ever run into any problems with administrators?
BK: Obviously in this day and age Hip-Hop doesn’t really have the cleanest of identities. We had a school that turned us down because they said “well, it’s Hip-Hop.” They strung us along and the day of they said “well, actually no, we’re not gonna do it,” but we actually got back to that school, a teacher fought for us to perform and one of the same administrators and also the principal, the people that had kinda bad outlooks on the whole thing, ended up being two of the biggest fans of our program and are now advocates and active walking resumes for our empowerment speech.

AB: Something else really cool from that story is that you actually fought and went back to the school to do it. I know a lot of artists would have been like “F those guys, they didn’t want us!”
UNO: We’re our biggest motivators and that’s a testament there, that teacher wanted us there. Now that it comes to mind, we did this ad for Lowrider Clothing for their back to school campaign and I think some of the teachers saw that and were like “OK, these guys are wearing baggy pants, it says Lowrider on it, and they’re Hip-Hop and R&B, yeah, this ain’t gonna happen right now.” But we brought it back.

AB: That’s awesome. Why don’t you close the interview by selling people on Music… the album, not just music in general.
BK: It’s a representation of a lot of different music in one album and it’s gonna be a good addition to anyone’s musical library, whether you’re young, old, male, female, listen to Hip-Hop, or listen to anything, really.
UNO: I think music, right now the state that we find ourselves in, tends to be a bunch of commercials sometimes and at the end of the day I think our album is relevant, it’s fresh and you’ll see that we’re not afraid to take chances. It’s very diverse in its makeup and sound and we’re excited that it’s finally out. We worked hard, put in countless hours, a lot of effort, and a whole lotta money, but at the end of the day it’s worth it. Music by Steelo.