Detroit rapper Sam Be Yourself holds his own on Netflix's 'Rhythm + Flow'
The Grosse Pointe Park native made it to the final six on the first season of the competition, judged by Chance the Rapper, Cardi B and T.I.
The new Netflix show "Rhythm & Flow" has everything that makes for a good reality television binge: real-life stories, a lot of bling and an element of competition.
It's like "American Idol" for today's generation, with hip-hop at the helm and unsigned artists fighting to stay on the show by freestyling, battling, making videos and showcasing their originality. Some of the genre's biggest names today — Chance the Rapper, Cardi B and T.I. — sat on on the judges panel, and in the first season solicited assistance from legends like Snoop Dogg, Fat Joe, Lupe Fiasco and others.
One of the final six emcees in the competition was Grosse Pointe Park native Sam Be Yourself. The 25-year-old was the only Detroit-area rapper to make it past the audition phase, and he blew past other talented up-and-comers to make it through to the final group of episodes.
He said it was the platform for the new show — streaming on Netflix now as a 10-episode series — that made it seem more authentic. Initially when he saw the call for entries on Chance the Rapper's Instagram, he didn't think much of the opportunity.
"Then 19 different people sent it to my DM or tagged me in the comments," he said. "It’s Netflix, that intrigued me from the rip. If it were MTV or VH1 I would’ve been like ‘no way.’ I just think that (cable) would’ve been very restrictive as far as how they want to portray your image and how they want to be looked upon."
The rapper and musician had to send in a series of videos of him freestyling before getting invited to the Chicago auditions and making it through to the following round in Los Angeles.
Sam started rapping while he was still a student at Pierce Middle School in Grosse Pointe Park. He started recording on his mom's basic desktop computer, and later got access to a decent microphone from his longtime friend Michael Petrouleas who now acts as his manager.
"I eventually gained the confidence to start handing out mix tapes in the hallways of middle school and high school," said Sam, who started out his career as "Sam B." because his last name (which he keeps close to the vest) starts with a B.
When he went to sign up on streaming services to put his music out there he found that “Sam B.” was already taken. So he changed it to Sam Be Yourself.
“That’s the platform I believe in," he said. "I’m not into this rap game to be somebody I’m not or talk about things I don’t know about. I’m just being myself, being truthful and positive."
This kind of modest-but-confident persona comes through in his music, as do his abilities as a musician. Sam cites T.I. as a big influence, as well as Jay Z, Nas, Drake and even "old rock and roll bands" like Led Zeppelin.
He said being on "Rhythm + Flow" has given him more opportunities. The winner, D Smoke from Inglewood, California, won a no-strings-attached $2500,000, but the rest of the rappers just walked away with exposure and more experience.
He hung on the show long enough to prove his skills in a rap battle, make a video and to bring the film crew back to Detroit to show where he came from. Sam said he also made friends with his competitors and keeps in touch with many of them.
(Video may contain explicit content.)
While it was Chance the Rapper who opened the door for him with the Chicago audition, Sam said he looked up most to T.I., an Atlanta rapper who Sam has been listening to since middle school. As for reality television star turned Grammy Award-winning rapper Cardi B, Sam said her personality came through during the filming.
"She made of light of situations," he said. "When things were bad or embarrassing for people, when things went really south, she would crack a joke and make people laugh."
Sam said after Netflix, his Instagram followers went from around 1,500 to more than 80,000. He's also had tens of thousands of views on his YouTube channel.
"Everything has gone up as far as numbers and opportunities," he said, adding that he and his manager are drumming up funding so he can go on tour.
He'll have his first post-Netflix appearance this month at the Annex Nightclub in downtown Detroit on Nov. 16.
"I’m excited that the first thing I’m doing is right here back in the city so I can hang out with friends and family and be in the city that I love"
Sam Be Yourself
with DJ Godfather, DJ Chrome and DJ Leo Alton
10 p.m. Nov. 16
24 W. Adams, B, Detroit
$20 at the door