Lounging at Taylor Books on a blustery evening several weeks ago, local rapper Isaac “Shelem” Fadiga said he wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to do for his holiday performance at the Clay Center.
Shelem, who headlines Thursday night’s last Sound Checks, said, “It’s going to be festive. I can say that. It will be a festive show.”
But what it was going to look like, what he was actually going to do, Shelem didn’t know.
At the time, just before Thanksgiving, the 25-year-old from Raleigh County hadn’t written a single Christmas song.
“There is a request for me to do some holiday material, so I’m going to do some Christmas tunes,” he said, then sighed and added, “All I can say is that there’s never been a regular show with me.”
Shelem said whatever happened, it would be fun. The band Shine, which was also on the ticket, would be good, he said.
If nothing else, he was looking forward to watching them perform, though he thought that he’d come up with something.
He wouldn’t promise costumes, not like at his Live on the Levee show, when he and his band showed up dressed as sailors.
“Festive,” he said. “I can do that.”
Shelem has been a rising star in the West Virginia music scene, one of only a handful of area rappers.
“It is the most underground of underground things,” he said. “There’s not a lot of strong support of rap in the clubs. They want you to go out and prove yourself, but then nobody wants to give you a place where you can prove yourself.”
He said he’s been luckier than most.
Shelem got his start in Huntington, when he was an engineering student at Marshall in 2015. A long-time music fan, he’d been writing song lyrics and dabbling with music production when he heard about a local talent contest.
“I’d just written a new song three days before, so I signed up to perform,” he said.
Shelem said he’s always been a confident, easy-going guy. Getting on stage didn’t bother him ... until, it did.
“I was in the green room before the show and my heart started pounding out of my chest,” he said.
This was entirely unlike him, he said. He almost felt sick and was about to quit the contest and wander off when the contestant ahead of him suddenly finished.
“Then, I was like, ‘OK, let’s do this,’” he said.
Shelem not only performed, he won. Then, a couple of nights later, he performed at another open mic and the audience loved him.
“That gave me enough fuel to get that spark,” he said.
After that, he was like a lot of other artists, just looking for a place that would let him play. He made friends with The Heavy Hitters, a local groove and funk band.
“Great band,” Shelem said. “They’d do shows and then let me come up and guest on a couple of songs.”
Club owners got used to him, and he began to develop a following.
“And that’s how I got my foot in the door,” he said.
Things looked promising for Shelem before the pandemic.
“Like everybody else, I thought 2020 was going to be my year,” he laughed. “Little did I know.”
Instead, he was stuck in limbo, waiting for live performances to return. During the downtime, Shelem worked on new material and kept up with his social media, so that when in-person shows returned in the spring he was ready.
He said since May he’d done about 20 shows, which is pretty good for a part-time rapper and full-time civil engineer.
“It was a good year,” he said. “Next year looks pretty good, too.”
In 2022, Shelem said he had a number of out-of-state shows developing, and he wasn’t entirely sure where that would lead. He wasn’t overly interested in taking his music and making the jump to a larger market, or even aggressively try for a record deal.
“People would be really surprised what you can accomplish, just from here,” he said. “There is the possibility of going bigger, but that’s not really what I’m going for.”
Shelem said he is more interested in authenticity and having a good time. While he’s interested in the future, he’s more focused on the present and the show he had booked.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Shine,” he said. “This will be festive.”