For passionate young rappers like Shelliano, breaking the cycle of inner-city poverty and violence is all about channeling anger into brutal rhymes.
Larry Larr will never forget the first time Shelliano came down to his weekly Industry Tuesday night at Club Flow.
Shelliano arrived late with a few of his boys. Larry couldn't fit any more performers on the lineup. But that's not what Shelliano wanted to hear, so he blew up, screaming and shouting that Larry needed to let somebody good on the stage to perform.
"You think you that good?" Larry asked him.
"I know I'm that good!" Shelliano shouted back.
Larry brought one of his best battlers to the stage and bet Shelliano $300 he couldn't beat the boy. Shelliano grabbed the mike.
When Shelliano talks into a microphone he mumbles, barely audible. When he raps, he shouts, blasting speakers and eardrums. His moods change just as dramatically.
He can turn in a snap from serious to carefree, charming to pissed-off, old-head to little kid.
When he's soft, you want to be near him. When he's hard, you don't even want to be in the same room.
When Shelliano battles, he acts hard. He runs up to his opponent and spews his verbal attacks right in their faces. He commands attention. Even if you can't understand his words, there's no mistaking his emotion. He's ready to kill.
"You don't want no parts of me/ I'll rip open your veins and jump rope with your arteries."
Shelliano destroyed the boy that night with his brutal rhymes and passionate delivery. And Larry was ready to pay up.
But when he went to hand Shelliano the $300 he owed him, the flat-broke and rowdy 27-year-old from West Philly simply said, "I don't even want your money. I just want to perform."
Larry was impressed. "It was the first time I ever seen someone turn down money like that," he says.
Shelliano's performed at Flow almost every week since. "Turn the motherfuckin' radio up until my eardrums pop," he screams to the DJ. When the beat finally gets loud enough, Shelliano races onto the stage, skipping in circles till he has enough momentum to launch into a lyrical life story of passion and pain delivered with energy so intense you'd think his life were on the line.
Despite the aggression of his performance, Shelliano's in his glory onstage. He says he's the happiest man in the world when he beats other MCs.
"They can't battle me!" he shouts after a recent victory, a smile spreading across his tired face. "They can't fight the heart of a broke nigga!"
Industry Tuesdays at Club Flow is a weekly open-mike rap night that tries to do for Philly's rap talent what Black Lily at the Five Spot did for Philly's neo-soul artists.
Nearly a year and a half off the ground, Industry Tuesdays now attract crowds a few hundred strong. Label reps and industry folks sometimes swing by to check out the local talent, but the night remains true to its roots: real 'hood and real underground.
PW's Music Issue 2014