“It happened all way too quickly,” says singer Dua Saleh, reflecting on their newfound prominence in the Twin Cities music and arts community. “I wasn’t prepared. There are people who come up to me and they’re like, ‘Are you Dua?’ It seems like it’s a joke. I feel like everybody’s in on the joke.”
Saleh (who uses they/them pronouns) was born in Sudan, but the 23-year-old mostly grew up in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and graduated from Augsburg last year. A multidisciplinary talent, Saleh has found precocious success as a poet; a Button Poetry Live performance of their “Pins and Needles” recently surpassed 100,000 views on YouTube. They also act, starring in the Twin Cities-based 20% Theatre Company’s upcoming presentation of the queer drama Waafrika 123, which debuts at Minneapolis’ Minnsky Theatre in November.
Saleh’s music career has gotten off to an equally fast start. Soon after its premiere on the Current in spring 2017, their debut single, “First Take,” accumulated impressive stats online. Paid shows, another single (“Kickflip”), and a collaboration with acclaimed Florida underground rapper Chester Watson (“Void Interlude”) would follow.
“I live and breathe it,” says Saleh of music. “I think about music all the time. I’m always listening to music. I’m always creating or writing lyrics of some sort.”
Saleh has already found a go-to producer in Psymun, who was essential to the rise of his fellow members in Twin Cities collective Thestand4rd (Allan Kingdom, Corbin, and Bobby Raps) and who recently co-produced Atlanta rappers Young Thug, Lil Baby, and Gunna’s street hit “Chanel (Go Get It).” Saleh also made a guest appearance during Psymun’s set at the Eaux Claires festival last summer.
Saleh and Psymun have released just one official single together so far (though they’ve previewed a few other collaborations to City Pages). But the fluid, spontaneous avant-pop performances Saleh delivers over Psymun’s experimental electronic tracks suggest that they’re already flowing with ideas even while they’re still finding their vocal style.
While Saleh has been busy recording, they aren’t rushing anything. “I create music not thinking about releasing it, necessarily,” says Saleh. “So I have a lot of fuckin’ songs. It’s just figuring out what songs resonate the best with people.” They’re aiming to drop their yet-untitled, Psymun-produced EP later this fall—and for anyone thinking Saleh’s rise won’t continue with its release, the joke is on them.