When you’re the son of 70s soul singer Otis Jackson and Madlib’s kid brother, residing in the prolific battlefield of the west coast underground, it’s only fair to say you’ve got all the right credentials for a stint in the rap game. Following the lovingly carved trail of his much heralded big bro, former Kali Wild operative Oh No, has shown and proved he can hold down both beatmaker and emcee roles, having already worked alongside the likes of Declaime, Murs, Infamous and LMNO. Building on the heat around last year’s ‘Make Noise’ 12″, he’s now set to unleash his highly anticipated debut ‘The Disrupt’ on Stones Throw.
One of this year’s most hotly-tipped indie releases, the album features beats from J Dilla, Madlib and Kan Kick as well as guest mic turns by thoroughbreds like Wildchild, MED, Declaime, Aloe Blacc, Roc C, Cornbread, and Stacy Epps. With the full-length’s gamer anthem ‘The Ride’ already killing the clubs, Elusive Styles went undercover for a chat as Jackson Jnr climbs over to disrupt your dome.
It’s hardly surprising that Oh No is on the eve of cementing what’s already looking like an influential career, the Cali native’s family history is steeped in the stuff of musical legend. Many younger siblings would be daunted coming up under the crates of Stones Throw’s primary taste maker but it seems that the restless youngster always had a calling. “Since Madlib’s been doing it, I’ve been doing it too basically. He grew up with the SP12 and all that stuff. Whenever he was gone, I’d be in there messing with his equipment.”
Perhaps it was his formative years in the classroom that helped mould the unruly persona. “Being that my name is Michael Jackson [no really], everybody used to wanna make jokes about it. It used to irritate me so I had my fights and stuff.” Despite vain attempts by his parents and the senior Jackson conductor to keep Michael away from the studio, shorty maintained the ill reckless edge that earned him his pseudonym. “When my brother was 18 and he was running with his clique, I’m barely getting into High School so everybody’s like constantly scorning me. My name was Oh No the Mischievous Rebel ’cause I was always doing something that they wouldn’t, going against the grain all the time, the smart Aleck.” He first set about spitting bars in sixth grade. Persistence paid off, and not long after, Madlib recorded him for a demo by seminal Cali underground collective, The Lootpack.
Determined to shoot solo, Oh No juggled his responsibilities as a young father with beatmaking aspirations and a multitude of fund building shifts. In 1998, his ambitions of making it in the music game for a moment appeared on track as he and his cohorts were signed to My Man recordings under the Kali Wild moniker. Despite the group’s relentless grind ethic and underground recognition mustered from a string of first-rate 12″s, the crew’s fated relationship with the under-resourced indie fledgling failed to secure center-stage attention. “Every time we’d do an album, we’d turn it in. Everything would be looking good, “Oh it’s gonna come out this time,” and this and that but really it wouldn’t ’cause the label was just saying that” Oh No laments. “They didn’t really have no money so they’re trying to do whatever they can do, burn it or whatever. By the time they would have money and do something with it, I wouldn’t like it no more. I’m like, “Oh that sh*t’s old, we’ve got a whole new album.” So boom, I turn that in and the same thing kept going on for like four different albums. It just put everything on hold and put a strain on everybody’s relationship.”
Undeterred, he kept putting in work and eventually hooked up with Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf at a Lootpack video shoot. The impromptu encounter led to an appearance on Epitome’s ‘Maximum Adrenaline’ single in 2000 and the tentative foundations of a longer-term relationship with the stable. Frustrated with the creative constraints of carrying a crew’s weight, the support of Peanut Butter encouraged him to work alone on solo material. Oh No quickly began stacking tracks but the label were initially unconvinced that he was sufficiently focussed on a solo career due to his commitments to Kali Wild and other side projects.
When asked how his forthcoming long-player ‘The Disrupt’ eventually came together, he explains “It took a couple of years for them to be like “Oh okay, he really is serious. He has like forty songs now, let’s do this.” So serious, that he opted to rock both sides of the boards on the majority of album cuts, drafting in only a fistful of trusted allies – J Dilla, Madlib and Kan Kick – for extra heat. “I really wanted him [Madlib] to do the whole album, but he was like, “You should do it, you’ve got beats too”, so I was like “I guess so, I’ll do it.” It’s not like I haven’t done it before, this is just the first one that’s actually coming out.”
“I’m coming to disrupt you with all kinds of beats and new artists. I take chopping seriously so if I’ma chop a loop up, it’s gonna be real serious.” Fact, Oh No takes this sh*t religiously so kids better prepare for the onslaught. “On the same day my album hits, two other albums come out that I produced. There’s an artist named Kazi that’s down with our clique. He had a single a couple of years back called ‘Down for the Kaz’ on Stones Throw. I produced a whole album for him on b9000 Records [The Plague] that drops the same day mine does. Same with my homeboy Infamous MC, I did a whole album for him too. Declaime’s album comes out in November and I basically did all the beats on that besides a couple Madlib did. Me and Grand Agent did a whole EP, me and Aloe Blacc got a whole album.” Before the dust’s even begun to settle, the one man army reveals “I’ve already recorded like twenty new songs for my next album.”
Currently hitting kids on all fronts with ltd white label ‘Disrupt Massacre’, official lead joint ‘The Ride’ plus the ‘Disrupt Chronicles 2’ mixtape compiled by DJ Double Dose, it’s evident that maintaining concrete level integrity is at the forefront of the takeover scheme. “I think it’s real important to keep doing underground stuff. I’m always gonna do mixtapes and white labels for the people that actually really do get it, not just copy it or just get it because someone’s telling them so, but the real hardcore fans. That stuff does matter. If I was on a major label like Def Jam, I’d still have that kind of stuff, it wouldn’t stop.”
If the retro arcade bounce of ‘The Ride’ triggers flashbacks of misspent hours warding off binary invaders, it may not come as too much of a shock to hear that besides lacing “thirty to fifty beats a month,” the other Michael Jackson harbours an almost unhealthy dedication to gaming. “I collect every single game that comes out, even the wack ones [laughs]. I even made my own arcade controllers. I built them out of wood and bought the joystick buttons and wired it all up.”
Well, the single’s certainly gaining heavy rotation but those of you looking to satisfy your cravings until the full-length studio affair arrives, should immediately hunt down Double Dose’s feverishly traded ‘Disrupt Chronicles 2’. A heavyweight calling card, the intent behind the mixtape series is to let kids know what Oh No’s been up to beneath the radar. “People might have been seeing my name through LMNO’s album or various little things, but they might not know it all. It includes songs that I’ve been producing with Wise Intelligent [Poor Righteous Teachers], AG and everybody else. There’s also gonna be a lot of exclusive beats on there, exclusive remixes, beats for people to rap to or whatever. I wanna make sure it’s like a real thorough mixtape, slash compilation, slash whatever you want. Whatever you need is gonna get served.” Worthy designs indeed. Lesser rap peers would almost certainly stumble at the first hurdle but with Oh No, that’s not even looking like an option. Our advice: recognise how the Cali kid brings it and reap the harvest.