Production wunderkinds such as Black Milk and Droop-E get props for their prolific catalogs, but don’t overlook Oh No. The Oxnard, California production/emcee’s discography is chock full of solo albums and instrumental LPs, and after putting in work for Stones Throw labelmates like Guilty Simpson and Roc ‘C’, he nabbed his most important placements yet on Mos Def’s critically-acclaimed The Ecstatic.
But that’s not the half. While pushing his current album Ethiopium, Oh No is prepping several other releases: Gangrene, his collaborative project with The Alchemist; an album with Prince Po; his group Street Crucifixion, which pairs him with Chino XL and Roc ‘C’; an unreleased album with Pete Rock; and a compilation that sees him flipping Rudy Ray Moore samples for the likes of De La Soul and Sticky Fingaz. He’s also working with videogame companies Rockstar Games and Capcom, respectively known for the Grand Theft Auto and Street Fighter series. Oh No beams, “I’m literally living the Hip Hop dream.” Not bad for Madlib’s little brother. In an interview with HipHopDX’s Producer’s Corner, Oh No talks about sampling music from other countries, working with Alchemist and Mos Def, and what makes the Stones Throw formula work.
HipHopDX: On your first album, The Disrupt, you both rapped and produced. As of late, I’ve seen you focus on producing. Why the switch-up?
Oh No: I actually still do both really heavy. I just prefer to do beats, because it helps you branch out with other musicians. When I’m rapping, it’s moreso therapy for myself. When I’m doing beats, I’m linking up with everybody. I’m just making different vibes. When it’s Oh No rapping, you’re getting mad, pure raw shit. I’m normally an angry person, so I usually don’t even like that shit to come out. I want to give the good vibes and give some good motion with the beats. But I do both. As I’m doing these beats, I’m doing an album with Alchemist, and I’m rapping a lot on that. I’ve got an album with Chino XL and Roc ‘C’.
DX: You have an album with Chino XL?
Oh No: Yeah. Me, Chino XL, and Roc ‘C’ formed a group called Street Crucifixion about a year and a half or two years ago. It was just raw shit. I’m just making some raw beats, and Roc ‘C’ goes in on the track. And Chino XL is Chino XL, he’s raw as fuck. He’s going to spit some ill shit that makes you go like, “Aw man, this mothafucka’s crazy.” It’s just on some super-raw, smash whatever, ill shit. We’ve got beats from other people, too. From the Soul Professor, Jake One, myself, probably have Madlib on it. That’s real crazy. It’s on some lyrical shit. It’s not just, “This beat should’ve been an instrumental” shit. It’s on some straight raw shit.
DX: You also have a group with Alchemist, called Gangrene. How did that happen?
Oh No: That came about a couple years back. I had a show with Evidence, and I just happened to walk by Al. … He hit me up like, “We’ll do a joint; send me something I can get on, and I’ll send you something you can get on.” I sent him something, and he fuckin’ nailed it and sent it right back. He sent me something, I spit over that and I sent him something right back. And we kept on doing that, so I’m like, “We have to link up.” We started working in the studio, and we have 30-something songs now. It’s coming out real crazy. We’re going back and forth now: we go to the studio, knock something out, and smoke. That’s my smoking buddy too, we gets heavy smoke in. It’s on some raw shit too, following the steps of J Dilla and big brother Madlib. Just two producers making some raw ass beats, both of us rapping over all the songs. Gangrene, as sick as possible. On some, mufuckin, drinking water out of a rusty metal cup. Just raw. [Laughs] Shit’ll get you sick.
DX: Like you said, a Stones Throw template was the Champion Sound idea. What do you take from that? Did you look at that as an influence while working with Alchemist?
Oh No: I think the J Dilla/Madlib project made people want to collaborate more. Before, it used to be, “I’m working with my crew, and this is my crew only. If we do a song, it’s only going to be one song with someone who’s just as big as me.” That’s how people worked. But nowadays, it’s all about collaborations and making moves together. That’s what it’s all about. When the Jaylib album came out, they were basically just rapping over each others’ beats. Madlib had already made an album over those beats, and Dilla was working on his stuff. As soon as he got the Madlib [beats], he started knocking that stuff out. Whereas me and Alchemist [worked differently]…it was just a chemistry, like, “Let’s do some joints together.” As opposed to just rapping over each others’ beats. Jaylib, that shit was just raw. They weren’t worried about no sales, or no marketing. It was just, “This is the music that we made. Support that shit.” That’s it; that’s our whole feel. We aren’t worried about nothing. This is us, 100% raw uncut. Oh No and Alchemist. Everybody knows he has sick beats, and if they don’t know, they will know that he has the illest rhymes too. He’s O.G., he’s back in the day. He’s coming back right.
DX: What is it like working with him? Does he have any idiosyncrasies or work methods that make him different from working with others? What have you learned from him?
Oh No: Man, I just learned…We’re the same. We just heavily smoke. His whole thing is that it’s no days off; he’s always working. And anyone who knows me knows that all I do is work, non-stop. If it’s not possible, I’m with a thousand other people making stuff happen. Our work ethic is bananas. When I go in the lab with him, it’s just, “Throw the beat on, let’s put some smoke in the air, and see what comes up.” Usually, it’s on some mothafuckin’ bananas, gorilla shit. Smack the speaker till there’s nothing left, and it’s permanently in the wall. All that shit knocks, and everything is coming out very ill. He’s a professional, too….the level they take it to as far as mixing and everything, he takes it there. He spends a lot of time with his craft to make sure it’s right. Whereas me, I don’t really do that. I make a beat, and I’m out.
It’s a sound that you just want to step your game up. If you hear some new Dilla, you have to step your game up. If you hear some new Madlib, step your game up. Pete Rock is my dude, too. We did an album. If you hear some new Pete Rock, step your game up. I don’t care who you are; these are O.G.’s. and you hear it in their music. You hear that new [DJ Premier] joint [“What I Wanna Be”], that he did with M.O.P.? Oh, man.
DX: You just said you have an album with Pete Rock?
Oh No: Me, Pete Rock, and my boy Roc ‘C’ were working on an album last year. I just do music, and from there, we see what happens. But there are so many projects. I do a thousand projects at once. When I was doing the Pete Rock, I was working with Alchemist. When I was working on those two, I’m producing Prince Po’s new album, the whole thing. When I was working on that, I was trying to finish Ethiopum for Stones Throw. While I was doing that, I was doing the Street Crucifixion. While I was doing that, I was working with Chaotic, an underground cat that’s trying to come out that’s sick. A thousand projects, so it’s hard to focus on, “Bam! Let’s get this album.” But me and Pete Rock did about 20 joints. It was all raw shit, none of it was really mixed down. I think he leaked a joint on his new mixtape, I’ve got to hit him up on that. But that’s the O.G., he can have whatever he needs.
DX: What is it like working all of these cats? Any interesting stories?
Oh No: I just got back from Australia, I opened up for EPMD. I was hanging with Erick Sermon in the casino. He pulls out a wad, I didn’t like it. I’ll pull out a wad on some video games, I’ll spend $10,000 on one game if need be. But the casino? I ain’t got no time for that shit. I iain’t got time to lose money. But we started coming up! It was the typical Blackjack, then we started playing War, and winning money. Crazy shit. I’d never heard of War in no damn casino, that shit is crazy. It’s all kind of things. I’ve done crazy stuff. I’ve done threw up 15 times and shit on stage. I was on tour in Europe, and Europe is the shit. I’m not really into trying new foods and shit. I was on tour with Roc, or maybe Frank N’ Dank. I’ve done all kinds of shows. With Common, to De La Soul, and I’ve been checking out Mos Def’s concerts lately. Hanging out with him is crazy, because he’s Mos Def! He’s a character in himself.
DX: How did you link with Mos?
Oh No: It’s crazy, because he was rapping to my beat a year before I even met him. People were telling me, “I’m at Mos Def’s show, and he’s using your beat!” Calling me live and shit, hitting me up with the videos. But I didn’t know anybody that knew Mos Def, so I let it go until some time went. His deejay hit up my ex-manager, they hooked up, and I went to the studio with Mos Def. I got to see him do some of the songs, and it was sick. I’m a big fan of Hip Hop and music and general. I wasn’t rapping, because I’m trying to be a fan, too. I still don’t believe I made The Ecstatic. It’s crazy to be on the album, but it’s even crazier to be at some crazy auditorium and I’m hearing my beats extra loud in a place I never thought I’d be.
DX: You make a lot of instrumental albums, and that’s a sort of lost art. How does that creative process differ from making beats for other people?
Oh No: When I’m making an instrumental album, first and foremost, I’m not making an instrumental album. I’m just going to make one beat out of something, and that’s that. when I start getting in a zone, I start to hear everything. Everything sounds good, and I get mad hype off of it. When it comes out, I’ve usually made double whatever the album is. Dr. No’s Oxperiment came out with 30-something tracks, but I really made 60-something. Ethiopium, we put out 18 tracks, but I really made 45 of them. I like to take certain joints that are going to make people trip—I don’t want to trip them out too much, because I’ve got super crazy stuff, and I’ve got stuff they can understand. I try to make whatever style, new style, off-beat shit, whatever. I like to have everything. Loops, chops, filters, no filters, mega basslines, no basslines, whatever. And from there, I just randomly pick whatever, and that’s that. And make it flow together.
Continued at www.hiphopdx.com