Producer's Corner: Oh No
But thats 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. Hes also working with videogame companies Rockstar Games and Capcom, respectively known for the Grand Theft Auto and Street Fighter series. Oh No beams, Im literally living the Hip Hop dream. Not bad for Madlibs little brother. In an interview with HipHopDXs Producers 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, Ive 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 Im rapping, its moreso therapy for myself. When Im doing beats, Im linking up with everybody. Im just making different vibes. When its Oh No rapping, youre getting mad, pure raw shit. Im normally an angry person, so I usually dont 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 Im doing these beats, Im doing an album with Alchemist [click to read], and Im rapping a lot on that. Ive 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. Im just making some raw beats, and Roc 'C' goes in on the track. And Chino XL is Chino XL, hes raw as fuck. Hes going to spit some ill shit that makes you go like, "Aw man, this mothafuckas crazy." Its just on some super-raw, smash whatever, ill shit. Weve got beats from other people, too. From the Soul Professor, Jake One [click to read], myself, probably have Madlib on it. Thats real crazy. Its on some lyrical shit. Its not just, This beat shouldve been an instrumental shit. Its 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 [click to read], and I just happened to walk by Al. He hit me up like, Well do a joint; send me something I can get on, and Ill 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 Im like, We have to link up. We started working in the studio, and we have 30-something songs now. Its coming out real crazy. Were going back and forth now: we go to the studio, knock something out, and smoke. Thats my smoking buddy too, we gets heavy smoke in. Its 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] Shitll 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, Im working with my crew, and this is my crew only. If we do a song, its only going to be one song with someone whos just as big as me. Thats how people worked. But nowadays, its all about collaborations and making moves together. Thats what its 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, Lets do some joints together. As opposed to just rapping over each others beats.
Jaylib, that shit was just raw. They werent worried about no sales, or no marketing. It was just, This is the music that we made. Support that shit. Thats it; thats our whole feel. We arent worried about nothing. This is us, 100% raw uncut. Oh No and Alchemist. Everybody knows he has sick beats, and if they dont know, they will know that he has the illest rhymes too. Hes O.G., hes back in the day. Hes 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 learnedWere the same. We just heavily smoke. His whole thing is that its no days off; hes always working. And anyone who knows me knows that all I do is work, non-stop. If its not possible, Im with a thousand other people making stuff happen. Our work ethic is bananas. When I go in the lab with him, its just, Throw the beat on, lets put some smoke in the air, and see what comes up. Usually, its on some mothafuckin bananas, gorilla shit. Smack the speaker till theres nothing left, and its permanently in the wall. All that shit knocks, and everything is coming out very ill. Hes 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 its right. Whereas me, I dont really do that. I make a beat, and Im out.
Its 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 [click to read] is my dude, too. We did an album. If you hear some new Pete Rock, step your game up. I dont 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"] [click to listen], that he did with M.O.P. [click to read]? 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, Im producing Prince Pos [click to read] 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 thats trying to come out thats sick. A thousand projects, so its hard to focus on, Bam! Lets 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, Ive got to hit him up on that. But thats 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 [click to read]. I was hanging with Erick Sermon in the casino. He pulls out a wad, I didnt like it. Ill pull out a wad on some video games, Ill spend $10,000 on one game if need be. But the casino? I aint got no time for that shit. I iaint 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. Id never heard of War in no damn casino, that shit is crazy. Its all kind of things. Ive done crazy stuff. Ive done threw up 15 times and shit on stage. I was on tour in Europe, and Europe is the shit. Im not really into trying new foods and shit. I was on tour with Roc, or maybe Frank N' Dank. Ive done all kinds of shows. With Common [click to read], to De La Soul, and Ive been checking out Mos Defs concerts lately. Hanging out with him is crazy, because hes Mos Def! Hes a character in himself.
DX: How did you link with Mos?
Oh No: Its crazy, because he was rapping to my beat a year before I even met him. People were telling me, Im at Mos Defs show, and hes using your beat! Calling me live and shit, hitting me up with the videos. But I didnt 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. Im a big fan of Hip Hop and music and general. I wasnt rapping, because Im trying to be a fan, too.
I still dont believe [I made The Ecstatic [click to read]]. Its crazy to be on the album, but its even crazier to be at some crazy auditorium and Im hearing my beats extra loud in a place I never thought Id be. Hes calling my name out, the crowds going crazy. Im just sitting there with the chills and shit. Like, Wow, thats my beat right there. It could be Mos Def, it could be Roc, Ive seen him spit some crazy shit over my beats. I cant wait to start working with Sean [Price][click to read]. Im trying to make things happen.
DX: You make a lot of instrumental albums, and thats a sort of lost art. How does that creative process differ from making beats for other people?
Oh No: When Im making an instrumental album, first and foremost, Im not making an instrumental album. Im just going to make one beat out of something, and thats 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, Ive usually made double whatever the album is. Dr. No's [Experiment] [click to read] 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 tripI dont want to trip them out too much, because Ive got super crazy stuff, and Ive 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 thats that. And make it flow together.
DX: Another thing both you and Madlib do is make projects based on samples from a certain regions music. Where does that appreciation for other countries music come from, and how difficult is it to implement those sounds so consistently?
Oh No: I just like music, straight up. I hear something in everything. When I hear music, its kind of like a puzzle to me, like a Rubix Cube. If I go in the club, I usually want to chop up 1,000% of what theyre playing. I just like music, and if you hear anything thats worldly or not of this continent, it usually sounds majorly different. Thats just what were into. Hes always liked different shit, and thats what its about. Especially if its [already] sick. Whether its a loop or a chop, its most likely sick. Whether its some Ethiopian music, some Turkish music, or some Prog Rock, its all crazy. I just like music, so I want to flip everything.
Everything is different, but its the same. Hip Hop has the same kind of tempo, the kicks, the snares, the high hats, and everything else. You just have to incorporate Hip Hop to that, instead of that into Hip Hop. I usually flip Hip Hop around [the original music]. Im just trying to authenticate it with my sound to familiarize people with their stuff and my stuff together. It just comes out as a fusion of music.
DX: I interviewed Peanut Butter Wolf years ago, around the time that the 10th Anniversary project came out. Stones Throw seems to really have perfect formula, as far as promo, support, etc. Its the key indie label for a reason.
Oh No: They do their job at what they do, and they let us do our jobs at what we do. They dont give us any direction on where we need to go. Never. Its not like Egons like, I heard this music. Flip this song, and at three minutes, theres a pianoThey dont do that. They let us do whatever we want, and if theyre feeling that shit, then its poppin. You just do what you want to do, and from there, they handle the B.I. and make sure everythings straight. Its like every other label. I believe theyre running it like a major independent label, rather than an independent independent label. Theyre trying to take it to another level. Theyve been trying to do that, even when they first started working with Madlib.
And since theyre taking it to another level, all theyre going to do is come with more shit that they like without telling someone how to do it. most labels would be like, We need you to sound like the new whoever, because thats whats poppin. But theyre not on that. Look at Madvillian [click to read]. They let Madvillian do what they do, and it came out with some crazy shit. Champion Sound [click to read]? Its not like they were like, Make sure Dilla raps over that 'Heavy' beat. They give us free reign over what we want to do, they feel it, and they drop it. It gets recognition, and its more power for both of us. Theyre definitely doing what theyre supposed to do. [My music] has been getting licenses for movies and video games, and all that. They let me do what I want to do, I turn it in, and we all see good results.
DX: You came in after you brother had already made a big name for himself, but youve done a pretty good job establishing your own rep in several circles. Other artists have difficulty simply coming in as protg, so being Madlibs brotherespecially with you guys looking alikehad to be even crazier. What was that like, and how did you emerge from his shadow?
Oh No: The shadow is a gift and a curse. Regardless of the matter, hes my brother. So its not like Im in the shadow of this dope ass nigga named Joe Schmo. Thats my brother. And hes sick. Thats who I looked up to, bottom line. So if anyone gave me any comparisons [to him], thats a compliment, Im not trippin. Even if someone tells me not to do beats at allPeanut Butter Wolf told me not to do beats at allIm going to keep doing it. He ended up apologizing for it. But really, I like it. if that shadow wouldnt have been there, maybe all these people wouldnt have checked for me. So the shadow helped me out, too. Madlib all day. Thats my kids uncle. Same with my crew members, too.