O.C.may never receive the proper dues he’s long deserved. The BK rapper, one-time Crooklyn Dodger and D.I.T.C. representative became an underground legend due to his carefully crafted verses and thoughtful storytelling. His 6th album “Trophies,” produced entirely by Detroit beatmaker Apollo Brown, dropped in May; it was his first solo album in six years and fittingly, O had a lot to say. In this interview, we discuss his new album, his classic ’94 debut “Word…Life,” his writing process, his childhood in Queens and BK, and the status of D.I.T.C. in 2012. – Aaron Matthews
The last song on Trophies, “Fantastic” is something really rare in hip-hop. An artist self-evaluating his career. What went through your head when writing that?
That was basically Apollo’s idea. He said, “I have this track and I think you should sum up your career in a couple minutes on this song”. It was easy for me to do, concepts are my thing. It was really showing my path from the beginning, from Word…Life until now.
I read an interview with you a few years back where you said your 2001 album Bon Appetit set a precedent, and on this song you called it a mess.
I was basically saying that people thought [the album] was a mess. Looking at the state of hip hop now, anything goes. It’s crazy that people kinda scrutinized me for that project, where I was hearing things from “sell-out” to “oh, he’s trying to go commercial”. It weirded me out, because at the time, Buckwild was working with Roc-A-Fella. I know how Buck is and I know he played some of their music. He had to, because right after, The Blueprint came out. To me, it was like they took the blueprint of what we did and did Blueprint. That’s a good record, don’t get me wrong, Kanye and Just Blaze did their thing on that album. But I’m almost sure that Buck played ‘em Bon Appetit. Jay’s one of the bigger artists, so his was on a bigger scale. So I put the two albums in comparison. I love the album, I don’t care what nobody say. Everybody’s not going to like what you do. I’m an artist, man, it’s hit or miss sometimes.
Do you ever listen to your old records?
After I record it, I listen to it a few times then I put it down. I have to perform a record anyway so I have to learn it. I go back and listen to my stuff sometimes, just to see where I was at then and where I’m at now.
Smoke and Mirrors came out in 2006, over half a decade before this album. What made you want to put out a record now?
Apollo, man…The music…Like I said, it’s a feel, man. was telling my cousin last night, I put myself in the class of the Nas’, the Jays, the DMXs, in the sense of [making] conceptual music. But not everyone is going to have a career in the financial sense of these guys. I always accepted it. My problem was always with record companies. I’m a hard-ass in the sense that “I want to do what I want to do.” Nobody is going to dictate what I do. The last lulls in me putting out albums, it’s been because I had to feel it. I can’t put out something if I’m not feeling it. I can’t put out an album if I don’t have no feeling, no content to talk about. Financially it might have hurt me in certain ways, but I have to be comfortable.
Not comparing myself to Mozart, but his genius was discovered after he was deceased. They knew he was a genius but they called him a buffoon, a womanizer, but he was telling people, “Yo, I can’t make records unless God speaks to me”. It’s sorta that type of reflection.
You were young when you put out Word…Life but you were already reflecting on mortality in your early 20s.
I reflect on life, man. I don’t write rhymes for the sake of writing music. It has to make sense to me. Records like “Born 2 Live” were personal experiences growing up. The story I talked about on that record was about this kid we grew up with on the block. I think it was summertime, the last day of public school, and this kid used to play baseball. Who knows, he coulda went on to be a professional baseball player. I think he was either coming or going from a game and broad daylight in the afternoon, I woke up from a nap after school, and he’s gone. He got hit by a car that day. It wasn’t malicious or on purpose, they didn’t see him. It scarred me. I saw [my friend] leaking from his head. To see him before and after the effect of the car, it just struck my mortality of living and breathing at a young age. That wasn’t the first time.
I always thought about what I did before I made a song or album.
Do you ever hang out on your block, or see anyone related to Mike Boogie these days?
Mike Boogie, Michael Anderson, he was down south hustling somewhere and he got murdered. He was actually a John Doe for a couple of weeks because his face was blown off and nobody could identify him. Not to dry snitch or anything, but the dudes he was hustling with hid this from his family for a couple of years. So when the story got back, it was twisted around. They were hustling, so who’s going to tell the truth about what really happened?
We all grew up with this dude on the block. That could have been me.
On A.G.’s last record Everything’s Berri, he’s really reflective about people in hip-hop who died recently. When you start hitting your 40s or 50s, you know people your age who have passed away. As you’ve gotten older, do you feel differently about cats like Pun and Big L who passed away young?
I’ll be 41 next month. When I spoke about [death] early on, it was experiences. Now the older I’m getting, I’m thinking about mortality more. Who thinks about when you’re going to die in your 20s? Unless you’re in growing up in situations where things are happening like that. It’s usually the hood cliche where everyone’s talking about hustling, robbing, the repercussions, but I didn’t have a childhood. And I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens! It just happened that I grew up in Queens around the era of [infamous hustlers] Supreme Team, [Lorenzo “Fat Cat” Nichols]. Dead in the middle of the hood, where they slung, two minutes from where the cop Edward Byrne got murdered. These were my circumstances, but I never thought about something happening to me. Later on, as I got older, [I realized] it could happen to anybody.
We live a life and then we die. That’s all we’re promised.
Has your writing process changed since then?
Not too much but I think I’m more in pocket with songs. I can tell the difference lyrically and my voice changed a bit. I try to have fun with it. Like the Apollo album, he sent me almost forty beats. Kept it fun and introspective…That’s my formula. You’re never going to hear me talk shit just for the sake of talking shit, or writing for the sake of writing. It always has to have a concept.
Take me through the process of putting this record together with Apollo.
When he initially contacted me about doing the record, I knew about him but never really listened to his music. We initiated a conversation and I just liked meeting him. This was without seeing him, just talking to him. He’s a laid back dude and his music, to me, reflects pure rhyming, introspection. It just clicked.
I sat for a month and a half and just wrote to his records. When I went to Detroit, I did the record in two days. I had the lyrics memorized. We had an ongoing joke. I told him we were going to record twelve songs in like five hours. I actually ended up doing a couple more. I guess he wasn’t used to that. I knocked out the bulk of the album the day I got there, and I was there for five days. I told him, “let me know if anything sounds off” and he told me, “nah, keep going”. We had a few days off and he showed me around Detroit. I did a record reflecting what I saw around Detroit.
What do you think of the Detroit scene?
Detroit’s got a lot of diamonds in the rough. Reminds me of New York in the early 90s. We knew about Dilla about where there’s a Dilla, there has to be more. Apollo’s one of them. There’s a lot of talent and we’re seeing it now. Detroit is spearheading something New York started, because it has a rich musical history anyway. A lot of people up here are from down south, Midwest, so it’s really coming from that place…that’s Motown.
What’s your favorite song on Trophies?
“Nautica”. I sat down in my truck one afternoon during the hurricane. I live by the water in Brooklyn, and it didn’t really affect us here but I saw the water level when I went by the docks. I was thinking, “Wow, we could get swallowed up over here”. It was bugging me out so I took the concept of water and mother nature, and compared myself to water battling nature. Apollo named it “Nautica”.
Were any of the songs a challenge to write?
Nah, I was kinda surprised at the fluidity with how I was writing. I sat for two months writing. I had to find my comfort zone then I was writing two or three songs a day. I felt I was in a zone. Felt good to do a record like that. I did Word…Life in two months, so it was nostalgic to do the Apollo record the same way.
Your last album Smoke and Mirrors was produced by Mike Loe. Before that that you hadn’t done an album with one producer since Word…Life, which was mostly produced by Buckwild. What do you like about working solely with one producer?
I think a great example is The Adventures of Slick Rick. I think if there’s a chemistry with one producer like Pete Rock cliche but it works, you don’t need other people on the album. Look at my history. The producers on my first two albums, they were always my crew, with the exception of Premo and the Beatminerz. You don’t want to confuse people, going all over the place with five different producers. That’s always been my formula from Word…Life, to Jewelz, to Bon Appetit to Starchild to Smoke and Mirrors. That’s my niche right there. If there’s chemistry there, it doesn’t make sense to step out that box unless someone gives you something that’s just undeniable.
That’s what you were doing on Jewelz.
Premo and Foxx helped me on that album. Freddie Foxx came up with “M.U.G.” and “Win The G”. Preme didn’t even like “My World”, I had to convince him to keep that beat. I wrote the record in fifteen minutes. When I tell people that Preme didn’t like “My World”, they don’t believe me. He felt that it sounded like “Shook Ones” and he didn’t want anything that sounded like something someone else did. I was like, “Nah, I’m keeping this”. I paid for it and I’m keeping it. [laughs]
While we’re on New York, I just read an interview with Showbiz where he said that D.I.T.C. was “done”. What’s the status of the crew now?
We’re six songs in on a new Diggin’ album. We sat down, we talked…what you gotta understand, we were missing a big element with Big L’s passing. That threw everybody off. If you really look at what we were doing with singles up until L passed away, you could tell it was a different energy. When he died, that energy died with him. For a long time. Fat Joe was doing his thing, Buck was doing his production, everybody started doing their own separate projects. We were still doing Diggin’ shows but we lost a big piece. We just sat down, and even with what Show said, what I said in the interview, we had a legacy. Show said some important shit. How would L look at us after fifteen years of him being dead? He would be shaking his head, rolling over in his grave.
That shit bothered me when I heard it, because I thought, “Damn, you’re absolutely right”. How come we let the legacy, with one record and independent music from me, Finesse, Diamond, from Show and A, slip into oblivion? That’s the kinda legacy we wanted to leave? Nah. It bothered everybody so we sat down, we had a big powwow, argued and screamed at each other, got all the bullshit to the side. We’re the blueprint for a few crews out here, and we’re probably one of the only crews that haven’t aired out our grievances. Because I think family needs to keep things amongst family.
Me and A.G. just laid down three joints the night before. Diamond has to lay his verse, Finesse is laying his shit. So we going to get it together for 2012, an album is definitely coming out this year. A Show and A album is definitely coming out.
Finesse is going to be rapping on this?
Yep. I think Finesse kinda got disgusted with the game, how just anybody can get on…so he didn’t want people to think he’s disgruntled. If you looked at how people put out albums when were coming up, I picked up Nas’ album, a Large Professor album, a Lox album…It made you want to write. Like, “I’m going lock myself in my room and write, because these dudes got me amped”. That part of the game is missing right now. But it’s a different generation, a different game now. I told ‘Ness, you gotta look past the bullshit and do what you do, because people want to hear you. We actually got scrutinized on stuff Finesse hasn’t rhymed on in the past, like the Oasis album.
Will Joe be working on the record?
Nah, Joe’s doing him.
I’ve heard rumors of this DJ Premier-curated Big L compilation for years. Finesse and Preme were supposed to be working together on it. Do you know what’s happening with that?
I think it’s not going to happen because it’s a lot of politics and bullshit within the estate for L. Too much red tape. I would have loved to see that happen. Would have sounded crazy, Premo and Finesse? Man.
Do you remember the first rhyme you ever wrote?
I can’t even remember right now but it was super corny [laughs] Not even going to lie! [laughs]
ZIP: O.C. – The Best of O.C. (Left-Click)
1. Fudge Pudge ft Organized Konfusion
2. Times’ Up
4. Born 2 Live
6. Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers (ft. Chubb Rock and Jeru tha Damaja)
7. My World
8. M.U.G. (ft. Freddie Foxxx)
9. You and Yours
11. Burn Me Slow
12. What I Represent
13. Everidae (ft. Pharaohe Monch)