“I Don’t Have To Be Anyone Else When I Get On the Beat”: An Interview With Offset Jim

The Oakland rapper explains how his life and hometown have changed since he's blown up, how he started rapping in the first place and what's to come after 'Rich Off the Pack.'
By    November 3, 2021

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For a city as historically diverse and progressive as Oakland, you’d be surprised to see what the city has transformed into. The Town is beautiful with its vibrant murals, but it’s also full of markers of gentrification and the Oakland Police Department’s brutal tactics. Local shops remain barricaded with wooden planks as a result of moneyed and reactionary fear of the Black Lives Matter protests; windows remain broken downtown out of frustration towards the repugnant Oakland Marriott City Center and everything it represents. Graffiti is sprawled onto every corner of the city. The mayor, Libby Schaaf, feels like a blight on the Bay, representing only herself and corporate interests, and ignoring the resources that her constituents need. But despite the gloom that the city has been put under, rappers like Offset Jim and ALLBLACK continue to sustain its proud tradition of independence and originality. With grimy basslines and a laid back flow, Offset Jim makes Bay Bridge sideshow music in classic East Oakland fashion for this next generation.

ALLBLACK and Offset Jim aren’t the new Luniz, nor do they want to be. The pair rap together like teammates pushing each other to do their Two Minute Drills; ALLBLACK is the sprint, Jim is the cooldown. Unlike ALLBLACK’s lively energy in the booth, you can tell that Offset Jim’s become quite blasé to a life of luxury. He’s a minimalist, riding the sub-bass effortlessly, but still grabbing your attention within seconds. That’s what comes with working with producers like DTB who have helped Jim identify his style. They supplement his voice as he nonchalantly reminisces about riding around in Brinks trucks and wearing sunglasses to dampen the shine of the gleaming diamonds on his wrist.

Offset Jim recounts a carefree childhood, one that seemingly existed lifetimes ago, painting a picture of simpler times: balmy weather and fire hydrants spewing water at awe-inspiring heights. His brand, Play Runners Association, is almost a tribute to Cash Money; Jim, ALLBLACK, Dom the President and the rest of the crew are morphing into the Hot Boys that they pretended to be as kids. They’ve always been happy-go-lucky, and with that, they’ve always wanted the best for their block. On any given day, Jim can be found on the streets of 22nd, giving out backpacks, hot meals, hoodies and hygiene supplies, making sure that his people are taken care of. Working with P-Lo and the People’s Breakfast Oakland, Jim established the first “Folksgiving” in Oakland, giving to the community what he knows they need because he’s been in that same exact position.

Rich Off the Pack is a homecoming of sorts for Offset Jim, coming nearly three years after the release of No Pressure and 22nd Ways. Jim spent his years away grieving and coming to terms with the loss of a close friend who has deeply influenced the dark atmosphere of his new tape. Jim was forced to rediscover his love for rap, and along the way, he connected with new faces to compliment his casual demeanor. Collaborations with Kenny Beats, EST Gee, and Babyface Ray have made this new project a demonstrative example of how far Jim’s sound can reach, whether that be Louisville with EST Gee or Detroit with Babyface Ray.

Offset Jim is the friend you bring to the party because you trust that even though the function might be underwhelming, at least he’ll be able to crack jokes about how everyone else in the room takes themselves way too seriously. Rich Off the Pack is the return of Offset Jim. The album picks up right where Jim left off on No Pressure; a reference to a line in his 2017 single with ALLBLACK, “Big N****,” where he mumbles “Bitch, I’m rich off the pack so I act different.” Offset Jim barely wrote for this tape, his energy is more apathetic this time around, and he’s far richer than he’s ever been before (and he makes this fact astoundingly clear). – Yousef Srour

What part of Oakland did you grow up in?

Offset Jim: I grew up in what they call the Murder Dubs, the Rolling ‘20s. It’s on the East side of Oakland.

How did growing up there help shape you as a person?

Offset Jim: Because you have to grow up fast in that type of environment. Not only do you have to grow up fast, but you have to make the right decisions or it can be very fatal around there. It turns you into a man fast. You see things that other people in other places don’t. It’s normal to you. It just makes you grow up faster than usual.

What’s the first memory that comes to mind when you think of your hood?

Offset Jim: My first memory is probably the first summer that I spent there when I was just a kid. It was just like anywhere else – kids running around, getting into trouble, just trying to figure everything out for real. The shit we used to play on my block – we used to play and act like we was from Cash Money – Hot Boys, we used to play that a lot. Ride our bikes all around the hood; shit like that.

When you were young, what type of music was playing around the house? What was the energy like?

Offset Jim: It was different energies for different days. Some days it would just be R&B: Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, all that type. That’s why I like R&B a lot too. Some days it’ll be that. It’s either old-school R&B or rap, that’s what I grew up on. That’s the type of music that I love.

Who were the first rappers or rap groups that you heard and really started to gravitate towards?

Offset Jim: Cash Money, the Hot Boys – Lil Wayne, Juvenile, B.G., Turk, Mannie Fresh; that was the first group, the first type of music I heard and was like, “Damn, I want to be like them.” Or DMX. I remember when DMX first dropped the “Ruff Ryder Anthem” and seeing that video like, ”Damn, I want to do that when I get older.”

Were you rocking with all the old-school Bay Area rappers like E-40 and Too $hort and Mac Dre?

Offset Jim: For sure. That’s the home team. As I started growing up, I liked The Jacka the most. He was still with the hyphy movement, he wasn’t too hyphy’d out. I like The Jacka a lot. If there was anybody that I could have worked with from the Bay, dead or alive, it would have had to be The Jacka.

Was there a particular moment when you realized that you could rap?

Offset Jim: I don’t know. I never thought about rapping like that. I didn’t start thinking I could rap or start taking it seriously until other people started taking me seriously. I was just joking around. Once I’d seen people really gravitating towards this shit, I was like, “Wow,” but I never thought that I could rap. I always liked music, but I wasn’t really thinking about making it no career or no shit like that.

At what point did you realize that you could make a career out of it, or did it just happen?

Offset Jim: It kind of just happened. ALLBLACK was doing his thing and I was just playing in the background. One day, he was like, “C’mon, come to the studio.” I wasn’t coming thinking I was going to rap, and I ended up making a song that was on his tape. It kind of went viral around the Bay and that’s when I was just like, “Damn, maybe I can do this shit.”

Which song is that?

Offset Jim: It’s called “No Shame.” It’s on his project No Shame 2. That’s what kicked everything off for me.

Is there a story of how you met ALLBLACK?

Offset Jim: Yeah, we grew up together; we from the same neighborhood. We went to the same elementary school and shit. We went to Garfield. Around the summer, they would always take us camping and shit. That’s really where I met him, through school and camping and playing baseball in the summer, Junior Giants, shit like that. I was probably in the 3rd/4th grade, he was probably in the 5th. It was a lot of us. We were all from the same ‘hood, so we would all bullshit around, go to parties. He used to pound on the truck.

His grandpa had a pick-up truck that we would sit in the back of and he used to make beats with his fifth and shit, and we would just be rapping. We never used to think nothing of it; we were just joking around back then. Once we got older and he started rapping and shit, I was paying attention to him like, “Damn, he’s good.” He just passed me the ball and I started doing the shit too. I was like, “Damn, we can actually make some money off of this shit.”

What was it like to make 22nd Ways with ALLBLACK? Did you just have so much music together that you decided to put out a whole album or were there studio sessions specifically for the project?

Offset Jim: It came together because, at that time, I had just finished my project, No Pressure, and it was doing well. He had just finished 2 Minute Drills, so we were missing each other in sessions – he was having his own sessions and I was having my own. For once, when we both finished our tapes, we were both in there together and it was like, “Fuck it. Let’s just do a joint tape and see how it goes,” and that’s how we got 22nd Ways.

Is that how you met Kenny Beats, or how did the two of you start working together?

Offset Jim: I met Kenny through BLACK. He was feeling BLACK and they had met and shit, and I believe our managers are real cool. My own manager, Rolla, and his manager, Mike Power, were already cool. I met Kenny through BLACK when he was making Two Minute Drills. After that, me and Kenny started working. But we just started working though. The song that came out, “Face Card” with me and him, that’s new shit. It’s not old. We just did that song a few months ago.

How has it been working with him? Has it been a seamless, really easy process where he knows what type of beats you want?

Offset Jim: Yeah, it’s easy. I don’t think too hard. The main thing that Kenny will tell you is “Don’t overthink shit.” The whole time I was recording with him, I was kind of nervous – he’s a big deal; he’s a super producer for real, and I’m just getting my feet wet. I was a little nervous, so he just told me, “Don’t overthink it,” and that’s how we came out with the songs we got today.

Working with producers like P-Lo, Cal-A, and DTB in the past, how do you go about picking your beats?

Offset Jim: DTB, he helped invent my sound. How I go about picking beats, I know off of the first few seconds if I like it or not. It’s just going to hit me. As soon as I hear it, within the first 5 seconds, I know if I like it or not. If it just grabs me and I can instantly think of shit in my head, I’m like, “Yeah, that’s the one.”

I feel like a lot of your songs are like that, for example “No Pressure,” where within the first few seconds you can tell that that’s the song and you can tell that the beat’s from the Bay Area too.

Offset Jim: That’s how I go about picking my beats. If they come on and the first few seconds are hitting, then I’m like, “Okay, that’s what I’m going to run with right here.” I view it from a listener’s point of view. Sometimes it can take a little longer, and that’s cool too, but from a listener’s point of view, I like it when the beat comes on and it instantly grabs me. That’s how I pick my own music.

How do you think that living in Oakland has influenced your sound?

Offset Jim: I definitely have a Bay Area sound. *Laughs.* Definitely. It’s easy. Oakland is the home of gangs, so it’s like, we’ve got our own everything. We’ve got our own way of how we talk, the funky-sounding beat selection – that shit heavily influenced my career because that’s what I grew up on, listening to my mom play records from Richie Rich and Too $hort and 40, Seagram or Dangerous Dame – the more Oakland rappers. That shit fo sho influenced my sound too.

Who are some of your favorite artists coming out of the Bay right now?

Offset Jim: [Lil] Bean for sure, he’s one of my favorites. Zay[Bang] one of my favorites. [Larry] June one of my favorites. BLACK one of my favorites. Lingo is one of my favorites. Kai [Bandz], Fatin. Them some of my favorites right there.

I heard in an interview that your grandparents were activists in Oakland back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. How has that had an impact on you and your upbringing?

Offset Jim: My great great great-grandparents, he did some pretty amazing shit back in his time. I wouldn’t call him an activist because he probably didn’t think that what he did back then would be talked about to this day; and that was a long time ago. I guess it’s just in my blood. My parents weren’t activists though; they come from the streets, just like me.

I also remember seeing that one of your uncles was part of the Black Panther party in Oakland too.

Offset Jim: Oh yeah. One of my uncles was. I’ve got an uncle named Frank, he practiced with the Black Panther Party.

Has that influenced how you feel about OPD and how you look at Oakland in general?

Offset Jim: Most definitely, but I use some of my own experiences too. I’ve been outside my whole life, so I know all about the Black Panther party. That’s one thing, but it’s another to go through shit with OPD by yourself. I have my fair share of run-ins with the police and that makes me not fuck with them. They’re not really for the community. They come police our neighborhoods; they not from there, they didn’t grow up there; they from Mountain House or far away, they’re not from our area in Oakland. In my eyes, they destroy shit. They beat us up, they kill us, they plant drugs on us. They take us away from our kids and then they laugh at our kids for not having fathers. I never fuck with them.

Have you noticed now that you’re starting to get more popping in the city that they’ve been fucking with you a little more?

Offset Jim: Hell yeah, for sure. Everytime I shoot a video on my block, they come harass me. They know who I am. They come watch me. They just try to catch me out of pocket and make an example out of me. They know I have a lot of people paying attention to me and I’ve got a lot of people looking up to me, and they want to make an example out of me basically for everyone that follows me. They want everyone to see it. That’s why they come and harass me; that’s why they pull me over; that’s why they pull me out the car. They harass my cousins; they pull up on 22nd every day and ask where I’m at. It’s been way different ever since I started getting bigger in the city because now the target got bigger.

I feel like every time a rapper starts popping in their city, the police go to their music videos and they want to put a stop to the culture from even happening. They don’t want anybody to be rocking with the music; they just want total policing.

Offset Jim: That’s definitely true. Especially in Oakland, we already don’t have much. Our music scene ain’t too much, and the police try to limit it as much as they can. Basically in my situation, they see that I’m getting bigger, the following grows every day. They don’t like that shit.

How have you seen Oakland change over the years, from when you were a kid to how it is right now?

Offset Jim: Drastically. Oakland used to be super fun when I was a kid. Oakland has always been dangerous, but when I was a kid, I wasn’t in that world yet. Back then, it was fun. It would be a lot of us, me and my friends going to parties, messing with girls – back then, you could ride through Oakland and you could ride through neighborhoods and you would see people outside. You would see forms of life. You would see fire hydrants going off when it’s hot, kids riding bikes, kids playing jump-rope, tag, whatever; you would see life. Now, it’s not that no more. There’s no forms of life around there no more. I can’t remember the last time I drove through anybody’s ‘hood and seen kids in the middle of the street playing football or kickball, or on a hot day seeing a fire hydrant going off. You don’t see that type of shit anymore. There’s nothing but death around there. You could go from the Deep to the Funktown and you won’t see any people outside. It’s too scary out there.

I was out in Oakland a few weeks ago and it’s quiet out there. There’s nothing. Everyone’s staying to themselves, staying in their homes…

Offset Jim: Because that’s probably the safest place for people to be. It’s bad out there. The city’s split in half – it’s one side or the other, and some people can’t make their mind up about which side they want to go to; they be the ones who get hurt first. Oakland – I’ve seen the change drastically. A lot of the key players that could have made a difference are gone, whether that be jail, death, whatever. It’s bad.

On the flip side, I know you’re a big proponent of giving back to the community, and especially your ‘hood in Oakland. Where does this drive to support the less fortunate come from?

Offset Jim: Shit, from being one of ‘em. Coming up, being one of those kids that’s running around my neighborhood, wishing that I had certain shit. I know how they feel. I know how they feel because I was one of them too. Even when I was younger, I always wanted to. “When I grow up I want to be the one to give back.”

And you’re posting up, doing giveaways in the streets, doing all of the work yourself and making sure that everyone gets something.

Offset Jim: For sure. People see me. That’s why people gravitate towards me so much. They can see me. They can touch me. I’m around, especially in my neighborhood.

Can you talk a little bit about Play Runners Association and how that got started?

Offset Jim: It happened real organically. We was already friends. ALLBLACK and I think JB came up with the name because we was always just running plays. Everybody just doing something different; everyone running routes trying to get their money, so they just came up with the name Play Runners. We were already together, they just put a title on it. That’s the brand. We was already cool; we was already locked in with each other before we made the name. Play Runners, that’s the brand.

Walk me through the genesis of Rich off the Pack. It’s your second solo album in 2 years and it feels grimier and more energetic than anything you’ve put out in the past.

Offset Jim: I was in a different space when I made it. It was fun. I was going through some grimy shit, but I was still having fun. Shit was able to thrive. That’s why you got the grimy feel, but you also get the energetic feel too, because I’m going through some crazy shit, but I’m still waking up every day thriving through the shit. That’s what I was going through when I made it.

What were your biggest inspirations while you were crafting this album?

Offset Jim: At the beginning of the year – I was supposed to drop a while ago. I ain’t dropped in 2 years, so I was supposed to drop sometime a year and a half ago, but I had lost someone that was real close to me. I rap about him all the time; people hear his name in a lot of my songs. This is before he passed. He ended up passing, and I didn’t really want to work no more. I wasn’t really into it no more. That’s the grimy shit I was talking about that I was going through. I had to snap out of it because it’s not what my boy would have wanted. I just used him being gone as motivation to be like, “Alright, I still got a chance to change my life, and not just my life, but peoples’ lives around me.”

I use it as gas to keep going on. That was one of the biggest motivations, right there, just him being out of the picture. That was one of the biggest losses that I had taken. I just really really used that as my motivation to keep going because I didn’t want to go no more. With my writing process, I didn’t even think that hard this time around. On No Pressure, I was thinking too hard. Some sessions I wouldn’t even get shit done, but this time around, I was just so comfortable – comfortable with me, being myself. By then, I had figured out that people like me for me. I don’t have to be anybody else when I get on the beat; they’re just liking me for me. This time around, I barely even wrote; I punched the tape through; all the feelings are authentic. I didn’t really write shit on that tape; I punched it through. But it doesn’t sound like I did.

You brought in UK rapper “Aitch” for the song, “Chinese,” on the new project. How did you get tapped into the British hip-hop scene?

Offset Jim: He tapped in with me first, and I was like, “Damn, how did my shit get all the way out there to y’all?” We’re just talking and he’s like, “You’re bigger than what you think.” Then, the very next day, Aitch had posted my song on his page, calling me a GOAT and I’m like, “Damn, that’s crazy.” We just linked like that. I sent him some shit and he did it, just like that.

Are you still working on No Pressure 2, or has Rich off the Pack taken its place?

Offset Jim: Yeah, after this tape. I just really want to focus on Rich off the Pack. I’m definitely going to do a No Pressure 2, but No Pressure was so crazy. No Pressure 2 has to be better. It’s going to be hard to fill those shoes. I was at a different point in my life when I made that. Those are big shoes to fill, so I’m just going with the flow. That’s why Rich off the Pack is crazy.

I don’t want to stay in one bubble, I want to keep elevating. I want when they see the tracklist to be like, “Damn, he got him on there. Damn, they on this.” I want my audience to grow with me. I believe in catering to your core fanbase. I’m never going to switch up on my core fanbase. That’s how you build up a real cult-following, and that’s what I’m after. It seems like it’s working because I ain’t drop no tape in 2 years and I’m still heavily anticipated. When I was dropping music, I was surprised because I didn’t think people were going to be waiting this long, but I still very much have the attention and that’s something that I’m hella grateful for.

After hearing your new project, Rich off the Pack, what do you hope for people to know about Offset Jim?

Offset Jim: That I ain’t to be fucked with. I’m solidifying myself that I’m not in nobody’s lane in the Bay.

In the next 5 years, what are you working to achieve?

Offset Jim: In the next 5 years, if I’m stable and established, I ain’t even got to be rapping. I just want to use this shit as a stepping stone to do bigger and better things. I just want to be stable and happy. Have my mom in a nice place, make sure my 2 sons are taken care of, that’s what I’m really in it for. I ain’t gotta be the biggest as long as me and mine are able to live comfortably. That’s what I’m in it for.

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