“Ooze Is Literally a Slow Leak. It’s Gonna Seep Into the Minds Very Slowly”: An Interview with Tae Dawg

Serge Selenou links with Tae Dawg to talk about the DMV, the history of Ooze, the law of attraction and more.
By    July 21, 2022

Image via Tae Dawg/Instagram

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Even on a busy street at rush hour, Tae Dawg’s animated personality seems startling as he calls me to the entrance of an apartment complex on the outskirts of Maryland. Fresh off picking his son up from school he’s full of energy while he waits by the door. Dressed in an all-black outfit with shades of red to complement the cap that’s resting on top of his two-toned dreads, he paces around as we stand by for the receptionist to let us in.

While we ride up the elevator you can feel the 86 billion neurons in his head firing off in every direction. By the time we reach the top floor, Tae begins to relax. Once we get inside the apartment he introduces me to everyone before we go up to the rooftop. The occupants are Ooze Gang, the collective that serves as ground zero for Tae’s artistic ambitions, and they are starting to unwind for the evening with crumbling pure hemp sheets filling up the background. But when Tae Dawg, an emcee from Prince George’s County, MD, walks in he immediately raises the spirit of everyone around him. It’s a quality that has been a part of his persona since youth and it has been translated to the music as well. Whether he’s mashing together chaotic punchlines in typical DMV fashion or exploring the comical aspect in relationships, his charisma remains at the forefront. As one of the founding members of the DMV rap scene, Tae helped construct the aggressive, hostile sound that people could expect from the area, but over the years he’s continued to evolve and hasn’t let that characterization define him.

The first memory Tae can recall of attempting to write a rap is when he was 6-years-old asking for his mom’s approval to say nigga before scribbling lyrics down in a composition book. Then as a mischievous kid he bounced around schools and tried his hand at organized sports. But he always knew music was his calling. Up until the early ‘10s, the most popular way to participate in the music scene in Washington D.C. and its surrounding suburbs was go-go: the fusion of funky percussions with groovy polyrhythms.

When Tae’s friends approached him with the idea he should be the lead mic in a go-go band they were forming, he jumped at the chance. He traded two-a-days for band practice—without a notice to his coaches or mom. Around this time lawmakers also began to crack down harder on the scene, blaming go-go concerts for ongoing violence in the streets and passing a bill that slowly put hotbeds for the music out of business. Fast forward a couple of years later and Tae was seeking out other outlets to express himself. At first battle rap sessions were his conduit but transitioning to the studio led him to working with local producer-legend Sparkheem while he was still working primarily as an engineer.

Before Sparkheem became the go-to producer for when rappers in the area wanted to stray away from their comfort zone it took a while for him to get out of his and start playing beats for Tae, but once he did it was obvious they were a special pairing. Booming instruments would swirl around in the DAW until they were as sinister as possible, providing the perfect springboard for Tae’s loose, eerie raps. The “DMV flow,” an avalanche of punched-in bars filed in quick succession over a beat, has origins that are difficult to trace back. Big Flock, Q Da Fool and Shabazz PBG are the PG County rappers credited with pioneering the flow but Tae Dawg is a source that can’t be overlooked. While other artists used a rigid structure to accompany the flow, he found creases to explore, expand and most importantly have fun within it. On his early mixtapes he maneuvered like he had paddle shifters equipped, cunningly slowing his delivery down until suspense reached its peak and then in an instant ramping up until his voice sounded so heated he could blow out a tire. But just as big collabs and internet hits propelled the scene to a national audience, Tae was left having to serve two years in prison after an attempted murder case was pleaded down to a gun charge. This wouldn’t be his first stint locked up but it would prove to be the most illuminating.

Tae went through the full spectrum of emotions during his incarceration. “I was isolated, literally by myself probably the most I’ve ever been in my life,” he says unequivocally. He experienced joy as he watched Youtube videos of the DMV scene gain traction through a community phone in jail but also had to balance it with dejection as he couldn’t participate. By channeling the pent-up energy into “full self development” Tae came back with a renewed focus and hunger that he admits wasn’t previously there. Since his release in the spring of 2020 he’s dropped six mixtapes, kicking away the procrastination that used to plague him.

Through the stream of projects, what separates the music before the penitentiary and after is Tae’s willingness to not conform to the predictable style of beats that have dominated the DMV in the past several years. Menacing single-note piano loops is what the region has come to be known for but over time the lack of variety has taken away the pizzazz and led to stagnancy in the area. Together with Sparkheem and a host of other producers, Tae Dawg has grown to incorporate the district’s signature go-go rhythms into the production leading to results that are way more fascinating. Their skilled use of crazy drum patterns would make Dave Grohl shed a tear. With the beats constantly transforming it encourages Tae to move like a chameleon and shape shift from track to track. One moment he’ll be throwing out ample threats to keep your head on a swivel; then by the next he’s harmonizing with enough smoothness you’re nodding along to even the most humorous lyrics.

Tae describes his latest mixtape, Rhythm & Ooze, as the “first time he’s locking in on one sound.” Brash tones that usually engulf listeners are exchanged for subdued instrumentals that serve as backdrops rather than taking center stage. It’s analogous to Detroit rapper Baby Smoove’s Purple Heart, in how a regional rapper disrupts their musical status quo for a peek inside their emotions even if it’s only for a brief moment. The evening after Tae Dawg holds a listening party for the project we reconvene under thick gray clouds overlooking a rooftop to discuss the history of Ooze, the law of attraction, and of course our shared home of Prince George’s County over a couple of spiced spliffs for his first ever interview. –Serge Selenou

What’s your favorite memory of growing up in PG?

Tae Dawg: The go-go, man. You know I was apart of a go-go band. I was the lead mic of a gogo band. That era was like the city was unified. Of course you had your neighborhood tension and shit like that. But it was party time. You get what I’m saying. For the majority it was party time. So go-go was probably my favorite part of growing up–and sports. Sports and go-go, that’s how I met a lot of muthafuckas.

How would you describe yourself as a kid?

Tae Dawg: I was bad as shit bruh. I was always finding something to get into. Normal hood kid, normal kid from the trenches. I’m from Kentland so like I say, it’s all types of shit you can find around that muthafucka to do.

What sports did you play?

Tae Dawg: I played football. I played one year of regulation basketball only. I played for Greenbelt Middle School, but other than that it was straight football.

That’s crazy, I went to Greenbelt too. So when did the interest in sports crossover into music?

Tae Dawg: Because it interfered with sports actually. I was tryna play fucking high school football and then like I said, I was always into go-go. Right up until 9th grade I never had my own band, but I was hanging with some dudes and they was putting a band together and they was like, ‘Tae, you gotta be in this shit. You fire, you gotta come,’ so I used to be skipping football practice to go to band practice. I was skipping 2 a days, go straight to my man house, get high and do go-go. And I was telling my mother I’m going to muthafucking two-a-days. Coach Powell was looking for me and all that, a lot of coaches were looking for me.

So music was a community thing and that’s why you wanted to join it?

Tae Dawg: For sure, but not even so much a community thing, ’cause like I said, I’ve been into music since I was a jit. I remember when I was like 6. I’m living in Cheverly Terrace. I go up to my mom. I got a black and white composition book in my hand and like a pencil. I’m like 6, my son’s age right now. I ask my mama, ‘is it okay to say nigga?’ She like, ‘yeah but why?’ I’m like, ‘I’m making a rap song.’ She like, ‘go ahead.’ I go in the room and I fake try to write a lil rap and I said nigga like 7 times. That’s my first memory of me writing music.

Any one you listened to back then that inspired you to start making music?

Tae Dawg: Wayne. When I was like 6-7, this was Hot Boy$ time. There’s Wayne, Juvy, that whole era turned me up, made me wanna rap. I remember the first rap song that made me wanna rap was “Get Your Roll On.” ‘Everybody, everybody get your roll on what,’ it made ME wanna rap. I always liked it but it made me like, ‘you gotta do it. Like you could do this too.’ Young nigga age. I was ready to go.

Was Ooze always a thing in the beginning?

Tae Dawg: Ooze been here since 2014. This something me and Rudy[Cash] came up with. We was real big on Power Rangers and shit like that growing up. Ru called me one day and me and bro always shooting ideas to each other. He called me one day and was like, ‘bro, nobody saying ooze.’ This before drip and all that shit. ‘Nobody saying ooze. Bruh that’s our shit,’ and like whenever Ru gave me something I pushed it to the hardest. And when bro gave it to me, I’m like, ‘alright bet. This what we doing bro. We Ooze Gang blasé blah.’ This shit come about. Next thing you know I got that tag on me, that’s OozinDawg.

In your bio it says “it’s more than a word. it’s a lifestyle.”

Tae Dawg: It’s a lifestyle. It’s not what you think. It’s so much to Ooze. Ooze is literally a slow leak. It’s gonna seep into the minds very slowly and it did. It took a while but they get it now. Ooze is fashion, Ooze is fun. It’s everything that you want it to be, literally. Wake up, get dressed, I’m oozing. Going to school, I just got a 4.0 GPA, I’m oozing. It’s a great feeling to be Oozing.

When did Sparkheem come into the picture?

Tae Dawg: I started working with Terk in like 2015. A good buddy of mine had passed away. RIP Fame Reek. He had sent me a tape he had did with him and was like, ‘Tae, this nigga, he lit.’ Well actually I’m lying. I asked Fame who the fuck was making those beats and he wasn’t really trying to tell me. But he just told me he recorded at Terk. So I was like, ‘alright, I’mma just go there.’ So I go there, Terk wasn’t even tryna play beats, he wasn’t confident yet. So it took Terk all the way until he moved to the studio in Hyattsville before he let me get on a beat and rap to one of his beats.

It’s crazy you bring up Fame Reek because he has this tweet where he says you and Rudy were the first ones doing the “DMV flow.”

Tae Dawg: For sure, he know because he was the second one to use it. This how it went bro, with the DMV history shit. I hate to sound like I’m tooting my own horn, but me and Rudy have literally been here on the DMV rap scene since it jumped up. So I mean, like when [Big] Flock was kicking that shit off, we was right behind bruh like, ‘oh we about to go.’ I literally was in the car before Fame jumped off, was in the car with DJ Tumm Tumm and Slick. Everyday we pick Fame Reek up and they just wanna hear me and Fame battle rap in the backseat. Just wanna hear us rap all day, and that’s all we wanted to do. We just wanna fucking rap.

Shabazz and Q are credited with starting it too. How did you guys all start making music together?

Tae Dawg: They were Chicago type of niggas and I’m not gonna lie, all of us kinda was. We was all feeling that Chicago shit, but I was saying we gotta be us. We was taking shit from here and there and making our blend. Because that’s all niggas do in rap anyways, blend shit and make it something.

One of the things that stands out about the way you use it is that you’ll constantly speed up or slow down. There’s not really a set tempo. Most of the time when it’s used, it’s kind of flat, like the way Hoodrich [Pablo Juan] does it.

Tae Dawg: And with that being said, the Hoodrich thing, I know people probably saying ‘oh they stealing the Hoodrich flow’. Listen, in 2014, which was a very prominent year, my brother B was hanging in Atlanta. My brother Dre was hanging in Atlanta. All of my bruddas was hanging in Atlanta. Hoodrich was one of their friends. They were all rapping together, they were all punching in. This is a method, it’s not nobodies. It’s a punch in method, it’s no one’s. Atlanta and us, we just know how to perfect it. No it’s not the Hoodrich flow, it’s the Ooze flow. It’s the DMV flow. And see how I say Atlanta and us go hand in hand. Pablo didn’t blow up in the A, if you think that you crazy. He blew up here, we blew him up. Bali Baby, she blew up here. We still love Atlanta though. We like twins, we like bros.

Whenever I describe your music I always say it’s supervillain music, a lot of cartoon voices.

Tae Dawg: For sure. It’s animated as hell, and that’s just my personality. I’m just a lit person. Everybody who tell you they hang out with me gonna say I’m turnt. I’m funny as shit. So when I’m in the booth I’m having fun. I’m gonna do my voices.

How involved are you in the beat-making process?

Tae Dawg: I got different strokes for different folks. So Terk [Sparkheem] already know what I like. [Efosa]Beloved and Travagant, those two let me get my creativity off. They allow me to go over there and create with them hands on. So like I said, I did go-go before and I was the lead mic. So I pretty much know how I want all the instruments to sound. And I know everything that I like, so that being said, when I go to Travagant and them and they don’t have any pre-made beats, we make them shit on the spot. I’m talking about fire shit. “Sick and Tired”, “Take Your Time.” All of these beats were beats that I helped. ‘Oh guys, I want this 808. Let’s put this clap. Let’s do this blah blah blah.’ There’s shit on videos, they know. I should have a fucking tag. I just can’t do it with my hands.

You went to jail for a couple of years. Are you okay with me asking what happened?

Tae Dawg: You can ask. I probably won’t touch so much on the actual action, but you can ask what the charges are.

What were the charges?

Tae Dawg: I had attempted murder. I beat it though, fuck ‘em. I copped out to the gun only.

Was that your first time locked up?

Tae Dawg: Hell nah, I been getting locked up since I was in high school. I did like 2-3 months in like, 11-12th grade. I was fucking up, and then as soon as we got out of high school, me and Tumm Tumm and one of my other cousins beat the shit out of mall cops. Steve Harvey put me on the fucking news. He had me on the radio, called me an idiot. He lied on me, said I had a machete in the mall.

What mall was this?

Tae Dawg: This was Annapolis mall. You never heard of it? It was the Annapolis mall brawl. I had the craziest mugshot.

I gotta look this up.

Tae Dawg: I was just starting to grow my dreads, so I had like a big ass bush. My brothas and them was calling me Flavor Flav.

What did you take away from the most recent stint?

Tae Dawg: That was full self development. I was isolated, literally by myself probably the most I’ve ever been in my life. So like, when you go there to that place and you really into the universe, your mind, your soul, you gonna find yourself—if you on that. If you go in there and you on some straight street shit, you ain’t tryna figure out nothing, you just concerned about what’s going on in the streets.. ‘Yeah bro, what’s up about that,’ you gonna be one of them niggas. But you can ask these niggas, I’m in this joint reading, I’m talking to every old head I can find. ‘What’s the knowledge for the day?’ I’m that type of nigga. I’m real knowledge seeking. So when I came home, you can ask them, they prolly tell you I’m a little bit different now. Just ’cause I’m like focused, ya know. When I’m on something, I’m on that now. I used to be a procrastinator, like a bad procrastinator before I went to jail. Now I come home every task has to be completed like we all gotta be like one. That’s all I been preaching since I came home. One. Unity. Ooze Gang.

You had this line where you said “Getting locked up might’ve been a blessing, bitch I might go gold.” Do you still feel like that?

Tae Dawg: Yeah because bruh, it’s so sad that negative energy create positive energy sometimes. Like if you go through some shit in the street negative, like some attempted murder shit that I went through. When the people see that, it’s like ‘Oh he was really what he was talking about.’ It’s negative, but now they know, ‘oh you telling the truth.’ With that being said, you gotta capitalize on every situation you ever go through, every situation.

What was your first song when you got released?

Tae Dawg: “ZaZa.” I actually almost shed a tear. My first song home, I was talking about some serious shit. Believe it or not too, right, my first day home.. It took 12 hours to get nothing. 12 hours for Tae Dawg to not get one song. It took me like a week to get in that real jam. I’m talking about I had books and books and books of shit. I had to go and get in some studios too. I couldn’t just get it at Terk’s. I had to get it somewhere else and then bring it home like, ‘I’m back, Terk.’

Do you have a favorite as well, since you’ve been back?

Tae Dawg: I’m gonna say “Passion” because I didn’t think it was gonna do that. It was a joke, it was a funny song. Like we were in the studio and I was just saying shit and niggas was laughing. And I just kept going, ya know? Then when it was time to drop the tape, Travagin and Terk and Slick and Tumm and everybody, yeah. ‘You gotta drop this’ and I’m like, ‘nooo.’ But they were like, ‘it go!’ So I dropped that joint and I got good results from it. And I’m like, ‘oh shit, they like that.’ So that’s my favorite song because it was unexpected. It popped unexpectedly. And of course “Shit Bag,” that’s my shit.

One thing I noticed about your videos is that the same people who were in your videos before are the same ones there after. How important is it to keep those same people around you?

Tae Dawg: I feel like staying with the people you started with is so, so, so critical to your career. Because you wanna keep that same energy that you had when you started popping off or whenever you feel like you were headed in the right direction. If you actually pay attention to history, niggas who fall out, shit started getting bad. If we ain’t on the same page, it’s not gonna be good, so that’s all our goal for like ever. We don’t ever wanna be apart. All of us. No matter what goes on.

When Goonew passed, how big of a shock was that?

Tae Dawg: Of course it’s sad, we never wanna see somebody from the area die, that’s wicked. Even niggas we had adversity with, we still wanna see niggas shine. Like if that boy would’ve got a deal tomorrow, we would’ve been like, ‘fuck yeah.’ Another city would’ve been on some weird shit, but that’s how it is. But hell nah, niggas ain’t wanna see that man die. I’m not gonna sit here and say it impacted us because I’m pretty sure if one of us died nobody give a fuck. Bitches gonna say they smoking on us, but that’s just how it go.

A lot of people feel like they have to leave their city to make it. Do you feel like that?

Tae Dawg: Hell nah, you ain’t gotta leave. It’d be a smart thing to do, but you don’t have to. You don’t have to leave. Like I said, it’s different strokes for different folks. Some things ain’t gonna work for every fucking body. So some people do needa go to California, New York, and shit like that. But I feel like Ooze Gang, us, we can be the ones who like make this muthafucka a hub. That’s what I wanna see from the DMV. I don’t wanna keep running to New York and California. I want niggas to be running their ass here. ‘Oh shit, we gotta come perform at the Fillmore.’ I want shit like that.

Besides music, what are you into?

Tae Dawg: Spirituality, laws of attraction, chakras. Everything that someone think I ain’t on more than likely. Like I said, I’m a knowledge seeker, I’m a fucking nerd really. I go read and do all that shit, but I’m still the same nigga that I am today. Still a street nigga, but I wanna know. I wanna know everything before I die.

What’s your main focus right now?

Tae Dawg: I want myself and my brothers to be financially wealthy by 2025. We have to be established by 2025, that’s my biggest goal. For Ooze Gang to be a staple. For Tae Dawg to be a household name. Dufflebag, Rudy Cash, DJ Tumm Tumm, Slick Saints household name. I want us to be what A$AP Mob is to New York. I want Ooze Gang to be that to DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

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