Producer’s Corner: Oh No (HipHopDX 10/26/2009)

by WILLIAM E. KETCHUM III

Production wunderkinds such as Black Milk and Oddisee get props for their prolific catalogs, but don’t overlook Oh No. The Oxnard, Calif. production/MC’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. Everybody’s been hitting me up to rap on their shit [laughs]. So I’m doing a lot of rap, too.

HipHopDX: 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 mufucka’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.

HipHopDX: 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.

HipHopDX: 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 percent 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.

HipHopDX: 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, nonstop. 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 mufuckin’ 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 Premo joint, that he did with M.O.P.? Oh, man.

HipHopDX: 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.

HipHopDX: 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.

HipHopDX: 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 DJ 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 his album). 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. He’s calling my name out, the crowd’s going crazy. I’m just sitting there with the chills and shit. Like, “Wow, that’s my beat right there.” It could be Mos Def, it could be Roc, I’ve seen him spit some crazy shit over my beats. I can’t wait to start working with Sean P. I’m trying to make things happen.

HipHopDX: 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 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, offbeat 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.

HipHopDX: Another thing both you and Madlib do is make projects based on samples from a certain region’s 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, it’s 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 percent of what they’re playing. I just like music, and if you hear anything that’s worldly or not of this continent, it usually sounds majorly different. That’s just what we’re into. He’s always liked different shit, and that’s what it’s about. Especially if it’s [already] sick. Whether it’s a loop or a chop, it’s most likely sick. Whether it’s some Ethiopian music, some Turkish music, or some prag rock, it’s all crazy. I just like music, so I want to flip everything.

Everything is different, but it’s 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]. I’m 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.

HipHopDX: 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. It’s 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 don’t give us any direction on where we need to go. Never. It’s not like Egon’s like, “I heard this music. Flip this song, and at three minutes, there’s a piano”…They don’t do that. They let us do whatever we want, and if they’re feeling that shit, then it’s poppin’. You just do what you want to do, and from there, they handle the B.I. and make sure everything’s straight. It’s like every other label. I believe they’re running it like a major independent label, rather than an independent independent label. They’re trying to take it to another level. They’ve been trying to do that, even when they first started working with Madlib.

… And since they’re taking it to another level, all they’re 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 that’s what’s poppin’.” But they’re not on that. Look at Madvillian. They let Madvillian do what they do, and it came out with some crazy shit. Champion Sound? It’s 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 it’s more power for both of us. … They’re definitely doing what they’re 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.

HipHopDX: You came in after you brother had already made a big name for himself, but you’ve done a pretty good job establishing your own rep in several circles. Other artists have difficulty simply coming in as protégé, so being Madlib’s brother—especially with you guys looking alike—had 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, he’s my brother. So it’s not like I’m in the shadow of this dope ass nigga named Joe Schmo. That’s my brother. And he’s sick. That’s who I looked up to, bottom line. So if anyone gave me any comparisons [to him], that’s a compliment, I’m not trippin’. Even if someone tells me not to do beats at all—Peanut Butter Wolf told me not to do beats at all—I’m going to keep doing it. He ended up apologizing for it. But really, I like it. if that shadow wouldn’t have been there, maybe all these people wouldn’t have checked for me. So the shadow helped me out, too. Madlib all day. That’s my kid’s uncle. Same with my crew members, too.

[via HipHopDX]