Some artists truly do get better with time. Jay-Z and Masta Ace proved that last year. Quietly, O.C. may be showing 2005 what he’s made of. At the top of the year, O.C. released the import, Starchild, but only 20,000 copies were made available. Still, the work was strong enough to attract Pete Rock and 9th Wonder for a potential re-release down the line. If that wasn’t enough, O.C. is closing the year with his rougher, street side, Smoke and Mirrors. O.C. calls himself a hypocrite, the streets call his “Mush,” and Hip-Hoppers just call him dope.
AllHipHop.com wanted to look at one of the valedictorians of ‘94’s freshmen class. We explore the immense pressures that Brooklyn’s native son has been against. We look at his duel writing styles, his vulnerability, and even get a look at O’s criticism against himself.
“It takes all kinds,” goes the line. For ten years plus, O.C. has been giving us both “Guns and Butter.” Pay respects to the two sides, the two albums, and the limitless ability of a true Hip-Hop icon.
AllHipHop.com: Where’s O.C.’s head at right now?
O.C.: I’m basically back in the mix, man. I’ve been recording, just happy. I’m in a happy place now, that’s how they say it, right? My mind is focused, it’s clear, good.
AllHipHop.com: That’s good, because a lot of people from your era are bitter.
O.C.: It’s too easy to be bitter. I was before. I’m not bitter anymore. S**t wasn’t fun, that’s why I took some time off. My father always said, “If you ain’t havin’ fun with something, leave it alone. Go back to it if it’s meant.” I wasn’t havin’ fun. My man [Big L] is dead, we had plans. ‘Pun and Joe was doing they thing. It’s just a whole lot of things played into the equation. My crew [D.I.T.C.] made it [possible] for a lot of people to eat, and we eat but we not eatin’ like we was supposed to be eatin’. Like Jay said, “My foot’s at the door, but I keep droppin’ the key.” That’s how it’s been with Diggin’ and our separate projects. We get to that door, and we don’t have the key-maker. We can’t get in that door. I’m in a happy place. I’m not gonna do it bitter.
AllHipHop.com: I thought that Starchild was one of the most exciting records that’s come out in 2005. It was ready for a while, and it was on limited release, and I’m surprised that you’re still happy? I was angry at that one.
O.C.: Nah, I mean honestly, Starchild wasn’t ready, it wasn’t finished. Mahlon [Williams, executive producer] jumped the gun a little bit. We gonna keep it gangsta. I told him that putting an album out overseas, in Japan, was a bad move. That’s one of my biggest markets. If you start a tidal wave in one place, it’s gonna move til’ it calms down. Right now, for what it’s worth, the record not being finished, people like you call it classic, incredible – I’m like wow. It’s a good thing. It makes me feel. But I know it’s not 100%.
AllHipHop.com: What’s it missing?
O.C.: A whole lot. The vocals to me, they’re not mixed right. Nothing is mixed right. You can’t put a “test record” out in Japan. Come on, that’s D.I.T.C.’s biggest market. Anything you put out there is considered an album. You can’t do a leak thing. People considered that a record. So I gotta say, it’s an album. It’s not an album in my heart, but it’s an album because it’s in a package.
AllHipHop.com: Will we ever see it distributed majorly in the US?
O.C.: Definitely. It kinda conflicted with an album I’m doing through Emporium, which [The Hieroglyphics] put me on. I’mma put that album out, which is called Smoke & Mirrors. That’s a whole other thing. The Starchild thing, I’mma go back and revamp it. For people like me and you who understand music, you got the fans and then the diehard fans who decipher and pick apart records. You can’t put out an album and not work it, and perform it, and tease people with it. If one of my favorite artists put out a record, and I don’t see him do it – after supporting him so long – I’mma be like, “F**k you,” because you depriving the people of what they want. They [aren’t just] consumers.
AllHipHop.com: Okay, so what about Smoke & Mirrors? I heard a few songs off it, and I think this is your street record, whereas Starchild was your insightful record. You, like Buckshot, seem to have several audiences. Are these separate albums used to cater to different audiences?
O.C.: Yeah, definitely. Smoke & Mirrors, I put it to you like this, it’s hypocritical.
AllHipHop.com: I’ve never heard an MC describe their work that way.
O.C.: It’s hypocritical because what people fail to realize is that us as artists are human beings. I make mistakes like anybody else. I got so much flack for the Bon Appetit album. To me, I don’t care what you or anybody say, it’s a good album. People expect me to do “Times Up” over and over. I can’t duplicate something that was done already. So, I don’t duplicate the same formulas. As Mike Tyson said, “That s**t’d be ludicrous, B.” My point is, I know I’m a hypocrite with certain things. I talk about certain things and don’t always follow up with ‘em – just like anybody else. I want people to see the vulnerability in that. I’m an artist, but I’m a human being first. I’m not apologizing for anything I do. I made two different records, totally.
AllHipHop.com: How difficult was that creatively?
O.C.: It’s not hard at all. The Starchild record, I’m dealing with different producers. Different producers give me different moodswings. I’m not gonna rhyme over a Pete Rock joint like I would do a [Lord] Finesse track. Even if it’s the same subject matter, it’s gonna be done in different tastes. The albums is gonna be night and day.
AllHipHop.com: How did you link with Hieroglyphics Crew? Few would’ve paired you with them or their label.
O.C.: Initially, they approached my partner, Mr. Dave. I think it’s a mutual respect. People don’t understand… these cats right here, they are what you would call real chitlin’ circuit ridas. They ridin’ this Hip-Hop s**t to the max. I’m on a tour with them in July and August. The spots that I’m hittin’ are spots that I’ve never seen in my life, and I done been all over the world. I’m talkin’ Boulder, Colorado. Spots that’s necessary. People don’t realize that Master P and them sold they music because of those spots. They not just sellin’ records in Louisiana, they sellin’ all over. I never been in these little one-horse towns. Those are the spots that count. I haven’t been on stage by myself in a minute.
AllHipHop.com: Wow, that’s interesting. Because of your clarity and the way you can manipulate the crowd without being crazy, I think you have one of the best live shows in Hip-Hop. How can somebody like yourself get rusty?
O.C.: You know what? I went overseas maybe a year and a half ago with Pharoahe [Monch]. Pharoahe’s stage show is phenomenal, [as is] Talib, Mos. They got the DJ’s, but they also got the back-up singers and some stage show. I gotta step my game up, man. People are showin’ me love and still buyin’ my records. For me to come on stage and just walk back and forth and not give a performance for their money, that’s a smack in the face. See, I’m my worst critic, man. I did B.B. King’s with Finesse [recently]. With me on stage, people tend to stand there and watch. I don’t know if it’s hypnotism or they don’t like the show – it’s one or the other. To this day, I love and appreciate what I do. I got the best job in the world. For people to wanna come see me? Little me? Come on man, that’s the biggest blessing God could me. Appreciate. That’s not a big enough word.
AllHipHop.com: Your verses are dramatic. You’ve got this line on the song, “Memory Lane” that just blew me out of the water: Destined to get the cars, the fly clothes, I stand froze, thinkin’ back to the snow, makin’ angels. Making snow angels sounds soft to people, but we all got something like that in our youth, and we all want that back.
O.C.: I found myself in that mindframe maybe in the past ten years. I’m 34 now, I ain’t even ashamed of my age. I don’t look my age. I look younger than most of these cats. I just look at it as being a human being. I had the cars, I had the jewelry, but I also had fun with my cousins comin’ up. Man, I still think about s**t like that. That’s my makeup. It’s not that I go back on purpose because of the beat. What does it for me is memories. Memories make me who I am. It’s something in my past, but it’s something that happened. I remember layin’ in the snow, makin’ angels. My mans, my friends, they was there. I can remember seeing cats come through the block in a nice Cadillac and s**t, being sarcastic, “Yo, that’s my car.” There’s vulnerability in everything I do, cats just gotta look into it.
AllHipHop.com: That’s what Hip-Hop needs right now. You said it in “Times Up,” it’s all a façade. Everybody is fronting.
O.C.: Yo B!, the only cat on a major scale that does it, is Nasir. I can’t diss dude. We not the same people, we don’t do the same type of records – but we do. Nas, his plane of writing down what’s in his mind, it’s incredible. When you listen to “New York State of Mind,” it brings you there! That’s one of the major elements of being an MC is to bring someone into your world. KRS said it, “When this clown jumps up to get beat down, broken down to the very last compound, see how it sounds? A little irrational. A lot of MC’s like to use the word dramatical.” Don’t use that word, if you can’t evoke that in a rhyme! Rakim did it, Nas does it, Slick Rick, Ghostface, Scarface, Jay. The Hip-Hop game is strictly, “who’s the roughest?” That’s tiring, man.
AllHipHop.com: On Smoke & Mirrors, do we have any historic collaborations?
O.C.: At first, I thought about it. But I’m tired of hearing compilation records. I’m not gonna be a hypocrit to that extent. I reached out to AZ, it was no problem. I probably coulda reached out to Hov, these cats is from my era. I coulda reached out to Nas, Buckshot. You know what? Next time ‘round. But me, Finesse and A.G. is gonna do a song that’ll wrap the album up in late July.