Oh No has had an amazingly busy year. Starting it with the release of Vodka & Ayahuasca, the second album by Gangrene, the duo he forms with The Alchemist, he went on to release two solo albums (an instrumental and vocal album). As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the man also known as “The Disrupt” put out his remix of SAS album Stereotype titled Stereo Jr. out of the blue this week. When we talked to Oh No though, we found out he could’ve just as easily doubled that output and has a lot more under his sleeve. Read on to find out what surprises he has in store as we talk about how he challenges himself to keep his work fresh, working with his brother Madlib and leprechauns. Yes, leprechauns.
“I make between 30 to 80 beats a month, I could throw out all kinds of stuff but I don’t try to do it like that. I try to go about it business-like. Clear samples, get the artist’s license. The more light I can bring to the artist, the better,” he says about his astounding productivity. A lot of those tracks he even writes vocals to as well: “If I end up making 50 beats a month I usually have [written] to 20 of those already myself. I might write a verse to ‘em while I make them, ‘cause it’s motivating me to write. I run with the thirst thought. When I make beats I run with the thirst thought and when I rap I run with the thirst thought that comes up.”
When creating so many songs, it can’t be easy having to deal with that many samples too. “There’s definitely legal issues, anybody that samples will run into that. It’s just how you go about it. I’ve dealt with cats rapping with a lot of profanity on it and they [the sampled artists] weren’t down with it ‘cause there was profanity on it. So the rapper actually had to change the verse for the song to clear.”
Sometimes it leads to pleasant surprises as well, though you might not be able to tell from the start: “I’ve done another one that came from a movie, and they hit the label up and did a lot of threatening and we ended up working a deal out where I got to use their whole catalogue.” Having the sampled artist on board is important to him, not just from a creative standpoint, he explains: “I’m an artist and I like to get paid, the people that I’m sampling, I want them to get paid too. If you sample and it’s cleared, everybody can make more money. Especially if it’s on a TV show, or a commercial, or in a movie, if it’s not cleared you can’t do that. Clear the sample, you get it for cheaper than what you’d have to pay afterwards and everybody is making money.” Don’t expect legal wrangles to put a wrench in his creativity though, “Shit that I can’t clear is gonna get ‘leaked’” he says laughing.
Oh No is known for often working with a specific sample source on his projects, be it a common period and geographic point of origin like with Ethiopium (Ethiopian jazz) and Dr. No’s Oxperiment (East-Mediterranean psychedelic funk), or a certain artist like with Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms (Galt mcDermott) or OhNoMite (Rudy Ray Moore). “I like to pick apart the artist or theme, just analyze it. Like I’m in a laboratory trying to cook up some new recipes using these old leaves and stuff, trying to make something new out of something old, but trying to use everything. No limitations, I’ma use everything but keep it all… contained.” he says.
Does it help maintain a cohesive sound?
“It can be challenging times, but when I hear the music, after time has gone by I hear it in a different way. So whatever I’m making beats out of, I might end up making two or three beats out of one song. If the artist’s catalogue is crazy, I’ll just make as many beats out of it as I can and just put the best I can out.”
Did you ever get tempted to just drop the restrictions you’d set up?
“Nah, I won’t even do music if I’m not feeling like it. When I wanna do music I just go in and have fun, it’s gotta be fun. Put all the experiences I had outside the lab into the music. It’s like a video game. You beat the first level and you can sit there and play it again and be the greatest there is at the first level, but if you want to progress you’ve got to set challenges for yourself and move to the second level. Confining myself to one particular artist is a challenge in itself, trying to make multiple beats from that artist, a lot of the songs will end up sounding the same, so you gotta flip it to not make it sound the same.”
How do you decide on a specific sampling source?
“It depends on what’s going on. I can just be digging through records and hit an ill-ass record and want to use everything on that record. With this Dolemite project, I’d already done Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms and the Oxperiment, Ethiopium, Oneness of JuJu and all that stuff, and I heard the label Traffic Entertainment had the rights to this [Dolemite] stuff so I hit them up to see what was up with that and they sent me the music. From there I made like forty, fifty beats out of it and I figured I might as well put some rappers on this too. I put out [a record with] instrumentals and rappers. All the rappers I love, that I look up to, I want them up there and then I’ll have an instrumental for all the cats that want that too.”
“Whenever I put records out, it’s usually one way or the other, like “Oh man, the emcees are the shit, but the beats are aight” or “The emcees are alright, but the beats are crazy!” You can’t please everyone on one album, so here’s the instrumental for all the cats that want the beats and here’s the album that I present to y’all, that’s the album. Which has instrumentals that aren’t even on the instrumental record too. It’s two separate things, but from the same source.”
Do you ever feel pressure to appease both sides of the audience?
“Naaah! I don’t worry about pleasing both sides, if they like it they like it, if they don’t, they don’t. I have so much material I might as well give it out. I made more than fifty Dolemite beats but I’m only putting out the best of ‘em.”
Oh No is a known video game enthusiast, so one of his proudest moments was when Capcom asked him to work on the soundtrack for one of their Street Fighter games with Redman: “That’s Capcom! I’m a big Street Fighter fan. And then, it’s Redman! And I’m a big Redman fan. I got to go to the studio and smoke up with him, chilling, working in this professional-ass studio and he went in and knocked this verse out, he was killin’ it. It was mindblowing.”
The Disrupt takes his gaming experiences almost as serious as his music: “I’m into motion simulators now. You’re playing a driving game and instead of a controller I’m using a steering wheel with a stick and a clutch and you got your gears, all these little meters and stuff and you’re in a seat that actually moves and gives you G-forces. I took it some steps further and added six fans so you can feel wind all the way around, the speed of the wind. Then I added different smellshooters that shoot out smells and water-cannons, it’s getting real extreme over here.”
Does it help if you take Ayahuasca?
“Hell yeah! You take some Ayahuasca there you’ll have the ride of your life!”
With the insane rate at which his beats are made, there’s little time left to tour with his music. He’s not very regretful about that though: “I like touring and knocking out shows and stuff, but when I’m off on tour, even within one day, I could’ve made like ten, fifteen, twenty beats. That could’ve been that day that I made something crazy, so I don’t like dipping too much.” Don’t expect to catch him mashing on an MPC somewhere on stage either: “I did that already back in the days. I’m older now, I’ll leave that to the youngsters. Let them young cats come in and demolish people.”
In this day and age of social media it’s not easy to maintain a degree of mystery anyway, and Oh No likes to keep the recipes to his funk under the wraps: “I don’t like doing beats live in front of crowds. That’s like a magician revealing his tricks. You gotta make ‘em wonder, leave something to the imagination. Everybody knows I make beats but they don’t know how I’m doing it. I might be slaying a dragon!”
Born as Michael Jackson, Oh No came from a family as musical as his namesake (Madlib is his brother, their father Otis Jackson Sr. is a soul singer and jazz trumpeter John Faddis is his nephew) but his youth was a lot less shaky. You might expect a friendly competition to erupt between the two brothers creating beats, but there’s nothing of the sort. “I never really try to compete with him, I just want to be an equal. Just do my thing and have cats recognize I’m doing it too. As he was making beats, learning, I was right there. As soon as he left the room, I was on it. It just took a little bit more time for cats to see what I was doing, but we’re here!” he says, playfully adding “The only competition I ever had with him was in Ring Kings on Nintendo.”
Both brothers have flipped samples from the same source as well, but Oh No doesn’t sweat it: “When I flipped the Galt McDermott stuff I didn’t even know he did that. Someone put me on to Galt McDermott stuff, so it’s not like I had these records and I’m like “Aaah, Madlib has these records!”” There’d be no end it to it either if he’d let such a thing get to him. “Being that he’s Madlib and he’s got every record, it’s hard to get around that!” he says laughing.
The two brothers have good news for those who have been eagerly anticipating their collaboration as well: “He hit me up a couple years ago, “Let’s do an album, I’ll give you some beats, you’ll give me some beats.” I never gave him no beats,” he says laughing. “That’s the OG, let’s use your beats. So I ended up rapping to his beats, I rapped to about 30 beats and he was supposed to lay vocals on them too. All of a sudden he was like “Yo, this album is done.” He put the whole thing together.” A release date is still to be determined, but the Jackson bothers do know what their collaboration will be called: “The Professionals, like some hitmen, assassins, professional with it. We’re coming in to execute.”
Another well known collaboration is his partnership with The Alchemist as Gangrene, though Oh No’s recollection of how it come about is… questionable. “I don’t know how I met that cat. I think a leprechaun introduced us. “You want the gold, you gotta do a album together and somehow you guys will reach the pot of gold.” But we’re still trying to reach that pot of gold” he jests.
You must’ve been in studio together at some point, right?
“You know what, I do recall meeting him. I was in a studio and there was a lot of smoke in the air, and when I left, somehow I had a CD with ten joints on it and I thought “This is crazy, who is this?” and everybody said “That’s you and Al!””
He’s more straight forward about his collaborations with Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, though: “One of my friends from Oxnard, where I live, went to Hawaï on vacation and went to see Mos Def performing out there. He was performing that song [Supermagic, which utilizes a beat from Oh No's Oxperiment], so they recorded it and sent it to my phone, the next day I started seeing it uploaded on YouTube and more things started popping up. So he talked to the label and worked it out with Stones Throw. He wanted to link up with me so I hooked up with him in the studio and brought him some more beats. He did the ‘Pistola’ joint, and it got to a good relationship from there.”
How far his music has reached is still something astonishing to Oh No: “His shit was Grammy nominated! The first song they played was my song, so that was crazy. Salute to Mos Def. Who would’ve ever thought the cat from Oxnard would get played at the Grammy’s, some raw shit at that too! …Crazy.”
Oh No’s Dr. No’s Kali Tornado Funk and OhNoMite are in stores now, as well as Gangrene’s Vodka & Ayahuasca. Oh No & Strong Arm Steady’s Stereo Jr. is available exclusively as a digital release through Stones Throw Records.
He’ll drop his brand new Disrupted Ads (Audio Dispensary System) album on January 29th via Kash Roc Entertainment. The album features unreleased instrumentals and guest vocal appearances from Gangrene partner Alchemist, Blu, MED, Souls of Mischief, and others. Catch the video trailer below.