interview, Interviews

Hip-Hop and video games: The Oh No interview

It runs in the family. It’s often (but not always) surprising when you realize that artists are the products of…

It runs in the family.

It’s often (but not always) surprising when you realize that artists are the products of either musical parents and/or have talent in their families. This was true for artists like Prodigy of Mobb Deep, whose grandfather, Budd Johnson and great-uncle Keg Johnson were active in the Bebop era of jazz. His mother, Fatima Frances Collins, was also a member of the The Crystals, a group that cracked the Us Top 20 charts in the 60’s – side note, read his book. Then there’s Nas, whose father is jazz/blues musician Oli Dara. This is also the case with talented producer/artist Oh No – who happens to be both the son of a musician and the younger sibling of Madvillain producer Madlib aka Quasimoto.

He began his career as a rapper, even featuring on wax with his brother’s group Lootpack, but he insists that he, much like his big bro, is a producer first. Hard to disagree when you look/listen to his vast catalogue of releases and credits – from solo releases, his album with Chino XL and Roc C to his group Gangrene (with producer Alchemist).

From working with the late great J.Dilla to scoring the fastest – and highest – selling video game of all time, Oh No has had quite the career up to this point. With his latest project Animal Serum (a collaboration with Prince Po) dropping February 4th, I was lucky enough to chat with the cali-based super producer. We touched on everything from his music, his love of video games and gambling at – to getting beat tapes from Dilla, can you even imagine?

Interview below:

Did you always know you wanted to be in hip-hop? I always knew I wanted to do music. From the start, when my parents brought equipment in the house, I was all on it. My mother use to have this keyboard, and she used to write music. My father (Otis Jackson) and brother (MadLib)….man, it’s in my blood. Even my kids read and write music.

You’ve been in both rapper and producer roles in your career. Which do you prefer?

I prefer being the producer first, second and third. Being the rapper comes like ninth. I like rapping, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to shows and all the production I do…all the smoke I’m smoking… It’s too hard to try to remember lyrics. I have to sit there and listen to the songs over and over to get it right. I work on a lot of projects all the time, I’m working on multiple albums each month. So I just don’t have the time to really remember each lyric.

How did you get into the game?

I first started with my man J Duce . I was using my brother’s SP12 making beats, and we started our group called Kali Wild. We incorporated Cornbread from the bay and sauna aka Biggs. We made a gang of albums. going back and forth from the ox to oakland trying to get our music on my man recordings..

From there I ended up connecting with Rasco, he was on Stones Throw at the time. He bought a single that we (Biggs and I) did. He showed it to Peanut Butter Wolf, and that’s how I ended up getting my deal.

Tell me about your love for video games.

Ive always been a crazy game collector since Atari to now with PS4 and all that. I’m also really big into PC gaming. I love simulators. I made a custom arcade that has street fighter to digital pinball on it.. Pretty much every game on it.. It’s like a virtual dave and busters over here.

How did you get into producing music for video games?

I used to make beats out of video games. I would always get my beats placed and one day my man – who was working with Capcom – approached me and said I should make video game beats (specifically for Street Fighter). I told him I already had a bunch. I sent over something fresh and they loved it. They asked who I wanted to work with on it, and I had just gotten Redman’s contact so I said, “how about Redman?” They made that happen.

Then I started working with Alchemist and he brought Rockstar into the picture. He was working on GTA Chinatown Wars, doing the music for the radio station, so I worked with him on that. I did drum work for Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. From there Rockstar approached us (Alchemist and I) about working on GTA V and creating and original soundscapes for each scene in the game. The rest is history..

And that’s the highest selling game ever. As a serious gamer that must feel great, no?

Being a big video game collector, its crazy to have that under my belt… definitely a big deal.

You also score (shows) for Cartoon Network?

Yeah I do. Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, HBO, CBS, Fox. I can say the bulk of my time goes to scoring TV shows, commercials, video games and documentaries. In fact, I just finished working on a documentary with director David Paul Meyer about a great comedian Trevor Noah called You Laugh But It’s True.

How did you meet Prince Po?

I met prince Po about 8 years ago while he was working with Madlib doing a song on the Percee P album (Perserverance). I started sending beats and he started calling me and spitting over the phone. It was crazy like where have you been? Let’s work! We were doing songs off and on, just seeing where it took us.

I was juggling Alchemist projects and Prince Po tracks, on top of scoring, so it took a while to really get this finished. But it’s finally coming out. It’s all very next level stuff.

What does the title Animal Serum mean to you?

For me, I feel like it’s animal blood, you know, drinking the blood of an animal. We’re really trying to regenerate that rawness. The way he’s coming at it with the lyrics is so intense. There’s a LOT of true lyricism, and that’s what we’re bringing back. That raw animal essence.

In the exclusive audio clip below, Oh No shares some Dilla memories with me.

Riley here — father, artist, videographer, professional writer and SERIOUS hip-hop head. I'm a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, and I think everything is better on vinyl. Add me on Twitter! @specialdesigns
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Can we expect any new content (Videos) from you soon?
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[Lil X]: It was fine, I got to do what I wanted. El Paso is right on the border of Mexico so there is lots of tradition and mixed culture.

Has your family been supportive of your career?

Yes my family has been supportive and I know they are trying to understand what I’m doing and one day fully learns what I’m creating and what I’m making.

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It was mostly my debut project but im going to be releasing more music soon.

Can you describe the creative process behind “New Kid on the Block”?

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I have a couple of people that I’m talking with but I don’t want to give them up yet.

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I have a lot of different things happening and I’m looking for my best options before I sign to anything.

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