O.C. came up as part of Organized Konfusion’s extended family, and was signed to Serchlite Music right after Nas so he’s no stranger to elite level lyricism. He went on to join the Diggin’ In The Crates crew and has recorded with everyone from Jay-Z, DJ Premier, Hieroglyphics and Apollo Brown. Best known for his hardcore anthem ‘Time’s Up,’ O.C. is finally hitting Australian shores for the first time in his career in February. He took some time out recently to discuss the ups and down of the rap game thus far.
Why did you decide to rap?
I grew-up in it. I grew-up partly in Brooklyn, partly in Queens, so I’ve been around it all my life. It was a natural transition. I wanted to be a DJ at first, and as I got older I just took it from there.
You wanted to DJ originally?
The DJ was more focused on than the MC back in then, that’s how it started. People would bring their stuff out at block parties, bring they music out at the parks. I was younger at the time, I was amazed by watching people play records and going back and forth on the turntables. So naturally, that’s what I wanted to do when I saw it. I was in Brooklyn part of my life and I grew up in Jamaica, Queens, on the other part, and that’s when I gravitated to writing rhymes – junior high school. It just became natural.
Were you always a soloist?
Pharoahe [Monch] lived across the street from me, and Pharoahe and Prince Po went to high school together. Just being around them, from their first record deal to later on getting on their debut album. I was there since their group name was S.T.P.
“Pharoahe Monch lived across the street from me”
Did you used to go to 1212 Studios with them when they worked with CJ Moore and Paul C?
No doubt. I seen Paul C. maybe twice, I’ve been to 1212, I’ve seen a young Large Professor. I was there from their inception, so that’s what made me take it seriously – being around two of the illest MC’s that I knew. They was already masters of what they did. From Simply Too Positive, which you’re talking about ‘86, ‘87, ‘88, to 1990 – transforming into Organized Konfusion – I grew just sitting around them. We would just trade rhymes and stuff like that. I wouldn’t put my stuff in the mix and let it be heard until it was on point. I soaked-up what they was teaching me, without actually ‘teaching’ me. I just gravitated toward it.
How did ‘Fudge Pudge’ come about?
We was in Power Play, the album was basically done already. That was just an extra song they did. By that time I was doing my own demos out in Lefrak City in Queens, and they heard it and they was like, ‘You ready.’ They made a space for me to get on the album, cos ‘Fudge’ was one of the records that wasn’t supposed to be on the album.
“I was the second signee on Serchlite Music – the first was Nas.”
Who were you recording your demos with?
It was one producer named Capone – Ken Capone – that I was doing all my demos with. We didn’t have no falling out or anything like that, he just got tired of shopping the music. We almost had a deal made with Def Jam, and he screamed on Lyor Cohen, cos I think Lyor told us to change a couple of things. The deal went out the door after that. [chuckles]
That must have been disappointing.
It was and it wasn’t, cos we knew if you have someone like Lyor Cohen almost cosigning what he heard then we knew we was on the right track.
Did ‘Fudge Pudge’ help give you extra leverage while you were shopping to labels?
People was talking, but my deal didn’t come until ‘94 – that came out in ‘91. In between time, I went on The Source tour with Pharoahe and Prince and I had a chance meeting with MC Serch and I met one of my D.I.T.C members on that tour, which is Lord Finesse. Serch asked him was I signed to the Organized Konfusion clique, and he told him, ‘No.’ He put a production deal on the table with me. I was the second signee on Serchlite Music – the first was Nas.
Was Serch at Wild Pitch already?
Nah, at that stage he was working [on] his solo album. We did more demo songs in that two years we was working together, and he starts shopping the music. Def Jam turned me down, they turned down Nas. They said we sounded like G Rap and Rakim and they didn’t want no parts of it. My man Clark Kent heard it – if he had it his way I would’ve been signed, cos we was peoples and I got busy, he was just in A&R at the time.
This was at East/West Records?
It didn’t work out, only because Sylvia Rhones’ had Das-EFX wet her whistle – she was looking for hip-hop hit records right off the bat. She ain’t wanna work nothing. When EPMD brought Das-EFX, that was cocked and ready to go. I didn’t have one of those – not yet. So we just kept shopping. At some point, he [Serch] got an offer from Stu Fine on Wild Pitch to partner up, and that’s how I got the deal on Wild Pitch in ‘93.
Once you got over there, did you re-record some older songs or did you start with a blank slate?
I was almost done when I ate the deal. It took us two or three months to do the record. After me and Finesse got tight he brought me into the crew. Buckwild met Finesse in New York somewhere or New Jersey, and that’s how I met Buck. Me and Buck cliqued up and by that point we had close to half that record done, just doing demos – me and Buckey – so it was already done before we finished the deal, once the ink dried up. We just went in there and tweaked stuff up. ‘Time’s Up’ wasn’t done yet, but for the most part the stuff that you hear was already there. ‘Time’s Up’ was actually Pharoahe’s record.
“At the time when gangster rap was starting to go hard, I guess I was the ‘anti’”
Monch turned it down?
Nah. Someone else auditioned the beat for Monch, but they just played the loop. I heard the joint and I was like, ‘I need this!’ This was a year prior to me signing the deal. He didn’t use it, so I was like, ‘Let me take a whiz at it.’ When the album came around, he still didn’t use it, Buck found the loop – I let him hear the joint and he found out what it was. Buck hooked it up and that was the history on that.
How come you didn’t use the obvious Rakim sample for the hook?
I tried that – it didn’t work. [laughs] Way ahead of you homey!
Was that single popular from the jump?
It caught on quick. Anytime you put something different into the marketplace it catches on. It’s either talked about with good intentions or bad intentions, and I just lucked-up with that and it caught on. At the time when gangster rap was starting to go hard, I guess I was the ‘anti.’
Along with Jeru’s ‘Come Clean,’ it seemed like a reaction to stuff getting corny.
Definitely. It just seemed like everybody was trying to follow this certain type of lifestyle and they figured it was gonna sell records for ‘em. Everybody’s trying to follow the same blueprint and it just wasn’t cool.
“That record was just dedicated to people who lost people, if from natural causes or by violence…I’d rather die of natural cases than a violent death.”
‘O-Zone’ was my favorite record from that album. What can you tell me about that?
That was a demo record turned into a different song. Different beat, different lyrics – but the premise, the theme of it is the same. That was one of my strongest demo records when I did it. The original joint didn’t fit the music that me and Buck was doing, that was a previous producer. It wasn’t wack, but it didn’t fit into the scheme and the format of what we had recorded, so we just revamped the name and gave it different lyrics and a beat.
I noticed you changed the lyrics on the remix version of ‘Born 2 Live’?
That was dedicated to a childhood friend, but thinking about it later on I thought, ‘I’m not the only person on the planet. Everybody loses someone.’ That record was just dedicated to people who lost people, if from natural causes or by violence. I couldn’t fit everything I was thinking about on the record, but I’d rather die of natural cases than a violent death. It was stuff that I know people can relate to and probably could touch on on their own, rhyming over the instrumental or talking over it.
“…we’re bound to have some type of anarchy at some point. The planet is in for it, I don’t mean just America.”
‘Constables’ was another strong record that’s still relevant today.
It’s scary, man. You put words in the air and it comes to life sometimes, and I’m not the only artist that’s done it over the years. If there are good police in the police department, you won’t know about it cos you’re looking at all of them the same way. I had a Benz before I had a record deal, I was chilling so I used to get pulled over a lot. That’s how that song came about, those are real life experiences. Young black man with a Benz. Just things that people of color go through everyday, not even in a car. Just walking you might get stopped, or if you have a hoody on. I touched on a lot of shit on that record and a lot of that shit came to life, and it’s scary, because history keeps repeating itself. Sean Bell, Diallo, the Brown kid. A kid just got shot over here in the projects of East New York by a cop in the stairwell. It’s so much stuff going on, we’re bound to have some type of anarchy at some point. The planet is in for it, I don’t mean just America. It’s happening everywhere else but America, we haven’t had no anarchy yet. It’s coming.
People are at breaking point?
Yeah, it is. We haven’t had a war in the States forever, something crazy is bound to happen here, cos too much shit has happened. Especially to kids.
Do you feel like Wild Pitch did a good job with your album?
I felt good. I got the biggest deal on Wild Pitch at that time, I sold 100-something thousand records. That was a good thing back then! That was a big record! I don’t like comparing my shit to other people’s albums, but it was just as important as Illmatic, it was just as important as Enta Da Stage when those records came out. Illmatic was a perfect album, I think Enta Da Stage was a perfect album too. My album was a very introspective album, and that’s what you’re supposed to do in hip-hop – everybody’s supposed to be different. If I sound like Illmatic, I guarantee nobody would have messed with me. That was the Fruit Loops of the game back then, you had different flavors. Illmatic was that perfect in-between, under, on the top, on the side – it was a perfect box. Nine songs? C’mon man. With my shit I was giving them my perspective on my life and what I see. I’m from that cream of the crop – Wu-Tang, all that.
They had a major behind them, EMI, but EMI were focused on Arrested Development. When they figured out my name was ringing bells it was too late. I was on tour for two years after that album dropped, so I was eating.
“…it probably would have made me look like a sell-out to the people who bought or supported my shit, so a lot of stuff I just turned away.”
That’s a long time to tour. Was that because the money is so good from doing shows?
That record was bigger than me! You would’ve thought I went gold! I was part of a booking agent, William Morris, back then. It was crazy! I toured almost two years until I got my next deal. I was doing soundtracks, I was doing all type of stuff. It just showed me the power of what I did. I told them [Wild Pitch], ‘Either let me go or let’s make a move. You have to up the ante now.’ You know how that go – they didn’t up the ante, so I was out.
Did you go to Payday because Show & AG already had a situation over there?
Nah, that had nothing to do with it. Show and A got locked-up for alleged murder at the time, the Goodfellas album.
When Show was accused of shooting their road manager?
Both of them! They both was locked up. They had nothing to do with that, but their movement was slowed down because of that. I went over there because my manager at the time was an A&R there and that was just the move for me. I actually had a chance for Bad Boy management, I didn’t take that. There was certain things that came down that didn’t fit what I did, and it probably would have made me look like a sell-out to the people who bought or supported my shit, so a lot of stuff I just turned away. I couldn’t do the ‘anti’ and then flip the script and get into the establishment, looking like, ‘I’m done with it.’
That album had a different tone than the first one.
Jewelz was a growing process. I wasn’t the same artist in ‘97/’98 as opposed to ‘94, I didn’t have the same outlook on stuff. The music had to change, the introspection on Word…Life was a bit more jazzy as far as the music, it was a jazz/soulful feel, whereas Jewelz I had Preem on the album – Preem oversaw a lot of the mixing – I had Finesse on the album, I had OGee on the album, I had Show on the album, Buck, Beatminerz. I was trying to expand, but no expand too much where people don’t feel you. People shouldn’t make records to please the people, you should make what you feel, and if they feel it they’ll gravitate towards the vibration. I just do music the way I feel, even if they don’t like it. If I’m in a negative space? That’s what’s gonna come out. If I’m in a positive and a negative? It’s gonna balance out like that. Not to say that I don’t care if people don’t like my stuff, but I make it for me first.
Those two Freddie Foxxx songs on that album were great.
I’ve always been a Freddie Foxxx fan. That was the Showbiz hook-up at that time. I told him I needed Freddie Foxxx on my album and he said, ‘Oh, that’s my man.’ We fell into a brotherly relationship right off the top. Foxxx came up with alot of stuff on those songs, he came up with ‘Win The G’ and ‘M.U.G.’ Those are his brainchilds.
“We could’ve did a better record than the Worldwide, we all know that.”
It seems like the DITC crew were really hitting their stride as far as the production they contributed to that album.
We were starting to get that momentum. After me and Big L promoted the Jewelz album on tour, the European one, is when he passed away. After that, everything crashed. Just memories of him always smiling, always having fun. Him teasing everybody, cracking jokes – that was him.
He seemed like he would have been nice with the snaps.
Yeah! When it came to the crew he was ‘funny man.’ He could get under your skin, he could make you mad or he could make you laugh.
That memorial show at Tramps in 1999 must have been difficult.
It was difficult but we had to keep pushing. Just picture losing your little brother – he was the baby of the crew. It just threw everybody for a loop. He was the youngest and I was next to the the youngest. Plus he was about to be a star.
What happened between then and your third album?
Me and L were about to do a group. Show had decided to break the branch of Diggin’ and keep it fresh. One of the records was ‘Get Yours,’ that was the joint on the soundtrack for the Jet-Li movie [Black Mask]. That was the first song we recorded. We just had a black cloud over us after that. When we talked about it later on, everybody felt that way. It just got dark. Plus, outside of L, guys that didn’t rap but were part of our crew – a few people passed away around the same time – so we were going through it. We were never the same after that. The whole air just changed.
Do you feel like that black cloud affected the DITC album?
I don’t think Show liked that album, production-wise. We was missing something, and that was L! Now you have to change-up your formula. It’s like The Temptations losing one of their members – you have to get somebody to fill-in who sings exactly the way that person sings – there’s no replacing L. He’s irreplaceable. It just felt different, and it showed on the album. We could’ve did a better record than the Worldwide, we all know that.
“I don’t make music for people, I make it for myself. If people enjoy it? It’s cool. If they don’t? There’s nothing you can do once you put it out there.”
There were still some great records on there, like ‘The Enemy.’
Right, but Preem produced that. We had some records on there that Diggin’ members produced – and it was a couple of joints on the album, I’m not gonna take away from the album, the album is dope – but we always strive for perfection. I think Show’s mom was sick at the time, we were just going through so much shit at the time that it affected our music.
Can we talk about your third album?
That was just me putting my feelings down. ‘Bon Appetit! Enjoy! You either enjoy it or you don’t.’ I think a lotta people right now are just coming around to it, but I got a lotta backlash for the album. A lotta people ain’t like the album, but I really didn’t give a fuck. Like I said, I don’t make music for people, I make it for myself. If people enjoy it? It’s cool. If they don’t? There’s nothing you can do once you put it out there. Can’t make excuses for it.
What was the story with ‘Bonafide’ with Jay-Z?
Jay’s my homey, I got him on the record for free. That’s actually for the Jewelz album and it didn’t make it. I caught him fresh off that Hard Knock Life album, which was two million at the time, and the label used to give me problems about paying for artists. They couldn’t understand how I pulled off Jay coming in D&D. Me, Preem and all of us all see each other on the regular, this is not no industry bullshit now. You walk in D&D, you liable to see anybody that records up there, so it becomes kind of a family thing – M.O.P., Nas, Slick Rick, G Rap, whoever. I got Jay for free on the project. Did I clear it? Is the question, but he never bothered me about it.
Can you set the record straight about the Starchild project?
The Starchild record wasn’t even finished. Somebody paid me to do a project – work for hire – and the album wasn’t done. That’s unfinished material, but dude put it out anyway. It’s cool now, because it’s a cult classic, but it could have easily backfired. This is what I wanted him to understand – instead of you pushing somebody to finish something, make sure it’s right before you put it out there, because once you put it out there there’s no taking it back. Once it’s in the public’s ear and they love it or hate it? That’s that. I was upset behind that, but he had paid me for the project so it was really nothing I could do about it. He only released it in Japan, which he didn’t let me know. But I found out, that’s one of my biggest markets. It’s like, ‘Wow, you thought I wasn’t gonna find out about that?’ I couldn’t even perform it because I didn’t have the instrumentals at the time. We settled our differences and he got me the instrumentals and I perform a lot of the stuff when I’m on the road, so it’s all good.
Which three songs would you play to someone that had never heard your music before?
I never thought about that. ‘Time’s Up,’ ‘My World,’ ‘O-Zone,’ probably.
What’s next for you?
I’m finishing up an album with Apathy right now, we’ve got a group called Perestroika, it’s gonna be crazy.