Oh No Talks About His Albums, Having Madlib as an Older Brother, Working with Alchemist & MF Doom


Influenced by his mother, a songwriter, his father, an acclaimed R&B singer, Oh No took upon music at an early age. Plus, with a government name like Michael Jackson, and an older brother who's the acclaimed California beatsmith Madlib, he was—pretty much—destined to become a musician. From an early age, he mastered the turntables, then he quickly moved on to the SP-12, SP-1200, and eventually to the MPC. While he gives off a laid-back composure, his music is ominous, cynical, and ignites mean-mugging emotions that's perfect as soundtrack for bullies administering beatdowns. Active as a producer, rapper, and one-half of the eccentric group Gangrene (with Alchemist), Oh No consistently churns out new materials that are straight head knockers. With his latest release Ohnomite in stores, XXL caught up with the Oxnard native and spoke about his origins, and broke down his musical catalog... —Jaeki Cho (@JaekiCho)

Michael_Jackson_Oh No

Being Raised in a Musical Family:

Oh No_Musical Family

Oh No: "Childhood, it was music everywhere. You know my sister and Madlib, my brother; they used to constantly play music. Me and Lib shared a room too so it was like while I’m sitting there playing games he was constantly playing all of this Run-DMC and all the tight shit—you know, Rakim and—just everything. And pops [Otis Jackson Sr.] was a singer, you know, he’d come around when he comes home, you know. I used to be like the DJ, rewind that back four bars this and that. It’s just like a lot of music everywhere, just non-stop music everyday. Everywhere you’re singing. We’d be singing about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches."

Having Madlib as an Older Brother:


Oh No: "[Madlib’s] actually five and a half years older than me. We didn’t necessarily go to school together or nothing, he was just—he was big brother, you know? I was just everywhere. Anywhere he was at, I was trying to be there too. Just extra young, just trying to do everything. I used to just sit in his room, when we finally got the sampler and everything—it was supposed to be mom’s. It was mom’s sampler ‘cause she writes music and stuff, and Lib got to put it in his room, so like anytime he used it I was in the room watching him just do everything. When he got his SP-12, I watched that. When he got his SP-1200—the deal with my parents was when you got your SP-1200, you have to give your brother the SP-12. ‘Cause I was always using it, so he ended up giving that to me. You know what? I was taking his records and stuff like—I was just doing everything. [Laughs.] And that’s at the age of 10 years old. By the time he got with the Lootpack, and I was like about 15 or 16 years old, I actually took it a lot seriously. We actually went to the music store and I got to pick out like a DAT and the board and I hooked all that shit up and got it cracking."

Signing to Stones Throw:

stones throw

Oh No: "Lootpack was a group consists of my brother, Wildchild and DJ Romes. They started doing songs with the [Tha Alkaholiks], and when they put out the EP, Wolf from Stones Throw decided to sign them. When we first did our Lootpack video, when I’m on the mic, I met Wolf and from there we established a relationship, but I still didn’t want to go that way and I ended up signing to one of Stone Throw’s ex-artists Rasco. He had a label. And from there I was trying to be down with him because he was linked with Planet Asia who was also on Stones Throw—just an ill-ass MC, just trying to work with bigger artists at the time. From there [Rasco] heard the stuff, he signed Epitome, which was me and Sauna out of Kali Wild and [Rasco] showed Wolf, and Wolf immediately wanted to buy that single. He was like, ‘I want to buy that single, in fact, I want to buy that group.’ [Rasco] ended up selling us to Wolf. [Laughs.] And then all of a sudden I’m on Stones Throw."

The Disrupt

Oh No - The Disrupt

Oh No: "I had just got my MPC in the end of ’99, and I felt like that was like my own MPC I got myself. So I started to just get back into getting my own sound, because anybody who uses the SP-12 or SP-1200 knows that they have a specific sound. They have a crunchy sound, so anything that I did it would sound like Madlib. So I went for an MP that way it didn’t sound anything like him and I could get my own shit. From there I just was making mad beats and by 2001, I had 25 songs ready to go for my album—but I was working on a bunch of different artists. By then I had linked up with LMNO and I was doing stuff for Wild Child and doing stuff with Planet Asia and all this stuff—so when I turned my album into Stones Throw, they felt like I wasn’t trying to put all my attention into my album. And honestly I felt the same way ‘cause I was really trying to work on other artists. Doing that I just put it on back burner for a couple years and just tried to get my rep up a little bit more.

"By 2003 I ended up linking up with J Dilla. I met him at the video shoot for Jaylib. We were smoking mad week and we were chopping it up, and he was telling me how he had my records and how he was a fan—I was tripping like shit. ‘You’re like one of my favorite producers ever!’ It was good chemistry right from the jump. And he gave me a beat tape, it had ‘Move’ on there, that beat, it was like a no brainer—let me snatch that up. Once I did that, I returned the album in like ‘I’m done now’, I’m not going to do no more. [Stones Throw] heard that shit, it was like, ‘Oh that’s a go. That’s the single right there. Let’s move, let’s move.’ It was a go from there."

Exodus into Unheard Rhythms

Oh No Exodus

Oh No: "Basically right when I finished my Disrupt album, I got hit up to do a remix out of a Galt MacDermot song. They just asked me to flip any song. They were like, ‘You should flip a song, and we’ll just put it on a 45.’ They sent me the joint, and I ended up making 27 beats in like three days. And I was amped. I’m feeling good or whatever, and I told them that it should be a compilation or something. Let me do a compilation, and I’ll get MCs that I’ve actually been talking to. I just recently met Posdnous, and I just Buckshot, so it was just a no brainer. Once they gave me the green light, I just started emailing beats out, I started meeting cats in the studios, and just working with them. I had recently done a couple joints for Murs, and I had a joint that was just sitting there for a year. ‘I might as well put them to a Galt MacDermot beat, and it fit perfectly. Shit, I had just worked on LMNO’s album and he came to the studio and did the 'Hank' joint. Everybody was showing mad love. It was crazy ‘cause my first album was just my crew, and then making a compilation album, linking up with different people. And they respect me for me, not just because I’m Madlib’s brother or whoever. It was a good thing. We ended up making a lot of music. There are a lot of songs that didn’t even make it. I had songs with Mr. Lif and Akrobatic.

"But since I did the 27 songs in three days I started making more beats, I started making better beats. So I was like, ‘Well, maybe I can get two albums out of it.’ Maybe I can do two albums ‘cause having 50 songs on an album just ain’t going to work. But I never followed up with that. And I ended up making 50-something beats out of them Galt MacDermot things.

"I’ve never had too much patience for studios. I don’t like sitting—I feel like we’re all professionals, I don’t want to be in there and hear a dude take 50 takes for a verse. Not saying no—I just don’t have time for that. I’ve been through that; I just don’t want to deal with that no more. I just feel like if you had the beat prior to the shit and everybody wrote the verse, you should have everything done. If it’s not the way I want it, I just tell them, ‘Ay, it ain’t right, you need more energy.’ But everybody that jumped on the Exodus, I didn’t have to tell them nothing."



Oh No: "The Oxperiment was my third Stones Throw album. And with that album I wanted to do an instrumental album, because I’d done the little record, I’d done the compilation. And everything that I hear from everybody was, ‘Yo, the raps are dope! Your features are dope and all, but we want the beats. Where the beats at?’ People were hungry for beats. So from there I went to a club that Egon was DJing at and he was playing the Selda Bağcan, I can’t even tell you the name of it off hand. And once I heard that I was like, ‘What’s up with that? You need to make a beat out of that, let me rap to it or something.' And he was like, ‘Man, you want to make a beat out of that, I’ll give you that.’ ‘Cause being in Oxnard, ain’t too many record shops out here. I can drive an hour and a half and go to Amoeba, which I do, or I can go to the local record shops, which I do, but to find these specific, rare records, you got to go around the world like Egon. Like a real digger. If you want the realest shit, you either got to go around the world, or you got to have someone that goes around the world and does that, but doesn’t make beats. If they make beats, they’ll flip them shits themselves. So I went to [Egon’s] spot, and I picked a few things up, I brought it back, and once again, I made a bunch of beats real fast. I ended up showing [Egon] things to put out, and he was down. So from there he went and got the rights to a bunch of the stuff, and shit, it was a go. All kinds of Turkish, Lebanese, and Italian loops.

"Every project that I do I make mad beats. I’ll make 30 beats I’ll give‘em the best from the 30. So I ended up making 60 to 70 beats out of that shit. As I progress it gets better. Most people when they make beats they’ll go for the most obvious thing first. I don’t ever do that. I always go for the most non-obvious thing first to make it like a puzzle. To give myself more challenge, and then after that, shit, what’s left? I like to get the hard shit out the way first."


11183 JACKET

Oh No: "I have a lot of Ethiopian music. I’ve collected and people have passed me stuff. Like I said, I’m either just sitting in the lab—when I go record shopping, I do go kill it though. With the Ethiopium stuff, once again I wanted to put out another beat tape and I was talking with Egon, ‘cause he has Now Again label and they have a lot of music that they’ve been acquiring and being able to license out. And being that they talk to groups and stuff it’s like, I was seeing if I could use a sample to flip. And they’ll talk to them, work out a deal, and then boom. So he actually has been talking to them a lot and all kinds of different Ethiopian cats. He got some of their music, so I was l like, ‘Shit, pass that along. If you ain’t going to use it, let me abuse it.’ [Chuckles.] So fucking—he passed it along, I flipped a bunch of shit, and Ethiopium was born. Straight up. It’s just raw shit, raw beats. I probably rapped to half of the shit, Mos Def probably rapped to half of the shit. He called me up telling me he just did a couple more songs to that shit.

"Yeah, 'The Funk' was used in a Mountain Dew ad. I guess Mountain Dew hit up Now Again about some music and shit, they passed them my Ethiopium and a bunch of other different music from all the artists that they worked with and shit. They just so happened to pick 'The Funk.' From there it just got a lot of recognition. A lot of recognition comes out of commercials. It’s always nice to have a commercial with some raw shit. Most of that shit is fucking candy pop, garbage. Just like some shit on TV. Cats make beats for TV, that shit’s garbage. I use loops for TV [stuff] and I get everybody paid. I get the artist paid, I’m getting paid, and label’s getting paid. Everybody’s happy, that’s the way to do it."

Linking Up with the Alchemist:


Oh No: "Yo, so Alchemist—it’s crazy. I don’t really know how I met him. My man Bull Dog—he’s this OG gangster in Oxnard. But he’s also a DJ. He’s a gangster slash DJ. He’s been putting a lot of mash-ups with Alchemist’s music and my music for years, and finally I just happened to have a show with Alchemist and he linked us up. From there, it’s been gravy. He’s been cracking his whip; he’s been having us in the studio doing all kinds of shit. Like we learned how to do flips and shit now. We’re acrobatic with loops and shit.

"We click so well, ‘cause the weed. It’s the smoke. He can handle the smoke. Not too many people can handle the smoke. I’m not talking about any kind of smoke, I’m talking ‘bout smoke like the old trains used to—steam smoke. The shit that’ll have you pass out, he can handle that. When you can sit in a room like that for five hours with that kind of smoke, open the door and see everybody passed out, but there’s a new album made, it’s crazy. If I don’t get high I will break someone’s face. I’m a mad man if I’m not high. Even when I’m high I’m not really high yet. For some reason I’m just never high enough."

Gutter Water


Oh No: "We were taking shots back and forth. He was punching me in my face, and I’d punch him in his face. He knocked me out. I had two black eyes, a missing tooth. I had to get all kinds of shit repaired. He cheated and kicked me in my ribs. I just knew he was the OG from there. Alchemist, man. He’s crazy. Shit, he has crazy strength. You hear his beats? You hear how evil them beats are. You can’t just scrap with him. It was a sparring session. No gloves, glass on the fist. He fucked me up too many times. Every album. He’s literally—he’s fucking me up, man. I got to get back in the beat gym.

"The reason we called it Gangrene, stems from being out in Mobile, Alabama. We went to Mobile, Alabama and we happened to go by this tree. This tree that supposedly—it has a pot of gold and a leprechaun gave us the name Gangrene and from there on out, it’s no longer Alchemist and Oh No, you guys are now named Gangrene. And we were like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ We just kept smoking with [the leprechaun] and it just made sense. We just ran with it. Initially, it was just a couple songs, mash ups—acapellas and instrumentals being thrown out by Bull Dog, and those songs just sounded so good, and it was like, ‘Shit, we might as well be a group.’ Certain things triggered the events in time.

"It was called Gutter Water because we had the fucking mastered, ready to go, about two years prior to it coming out. And I was on my way to the spot to turn it in and I fucking dropped it right in the fucking gutter and it was fucking rainy, it was fucking nasty sewer water. Yo, the shit got fucked up, but it ended up still working, and all the music was completely different. So we’re like Gutter Water. That’s it. It’s hard to explain. Anything that I do solo I can explain, but when it comes to Gangrene, there are so many elements involved, different people involved, magicians and wizards, and all these old heads and fucking leprechauns—I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just puffing on these crazy leaves and albums magically appear.

"At the time there was just a lot of drugs. And everybody around me was just taking drugs. I started taking drugs too, taking all kinds of different medications—illegal, legal, and just going to a whole different place. So 'Take Drugs' stands out a lot to me."

Vodka & Ayahuasca

Ayawaska_Vodka_Oh No

Oh No: "That came from one of the local hood shamans. After I got back from Brazil with my partner and brother Alchemist, someone came over and I had a bunch of Vodka bottles, so I was getting fucked up. I was on one. And [the hood shaman] ended up pouring all of these bottles inside of a big-ass pot and he started throwing different leaves inside of it. This local shaman named Copar. He’s from a crew called LBG out here, and Bull Dog is also in that. But he came over—yo, he was literally cooking up a fucking brew. I bottled that shit up and I took that to Santa Monica, and I shared it with [Alchemist], and from there we just had trips. A lot of hallucinations, shit. First thing I remember was like fighting again. Like mad fighting. Blacking out. Wake up, gladiator music. I went and got a paint can and started fucking spraying up the walls in there and that shit got so fucking foggy that—I don’t know just different elements created that album. It was a lot of different craziness, but Copar definitely set it off.

"We called it Vodka & Ayahuasca ‘cause I believe that’s what [Copar] mixed with it. There could’ve been a few other elements, some MSG, but yeah we could’ve called it whatever. MSG and fucking Gin, but you know it ain’t going to work. We were dealing with Vodka and ayhuasca. It just fit how the music was bubbling and forming together, you know. The steams from it were just crazy. Alchemist wasn’t there when [the shaman] cooked it up. But I later brought him down there to cook it again. I took that bottle, you know we put in a big ass jar, took it over there and we divvied it up. Then eight days later I had a beer, everything changed. My facial features changed. Everything just changed, and the new album was born. I shitted so much during this album I can’t even—oh my God, I was constantly shitting on this album. I can’t even tell you. I had a mic booth set up in the bathroom, right by the toilet. Just going in man.

"‘Livers for Sell’ stands out. Because I felt like with that song we’re giving back to the community. We’re giving body parts back to the world. It’s like Robin Hood; we’re taking from the bad people and we’re giving livers out to those who need it. We’re supplying it to them, because in the black market, you know it’s needed. It’s big money in that. So we’re trying to give it back to the community and make a little change at the same time."

Drug’s Influence On His Music and His Name’s Origin:

Oh No_Drugs

Oh No: "I would say about 900% of my music is influenced by drugs. Even though I may not take drugs, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not in my system. It’s not flushing out of me. There’s no break for any flush. No flushing. The only flushing is probably when I’m shitting in the toilet. That’s the only flushing. Other than that, it stays in the system. About 902%. I think I could make music without drugs. Honestly, I think if I did that it would be even harder and it would be more aggressive. Like maybe instead of “Take Drugs” I could be like ‘Kill someone!’ It’s probably extra crazy because when I’m not high, I’m extra crazy. Hence, oh no! It’s like, ‘Oh no!’ That’s people’s reaction. Nah, Michael Jackson. MJ serious."



Oh No: "I mean there’s over 20 artists on the album. And again, I did a lot of songs for it. It’s all samples derived from Rudy Ray Moore’s catalog, the movies like Dolomite and Human Tornado. It’s just a real crazy hip-hop extravaganza experience that everyone should try once in his or her lifetime. [Chuckles.] Each project I try to do different. Like with my solo projects, you know, there are video game samples in there, it’s soul shit, rock shit, that’s like me. Ohnomite is just the funky side of me. If anybody watched the movies, it’s really funky and it has crazy electro type of stuff. I just wanted to keep it real true to its element without having to say Ruby Ray Moore or Dolomite in every song, ‘Cause it’s an album too. It’s more tribute to the music and his legacy rather than just ripping off his lines and saying his lines.

"Honestly, the song that stands out the most is 'Dues N Dont’s' featuring Jose James and Phife Dawg. They blessed me. I reached out to Phife and it was no problem. I had actually already had a couple joints with Phife a few years back, and then I had just recently worked with Jose James who was a jazz vocalist. It has its hard moments and you know, that was like a break from all that. It has a more mellow, jazzy type of feel that most people don’t really get to hear from me. Since I’m always giving them some smack-the-shit-out-of-you-type music. But definitely 'Dues and Dont’s' we’re talking about the rules and our guidelines we go by within music.

"'3 Dollas' was a crazy-ass beat that I sent out to Doom and he fucking demolished it. Anything Doom touches is pretty much a wrap. I sent him a few beats, I sent him a couple beats, but they were like the hard, smack-the-shit-out-you-type shit. But once I sent him the second batch, which was the zanier one, I got it back right away. And shit, I just laid some vocals right after him ‘cause his shit was kind of short, ‘cause the beat was short. He rapped as long as the beat was, and usually that’s what people usually do. I don’t usually make my beats extra long unless it’s a lot of change ups and switch ups. I don’t want to hear it for five minutes. One minute and 30 seconds, that’ll make them hungry. The whole album, it has 19 songs, but each song is like two minutes max. I like to keep it smooth, everything flowing real smooth, and let’s go. Probably about a month from now, I’m going to drop the Doctor Knows Tornado funk, which is basically all the beats from Ohnomite plus another 20 more. Some people like the rap, some people like just the beats. For all the people that like the rappers, here’s an extravaganza of all my favorite rappers that’s most likely their favorite rappers too, boom."