This article first appeared in The Alt on February 27, 2017.
It’s appropriate that Albany hip hop artist Ozymandias begins his latest EP with a five and a half minute intro that samples the 1981 movie My Dinner With Andre. The comedy-drama movie is nearly two hours of conversation between two friends in a café about a range of topics including the meaning of life, theatrical arts, and spirituality. Having a conversation with Ozymandias (Ozy or Oz for short) would go something like that, deep conversations and thought provoking analysis on just about any subject. His Facebook page is full of reflections, questions, debates, and opinions. So it’s only natural that his lyrical content matches his personality and intellect.
“I have to make sure there is a message within my music and within my content, I don’t want it to be bland,” said Ozy who has lived his entire life in Albany. “My music is all over the place, but at the same time it’s cohesive.”
One topic that is a constant subject of discussion for Ozy is the lack of support for hip hop in the Capital Region from venues, promoters, and audiences. He feels that alternative rock is more promoted in the area than hip hop which he says is being systematically snuffed out.
“They don’t really pay attention to it, they don’t really care for it, they don’t try to nurture it. They bash it, they try to demonize it” said Ozy. “They don’t really care about the artist who are putting in the effort to make it worth listening to.”
Despite the lack of support, Ozy, who has been a fixture in the underground hip hop scene in Albany for years, has seen a rise in the number of artists in the area and feels there is more than enough talent in the area to create a thriving culture. He name drops several artists in the Capital Region to be on the lookout for: Golden Child, Chris Cool Peeples, ClearMind, Benwah, Spliff, Merci Pain, Jummadal Aakhira, DieIVTy, Rashawn Green, King Jah, Mirk, AirLineJay, Yahro, WordTheThirdEye, Lucid Dream Movement, D3V, D.O.C., and Peace.
“The hip hop scene here is growing, and I believe it’s because of the youth,” Ozy said. “The youth who love hip hop, the youth who fuck with actual music and lyrics, and who actually love pushing forward the culture.”
If ever there were a time for a hip hop scene to develop in the Capital Region, it would be now. The tides of the genre are slowly moving away from what has been commonly referred to as “mumble rap” which has been defined by incoherent, simple lyrics full of flossing, violence, drugs, drinks and misogyny. A movement has been simmering lately, shifting back to a hip hop with a renewed focus on social commentary, originality and most importantly, bars.
Released last month, Ozy’s latest EP “I Don’t Know Nigga I’m Drunk,” is full of them. Ozy came up with the title after asking people in the studio what he should name the album, one woman’s response to the question stuck. The EP is just one long track, so the listener can enjoy to the whole thing without skipping through it. The project ranges from bass heavy trap style beats to ’90s influenced boom bap with lyrics that focus on self-reflection, independence, the government, the murder of Mike Brown at the hands of the police and family issues.
“When I sit and I write, I’ll stop after a couple of eight bars and I’ll go back to some old shit that I did, and I’ll connect it,” Ozy said of his creative process. “I never sit down and say, ‘Oh this is what I’ll write about.’ I just write.”
A new source of inspiration for his music is his soon to be two-year-old son Kayden, who Ozy says has changed him in so many ways.
“I love this kid with all my heart, and I would cut my arm off for him,” he said. “Watching him learning how to talk was inspirational. Watching him learning how to walk was inspirational. He was getting up and falling, getting up and falling, but he was making sure he knew how to walk. I’ve applied that to my music, because no matter what, if I fail I have to keep on going. That is something I also hope to instill in him.”
One such situation that left Ozy feeling bitter and disoriented was his performance at a showcase for the hip-hop platform Team Backpack last year. After sending them $150 and an audition tape, he was invited to perform on stage in Brooklyn along with about 100 other MCs for a measly 30 seconds.
“I didn’t feel like I belonged there because everyone was the same to me,” reflects Ozy. “Everybody had the same delivery, everybody had the same approach, I didn’t see anything different from any of the artists. It felt like Comic Con for rappers. People came there dressed up like ninjas. I felt like they should have handled it differently. Instead of giving us beats, they should have let us come out and rap to our own shit to build a better fan base because the beats they gave us weren’t even good.”
Although he found the showcase not for him, he is glad that he put the effort in, that he got a chance to navigate the New York City scene, and that he got a chance to show what he is about.
“Those people are going to see me again, and they’re going to see me more often, as long as I am focused on what my goals are,” he proclaims. “The feeling of being out there is what makes me feel good about my artistry. It made me know that I can really do this if I want to. So it was beautiful, plus they had good food.”
To download or listen to Ozymandias, head to www.soundcloud.com/oz-morris-2.
Photos by Robert Cooper