Ohmega Watts - Music By Design
Friday, 16 November 2007
Campbell was born to Jamaican parents in Brooklyn, then moved to Queens. He attended college in Florida, where his folks, fed up with New York’s winters, eventually settled. Today Ohmega resides in, of all places, Portland, Oregon. Needless to say, it’s not a city identified with rap.
Influenced by the mid-era hip hop of the Native Tongues, Ohmega started MCing in the early ’90s and, towards the decade’s end, ventured into production. A member of the Lightheaded crew, the MC created an initial buzz with A Request, featuring The Lifesavas. The party-flavoured track garnered support across the music divide – even the acid jazz Gilles Peterson dug it.
Ohmega signed an album deal with Ubiquity, dropping The Find two years ago.
The MC offers a more intimate work in Watts Happening. He’s pushed the boundaries as a producer of organic hip hop, deploying greater ‘live’ instrumentation. The MC is joined by quality underground guests – including labelmate Shawn Lee.
In future Ohmega’s desire is to produce more – he considers it his ‘higher love’ over MCing – and, as such, he’s forever seeking interesting sounds. “I pick up and dig for records wherever I’m at – anywhere I travel. I love to DJ but, out of my records, I’m also getting ideas and influences from the ’60s on to now,” he says.
As a lyricist, Ohmega doesn’t shy away from the ‘conscious’ tag. He writes about ‘day-to-day life’, his struggles and those of others, and pressing global issues. “I look for inspiration in everything – it’s not like my goal where I just look to something and say, OK, how are you gonna inspire me- – but I’m inspired by things around: events, places, people, situations and scenarios.”
The MC is versatile. By day, Ohmega is employed as a graphic designer – he actually designed for Ubiquity’s clothing line – and, surprisingly, he’s loath to forfeit that gig. “I’m just an artist – visual and musical – and they’re both a form and a way I can express myself. Designing is a great way to be able to do it.
“I’ve been freelancing for the longest time – only recently I got a stable job, because musically, unless I’m touring all the time, I can’t just make a living off that. But, if I’m doing more of what I’m saying I wanna do as a producer – producing other records and remixing projects – If the tables turn more that way, which it’s beginning to, then I don’t need to have a day-to-day design job.
“I’m still gonna design, because it is something I love. When I’m burnt-out on doing music, I’m doing my design, and vice-versa – when I’m burnt-out doing design, I’m doing music. They both inform each other. When I’m doing my design work, I’m listening to music – whether it’s my own, records, or even new music that’s out – and it inspires me with ideas or just keeps me fresh on what’s being done and how I could approach my form of music.”
Nas prompted debate with his provocative Hip Hop Is Dead. Many have complained of a vacuum in commercial hip hop with endlessly regurgitated gangsta rap. Ohmega is disturbed by the prevailing nihilism. “I don’t care much about the mainstream realm. The only thing I do [care about] is just how destructive I think it really is to society, and even to places around the world, because there’s a lot of music that comes out and it has this self-prideful-type mentality as well as an ‘I don’t really care about anything’ mentality. A lot of kids are picking up on this – and it’s not a good influence.
“Also, just when breaking it down to the musical values, I don’t think there’s a lot of substance in the mainstream. I wouldn’t say that everyone is lacking substance, but the bigger percentage of them are. But the state of hip hop in general, considering people making music everywhere – mainstream, commercial, underground, whatever – there is a lot of growth still happening. Hip hop is still being developed and evolving more and more.”
Ohmega believes that artists must follow their instincts - and do what they love. “I don’t make anything saying, Oh, I know if I make this, these people will be happy, and then if I make this, these people will be happy. I’m like, No – these are the things that I like.” And, at that, he is open to a wide spectrum of music. “I love a lot of different music and I love making things up – beats for breakdancers or just people who dance, and then I like slow chill-out beats, mid-tempo tracks, anything – but I make it for me first. And with any lyrics, I have some type of point or meaning, because, if I’m gonna rap, I’d rather say something than say nothing – especially since production is my higher love. If I am going to spend my time writing a rap, I’ma say something that means something. That’s my goal – and my work ethic.”
Unusually, Ohmega is on a label equated, at least here, with deep house. For an individualistic MC, therein lies Ubiquity’s appeal: the indie fosters a host of genres. “I do like the music they’ve put out – and that’s what pulled me to them,” he says. “I thought we could be a fit. They didn’t really have a specific hip hop artist, but they had a lot of great music.
“I never had any goal to blow up – I just wanna put out good music. If it never goes further than it is, I’m happy, anyway. It doesn’t matter, because, again, I just like to be able to put out things that I love.
“[Ubiquity] have a guarantee with all their albums. They’re like, We stand behind what we put out and, if this album isn’t satisfactory to you, send it back and we’ll refund you your money – or something like that, I forget how it reads. That’s a bold statement. It’s cool because they really support what they put out.”
Ohmega is heading to Australia for his premiere tour. He has a small connection to this country, having collaborated with Melbourne funk outfit The Bamboos on their Rawville LP. At any rate, knowing nothing of Australian crowds, the MC is keen to learn that an artist like Pharoahe Monche, also touring finally, can arouse passionate sentiments from hip hoppers. Ohmega speaks of “rocking it in a classic style” in his shows with a DJ. The MC will compensate for the fact that he didn’t tour behind The Find. “It’ll be a full set capturing the best of both albums all into one show.”
WHO: Ohmega Watts
WHAT: Watts Happening through Creative Vibes / Plays Oxford Art Factory
WHEN: Out now / Saturday 24 November