New York based emcee Oxygen, sometimes Ox The Architect, is one of those emcees who's been paying his dues for years, dropping true quality music on a fairly regular basis. Releasing his first solo 12" back in 1990, as Jonzhaft The Psychopath, and as part of the early '90s jazz/hip-hop fusion scene with the group Jazz Not Jazz, Oxygen is one of the underground scene's best kept secrets. Fellow artists like DJ Spinna, Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Sadat X, and Kurious already recognizes the name and know the skills behind it, yet many listeners have yet to discover the true school hip-hop that Ox The Architect embodies. But things are starting to look up as more and more heads all over the world are starting to embrace his work with former crew Sputnik Brown, his duo Spox-PhD with DJ Spinna, and his latest work with super group Soundsci. The latter just dropped one of 2012's best releases in the form of "Formula 99", so if you haven't heard that yet make sure to grab it/check it out ASAP. If you know the music, it's now time to learn to know the man as Ox has graced The Lost Tapes with a very informative interview; and if you have yet to learn about the music, hopefuly this interview will help you wake up and smell the coffee!
claaa7: First of all many thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to do this interview for The Lost Tapes. It is extremely appreciated!
Oxygen: Thank you. It's an honor and pleasure to be granted this interview.
c7: For those not yet too familiar with your music and many projects, could you give us a quick breakdown of which crews you currently rep and what aliases you go by?
Ox: Sure, I go by the name Oxygen most of the time. Sometimes I use 'Ox The Architect' or my first ever emcee name 'Just Divine'. I'm part of the groups Sputnik Brown, Soundsci and SPOX PhD with DJ Spinna. In my PAST rhyme-life I recorded under the name 'Jonzhaft The Psycopath' and 'Jon Shaft' as part of the group Jazz Not Jazz, both in the early 1990s.
c7: Many emcees would be perfectly happy just repping one crew haha; you instead have gone full throttle to get your name out there, and it definitely seems to be working!
Ox: Thanks man. I have to give praise to my parents for instilling this work ethic in me. I learned early by watching them. For me, it's all about quality over quantity. I don't accept every project that is presented to me, but if I choose to work on anything I make sure I give it my absolute best and work hard at it.
c7: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're an emcee originally from Long Island, right? How did that surrounding inspire you in first grabbing a microphone, and how old were you when you first started rhyming?
Ox: That's correct. My area and a few of the immediate towns surrounding have bred some of the finest emcees, singers, and musicians in the industry. Some of the most notable are Rakim, Supreme Force (Freddie Foxxx 1st group), De La Soul, Too Poetic, Groove B. Chill, Bolaji, J.V.C. F.O.R.C.E., EPMD, Craig Mack, Keith Murray, LL Cool J (who is originally from my hometown of North Babylon), Tone Kapone from Def Squad, Resident Alien... The list goes on and on. There were also some ill DJ crews as well. This whole melting pot of style constantly flowing through the air by the mid-80's was crazy. But way before then, back in the early '80s, my first inspirations were the combination of a local DJ crew called Fantasy, Inc. & one of my older sisters best friends named Greg Rawls (RIP). Fantasy, Inc. used to set up their sound system on the next block over from me, and a few random emcees would hop on the mic and get loose. Then I would notice many of the emcees also spun records as well. So for me, becoming a DJ and emcee kind of happened at the same time based on seeing this. I would say I was around 11 or 12 when I caught the bug. It was Rawls who fine tuned them both for me. He was the first older guy that "allowed" me to touch his turntables. With Fantasy, Inc. that was out of the question unless you were crew. Greg would also hop into the corner ciphers when my friends and I would be out there practicing our little rhymes. I miss him a lot.
c7: You're part of at least three crews that specializes in a certain brand of hip-hop; one that I would like to call modern true school hip-hop. Do you think that's a fitting description of the music you strive to make?
Ox: Well, I'm not sure that I would label it anything. What I strive to make is simply SOUL music. My writing stems from the connection a beat has with my spirit. So at the end of the process, it's all deemed as soul music to me. With all the groups I've worked with, there was always strong emphasis on the writing. Many songs that come out these days you can instantly feel the disconnect artists have with their music, which leads to the consumer having no connection with it either. I just want my songs to stand the test of time. Something you can go back to, and have some kind of memory about the first time you heard them.
c7: I really like your take on that! Your latest endeavor is as part of the group Soundsci, which is a quintet if I'm not mistaken? Y'all just released our incredible debut album "Formula 99" to much critical acclaim. Did the release meet the expectations you were hoping for?
Ox: Yes, Soundsci is (now) a five man crew. As far as the album, it definitely met my expectations both sonically and the way people are responding to it. We don't have any major distribution set up for it, which we're in the process of trying to change that. Still in all, the buzz has been growing and we're quite pleased.
c7: What is the meaning behind the album title, "Formula 99"?
Ox: "Formula 99" basically describes the combination of the sound we've created as a unit with us all being elements of different groups. 1999, you can say, was also the year in which the broader sound of rap music started to cross over dramatically. What we wanted to do was not so much stay stuck in the '90s, but bring that whole vibe into the future with us as we build our catalog. Most of the album was complete before I added on with the group. When I heard the tracks that had already been laid down for the album, plus the impressive "Dig For Victory" EP, I knew I needed to be a part of it in some way.
c7: Ah ok, that explains why you had so few verses on the LP compared to Audessey and U-George, which is something I was curious about. How did you officially hook up with these guys and become a full-time member?
Ox: Right, the group was already in motion by the time I added on late last year (2011). I had actually been friends with both Ollie Teeba and Jonny Cuba for a few years now. Actually the beat for the song "Formula 99" Jonny had submitted to my former group Sputnik Brown a couple of years back to rock on. We never got the chance to use it, an he was saying he could use it for this upcoming project he was working on. I did fall in love with that beat the first time I heard it, and I was a little heart broken when he snatched it back, haha. I finally met Jonny in person during my trip to London in 2010 out at Plan B in Brixton. I think it was then I basically BEGGED him to let me drop a verse on the beat once he knew what he was doing with it, and it all panned out in the end. Teeba I met initially through building on Myspace. I had linked up with him on a couple of occasions here in NYC while he was out for some DJ gigs. From there, he reached out to me and Sputnik Brown to open up a show for Herbaliser at Knitting Factory back in 2008, and we stayed in contact ever since. Tone (Audessey) and U-George I met just a year or so ago, however it seems I've known them forever. I've always been a fan of the music Aud dropped with Mass Influence & Geo with The Hemisphere. I love working with all these gentlemen.
c7: To me, all your verses on the album ("In a Flash", "Formula 99", "Ill Dialect") are true standouts; Is it safe to assume that you will be featured a lot more on forthcoming Soundsci projects?
Ox: Thanks. All the songs I have verses on that you mentioned had Audessey's verses on them already and were mostly produced, so really I just fed off the energy that was built into the tracks before I got there. We have been in the lab laboring hard on the follow-up joints, and yes it's safe to say I'll be featured on plenty more of what the world is about to be blessed with from Soundsci.
c7: When can fans expect to hear some of this follow-up material you've been working on?
Ox: Sometime around early this fall, we have the next EP on the way from the group. Geo is presently working on his solo LP, and we've teamed up for some heat on that. Tone and I have also linked up for a couple of outside projects as well, so be on the lookout for those. Everything will be released on vinyl for all you diehards out there. We're working man.
c7: That's fantastic news, and also much props for being part of keeping vinyl alive. While we're still on the topic of "Formula 99", I have to ask you what's your personal favorite record on the LP, and why?
Ox: Wow, that's a tough one. I LOVE that remix of "Remedy". The way Tone's verses, cadence, and voice is weaving through that beat feels so incredibly right! Then the scratches to cap it off... Just beautifully done. "Da Livin'" is real fly too. Geo got busy on that one. Of course you said ONE, but that entire album is just cleverly balanced out and each track has it's own uniqueness about it.
c7: No doubt man. As you mentioned that "Remedy" remix though, I really wish that would've made the vinyl set. "Give Thanks" is one of my own favorites, but the former was just such a dope closer too, although it of course had been released in original form on "Dig For Victory".
Ox: I THINK that remix was just an exclusive bonus for the digital sales. Not too sure. I didn't have anything to do with the track selection process.
c7: You was also a member of the crew Sputnik Brown and works with DJ Spinna as SPOX PhD. All these groups have released some absolutely terrific material, but is it possible for you to say which one of these crews you enjoy working with the most?
Ox: Honestly, no. Each one hold a special place in my heart. Sputnik Brown I was with from the birth of it until we decided to let it go. I appreciate everything about that group from the creative process to the shows to every high point and every low point. Those are my brothers for life. We did a lot of hanging out together outside of being creative, so it made it that much easier when it came time to work. With SPOX PhD, Spinna and I very rarely create together in the same space. His schedule is bananas, so I hardly get to see him. But I'm a fan of this music first, so just being able to create ANYTHING with him is a personal blessing. With Soundsci, I'm still growing with. I've only been officially down for just a few months and the fact that we all basically live in different regions of the earth doesn't slow down our process one bit. We just have this natural understanding of our direction without even having to discuss anything. What's bugged is I haven't even met Tone and Geo in person yet. Crazy right?
c7: Haha, yeah that is weird, yet, as you say, the chemistry is there to be heard on the records.