Elevator 21: Onry Ozzborn


Our twenty-first elevator Onry Ozzborn has written and recorded an average of 2 full-length albums per year for the last 13 years. Yes, reread that last sentence.

In the mid 90’s he was a founding member of the Seattle-based heavyweight rap collective Concentration Camp.  Rochester A.P., the most spiritually mature member of the collective renamed it Oldominion. Onry explains, “Oldominion meant the way the spirit or spiritual played a bigger role in the daily life of ancient times. We were emcees who would talk about and express feelings that you weren’t supposed to in rap—spiritual things.”

Onry is best known as one half of the dynamic rap duo Grayskul, which he formed with rapper JFK in 2004. Wait, is he actually best known as one half of the ethereal, hip-hop group Dark Time Sunshine, which he formed with producer Zavala?

He collaborates a lot. On the song ‘Secret Wars’ from Grayskul’s 2005 ‘Deadlivers’ album there are 13 guest vocalists. “There are so many of us, there are so many of us,” they chant in a don’t-mess-with-us sort of way.

He’s possibly North America’s most prolific rap collaborator. This discography doesn’t mention his many guest appearances:

Clearly he’s a social animal – rap music for Ozzborn is about friendship and family and interaction as well as the catharsis of sharing your passions, nightmares, hopes and hates with an audience.

He recalls his first musical partnership: ‘I was playing college baseball in Arizona and took a break, came up to Seattle to hang out with Sleep, ’cause me and Sleep grew up in New Mexico. I never went back. I quit college and everything, and focused on music.’

As a rapper he has a distinctive tone; weathered, warm, sad, determined. He has a gothic sensibility in that he creates many ‘memento mori‘ moments. There’s an obvious melancholic, even morbid streak through much of his material [which has earned him emo fans] but he is very aware that people, including his two children, are looking up to him.

“I am a father. I feel that I am a role model and I don’t want my son to be embarrassed by the music that I make. I want him to be able to listen to the music I make and appreciate it.”

His flows are versatile and emotionally nuanced. The many collaborations have forced Onry to become adept at different styles and song structures.

Here’s ‘Scarecrow’ from the Grayskul album ‘Bloody Radio’

And here’s the autobiographical ‘Missing’ from the same album.

The neck-snapping ‘The O.O.’ from his solo album ‘Hold On For Dear Life’.

‘Hosanna in the Highest’ from DarkTime Sunshine album Anx.

And how ‘bout the poppy ‘Never Cry Wolf’ featuring the enigmatic Reva DeVito?

Rappers are often judged by how ‘real’ they are. Rapping in a stark documentary fashion is still valued highly. Ozzborn’s albums however quite unapologetically switch from the real to the surreal from song to song. He’s himself in one song, an alter ego in the next, exercising his imagination here, and exorcising demons there, heart-in-mouth and heart-on-sleeve.

I met Onry back in 1998 when Oldominion [the 9 members of the 26 strong crew who made up the tour were spell-binding] were playing in Indianapolis and he was particularly gracious and grateful when I said I liked their live performance and that I had bought a couple of their cds. More than most rappers I’ve met, Onry communicates gratitude with sincerity and humility.

Grayskul are releasing a new 17-track album called ‘Zenith’ this week. As a taster check out the ever so mean ‘Come On’.

Themes include school shootings, hollow social media existence, fatherhood, and the false allure of the club.

Onry Ozzborn – Rap Elevator 21 – spiritual, convivial, versatile, gothic, prolific explorer of the conscious and subconscious.


Elevator 17: P.O.S


Big label rappers get flabby. Their lyrics become inane, if they weren’t already. Their live performances are flashy but many lack basic emcee skills, relying on the audience’s familiarity with their recorded material. Unsurprisingly many lose that dynamic do-or-die work ethic.

Here’s someone to remind us all that there’s another class of rap vocalist. His name is Stefon Alexander, better known as P.O.S. He is one of hardest working rappers in the world right now, and oh yeah, he’s in desperate need of a kidney transplant. Over the last few years he’s performed entire tours while enduring significant physical pain every day.

Based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Stefon is a part of numerous bands including the magnificent Doomtree. Last year at a Doomtree show here in Birmingham I bought P.O.S’s album ‘Never Better’ and got to meet the man himself. The title track of this 2009 album has got a repeated phrase, which is a genuinely inspiring mantra: ‘Every never is now’.

Despite the fact that many P.O.S tracks exist in dark and difficult territory, he is a self-proclaimed optimist.

‘F**k Your Stuff’ is a playful anti-consumerist anthem and features on his 4th solo album ‘We Don’t Even Live Here’ released in 2012. As well as being a blunt indictment of capitalism and celebrity rap, ‘F**k Your Stuff’ is a great example of the instrumentation that makes Stefon’s music compelling. His fusing of various genres simply works.

‘Bumper’ is the album opener. It’s yet another song, which made me realize that while other rappers look really out of their depth when surrounded by live instruments Stefon looks at home and in control.

Whether he’s reworking De La Soul’s ‘I Am, I Be’ or roaring out lyrics as part of punk band ‘Wharf Rats’ or dodging percussive missile attacks, P.O.S’s determination, sense of humour and steely optimism shine through.

He tells more of his story in this interview.