Oh No, who is part of a lineage of successful musicians, may have genetically inherited his composition skills. His father is Otis Jackson, a deep baritone known for crooning over funk-inspired schmaltz tracks. His uncle is Jon Faddis, the world-renowned trumpeter who has become legendary in the jazz world. His most similar musical relative is his brother Otis Jackson Jr. (otherwise known as Madlib), the famed Stones Throw beat conductor who churns out so many albums that a listener cannot wholly absorb one of his records before the next is released. And while Oh No possesses this genetic tie to so many talented musicians, he shares the same name as the King of Pop (Michael Jackson), sealing the fact that it may not be coincidental that he ended up a beat coddler and emcee.
But Oh No has valiantly outgrown the shadow of his relatives. He released his debut The Disrupt in 2004, and though there may have been some apprehensive Stones Throw fanatics weary of a release from Madlib’s brother, Oh No impressed with his thumping opus complete with loads of buzzing samples and quick-witted rhymes. After holding his own on that album, he followed with the concept record Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms, a shiny effort on which he culled beats out of Galt MacDermot samples. Instead of rapping, he hung up the microphone and enlisted some assistance from a gamut of talented contemporaries.
Like his brother, Oh No dabbles in heaps of different genres, switching up his style and experimenting on new sounds with each release. Dr. No’s Oxperiment, his third solo record, is a complete deviation from his electronic-based debut and glittery sophomore effort. This album is crafted out of crate-dug Lebanese, Turkish and Indian samples, and instead of getting as much mileage as he can out of a gorgeous snippet of music, Oh No keeps each of the 28 tracks brief, with no single song lasting more than two minutes. The album is a journey into the exotic and filled to capacity with sharp ideas. While each individual clip pulls the listener from one area of musical experimentation to another, the effort beautifully coalesces into a full-bodied and rich work of intellectual composition.
Although the album should be listened to in its entirety and regarded as a blended body of work, one must recognize that there are distinctive parts that make up the whole. Each track embodies a different cultural sound and location, including everything from Indian chants to atonal piano bangs and set to thick grooves and vibrant bass lines. The record begins with a Middle Eastern woman who chants on “Heavy,” which quickly dissolves into a rhythm built on a psychedelic guitar, limber hi-hats and a chunky kick. The beat is versatile, breaking down and then launching back into its original groove, flowing along with an uneven limp that perseveres in spite of its clumsiness.
The record also features some other tracks that bump in the same Middle Eastern vein. “Emergency” is a tight piece that sounds comfortable with its crisp sitar sample and electronic burps. Before the track plays itself out, it melds into “Ohhhhhhh,” which is more tranquil with its simple kick-snare interplay but maintains the same sort of exoticism as its predecessor with its panned choral croons. “Action” has a similar potency, with a reed instrument slithering across heavy bongos and a vocal sample set to a lighthearted string section.
Oh No pins down the Turkish and Lebanese sound on many of the record’s tracks, but he reaches out to more psychedelic and erratic instruments on the majority of Dr. No’s Oxperiment. “Cassette” begins with a clip of a man who is advertising the benefits of cassette tapes, but the song soon snaps into a soul-dipped instrumental complete with horns and a jazz guitar that trade off control of the melody. “No Guest List” is a straightforward gem that pops with its hard-hitting snares, light acoustic guitar strums and a wispy flute, while “Mad Piano” is probably the most bizarre clip on the record, featuring blinding electronic drones laced with snips of flute trills and spacey bangs on a keyboard.
Despite being a rich a well-rounded record, it lacks any sort of ending or closure, making the whole piece seem, like it is in itself, a smaller piece of a larger work. The last song, “Slow Down,” is mid-tempo and flows at a distance, as if it is playing underwater. The track is a little over a minute, but cuts off without any sort of farewell or even a musical fadeout. It ends as abruptly as it began, leaving the listener unfulfilled after the rest of the record conveyed such magnanimous cohesion and musical integrity.
But by this point, Oh No has already proved that he is in the upper crust of producers in the world of underground hip-hop. He is easily able to maneuver his way through crates of foreign rhythms and put them in a completely new context. While Madlib may throw a record together that has a single musical theme and little variation, Oh No shows that he can expand beyond a simple concept and reinterpret a bevy of genres to stand as something entirely new. With a track record that shows that Oh No is getting much more dexterous as time goes on, his future albums will surely become even more focused, and if they are as versatile and cerebral as Dr. No’s Oxperiment, he may just prove to be the best Jackson in the bunch.
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// Notes from the Road
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