After two records with acclaimed West Coast hip-hop underground group Co-Deez, Otayo Dubb is going solo. “It’s a whole new beginning for me,” says the Oakland-based producer/MC.
Co Deez’ original blend of hip-hop and soul with what Dubb calls “an alternative edge” made them standouts in the talent-laden but slept-on Bay Area underground scene (typified by such artists as Lyrics Born, Blackalicious, Hieroglyphics, the Mighty Underdogs, and Zion-I). Despite being somewhat overshadowed by the much-hyped but ultimately short-lived hyphy movement, Co-Deez and their regional peers carved out a stylistic niche which has much in common with traditional hip-hop, yet reflects a West Coast/Bay Area perspective. As a solo artist, Dubb hopes to continue in that vein and uphold the Bay’s independent legacy while attracting wider recognition for his musical and lyrical skills.
Dubb calls his solo material “more straightforward hip-hop” than the music he made with Co-Deez (who remain active as a group). He describes his rap style as “thoughtful, but not preachy … a little bit of conscious, a little bit of street.” Though he’s had his share of run-ins with the law, he doesn’t go out of his way to be ‘gangsta.’ As he says, “I’m not trying to paint negative pictures. There’s nothing we haven’t heard about that side of life,” he explains.
Noting that underground rap encompasses a wide range of expression, Dubb defines his sound as “Blue Collar” hip-hop (to paraphrase one of Co-Deez’ song titles), which he says everyday people can relate to. He doesn’t dumb down his lyrical content, yet he’s also careful not to go too far over people’s heads by “trying to be condescending or super-wordy.” His aim is to reach “average listeners” – not necessarily hip-hop elitists, but the Joe Dubsacks out here who like to light up a fat one and get their headnod on after work.
Raised in the liberal environs of Santa Cruz, Dubb grew up listening to hip-hop as well as alternative music. He discovered he had a skill for memorizing rap lyrics at an early age—he recalls being able to recite “La-Di-Da-Di” word-for-word after just a few listens—which soon led to him writing and performing his own original material. His MC moniker comes from his given name (Otayo, Swahili for “ambush”), combined with the nickname Dubb (which he earned due to his affinity for Cali’s celebrated medicinal herbs).
In 1994, Dubb moved to the even more multiculturally-diverse Bay Area – just in time for the region’s hip-hop Golden Age, when Souls of Mischief, E-40, and the Luniz were all kicking up dust. Dubb decided he didn’t have to choose sides between lyrical and gangsta; rather he found appreciation in the flows, the beats, and the flavor these artists brought to the table. Other cultural influences came from his parents (and his friends’ parents), who gave him a love of salsa, reggae, jazz, and African music.
Being both a producer and an MC gives Dubb a wider perspective than someone who just does one thing. “I approach songs differently. I see the whole picture,” he says.
Originally, Dubb gravitated toward producing because he got tired of asking other people to make beats for him. To this day, he remains most comfortable with downtempo beats (ranging from 80-85 BPMs, instead of rap’s typical 90-100 BPMs), which allow his unorthodox production style to shine.
“I grew up more on reggae (than on soul music),” he explains; his mother was a conguero who was heavily into Caribbean and West Indian music. So, when “everybody was always trying to grab the soul records, I was reaching for that other stuff,” he says. Besides incorporating a reggae feel into many of his tracks, he’s been known to pull stuff from left field, as on “Motivate,” where he and San Quinn trade hot 16s over a sampled melody taken from a waltz record.
Dubb proves he can hold his own on the microphone with lyrics like “Everything can’t always go your way/ Can’t keep it all on your shoulder blades/ Cause when the pressure builds up it could pop like a loaded gauge/ The Golden State, the coldest places/ Keep a poker face and show ‘em where your ace is/ Go hard boy, no limitations/ That’s what keeps a n—-‘s soul innovative”