In the musical world we exist in today, so much emphasis surrounds production on tracks that some artists decide to disregard lyricism. However, there is an MC emerging who embodies technical spitting ability whilst always coming correct with his beats. It’s time to wire yourself into the world of Ocean Wisdom, the rapper who’s making waves in so many circles, you can’t even pinpoint him to one genre.
Born in Camden but raised in Brighton, Ocean has been causing a stir on the hip-hop scene and beyond for a few years, gaining global praise for both his original sound and his talent as a rapper. Shouted out last week by grime king Dizzee Rascal as “one of the best rappers this country has ever birthed,” we sat down with him ahead of his second album release to get know the rapper a little more.
“When I was younger, I used to beat-box all the time. I just love rhythm and what you can do in the space of a beat. All of a sudden I realised there wasn’t much longevity in it, this was then because there’s people like Reeps One killing it now, but at the time there wasn’t much longevity for beat-boxers and I was more into rapping.
“I’ve always liked language and word-play, people would have conversations and I’d always look for word-play jokes to apply. I was a big fan of rap music, so when I was 13/14 I decided to start practising. I would practice in private and send these little voice clips to my boy and get him to see what he reckoned. I must’ve been about 14 when I started writing freestyles over YouTube beats. At about 16 I started actually making tangible songs, still over YouTube beats.”
From ripping beats, Wisdom went on to develop his sound through connections he made at Rum Committee, aka Rum Com, a hip-hop collective that was established in Brighton around 2010 and has been monumental in terms of influencing the sound of UK hip-hop scene, particularly in the south of England. Notably, the crew counts UK top 10 artist Rag’n’Bone Man as one of its members. However, it was fellow member Prince Kong, who guided an at the time 17-year-old Ocean to the circumstances in which he would record his first hit.
Talking on Rum Com Wisdom told us, “They showed me an insight into the process of writing lyrics, getting it on paper, getting in the studio and recording it. I’d hang around with them man and we’d exchange music. I never really had producers making beats for me until I met Dirty Dike who I met through Prince Kong and the Rum Com guys. Kong and Dike had arranged to meet up and I went with them to the house to record.
“Dike was flicking through beats on his computer – he had so many beats – and he flicked past one of them titled “Walkin” which later became my first single. He just played the beat and I laid the track down. After, [Dike] was kind of like ‘Rah, you’ve taken the time to practise your bars, we should do some more work together’. From there we recorded another tune and another, and another. Then we ended up doing an album.”
Although “Walkin” was recorded when Wisdom was 16 or 17, the track sat on his computer for years. During these years multiple cold freestyles were recorded. Brighton-based YouTube channel Soap Box were blowing up in around 2013 and it was here the MC laid down a freestyle which quickly gained thousands of views. It was the traction he drew to these freestyles which prompted a return to “Walkin”.
“At that time and if you had 10,000, views you were popping in Brighton. I thought to myself, ‘Rah, I’ve got something at 9000 right now, maybe I should drop a music video’. I remember speaking to my dad who said, ‘whatever you do, you need to throw yourself into it, whether it’s music or a job in Tesco, you need to make a decision and not procrastinate in life’. I thought, boom, I’m going to drop it. Cillian Farrell inboxed me saying he liked the tune and would direct the video for free. I’ve always been grateful for that because at the time it just helps to kick-start you. We did the video and it went well.”
“Went well” is actually an understatement. The “Walkin” visuals gained major heat correlating to major views real quick, bearing in mind this was before videos went viral in the capacity they do with social media today.
“I tried to drop it on High Focus but logistically it wasn’t working out as I wasn’t signed to the label. So, I released it on my own because I couldn’t be bothered to wait around and see if they were going to release it. It was ready.”
After dropping “Walkin”, a tour with now fellow High Focus members The Four Owls ensued in early 2015; a tour on which Ocean received a massive reaction. Following the tour came the birth of the artist’s debut album, Chaos 93, recorded in 2015 and dropping in 2016. By the time it reached our ears Wisdom had built a solid fan base.
“The album did a lot better than expected. I mean, I was hopeful it would do that well, but you have your expectations on what you’d like to happen and then you have what realistically might happen. But It was doing well on iTunes so after that I thought, ‘You just need to better yourself’. I released a few more singles and then we toured the album.”
Photos courtesy of YV Shells – @YVShells
Putting straight musical genius to the side, Ocean counts his Dad as one of his major motivators in life. With a name like Ocean Wisdom comes an expectation to continue to progress the Wisdom name.
“I wanted to get my dad saying something on the album, because my dad was inspirational to my mindset. The mindset of a rapper is that you have this supreme kind of confidence and you know when you’re right and when you’re wrong. You’re putting yourself out there to be judged. If you’re a weak minded feeble person who is going to be scared of people’s reactions, then you’re never going to do that well. My dad was the person who instilled that confidence in me.”
So, who does he count as his musical influences?
“I would say people like Busta Rhymes and Eminem and on the UK side of things, Ghetts, Dizzee Rascal and Kano. But what makes me, the reason why when I work on something I take my time on it and I know it’s going to be good, is because of what’s been instilled in me by my dad.”
When a lot of people think of Ocean Wisdom there’s an instant association to the speed of his raps. In fact, notoriety surrounding the artist shot up when, in mid 2016, Lad Bible posted content labelling Ocean as the “fastest rapper in the world”. They compared him to Eminem, who at the time held the Guinness World Record title for the most words per second in a track for his verses on “Rap God” at 4.31 words a second, compared to Ocean’s 4.45 words a second in “Walkin”. This post prompted a huge viral reaction that couldn’t have been predicted by anyone.
“From there the song got a lot more heat. It was mad. A year and a half after dropping the track I’m reading comments like ‘I reckon Ocean’s better than Eminem’ and ‘Nah, but this is why Eminem is better’, and I’m just there listening to people arguing over who is better saying to myself, ‘What is happening?’. I’m the biggest Eminem fan, I can’t put myself in the same category, but other people are and it’s just surreal.”
Unfortunately Eminem’s track is classed as a “hit song” by the powers that be who supply the data to the record keepers, however Oceans’s didn’t it so it could not be counted as an entry, despite the track charting in several other countries. Yet, the “Walkin” story doesn’t stop there.
“Snoop Dogg shared it and was like can we get a battle? Akon shared it saying can we get a battle? D12 shared it. Next thing all the views went up.”
It was then Charlie Sloth and the platform that is integral to the progression of UK rappers came calling. It was time for Ocean’s Fire in the Booth.
“It came after [Sloth] tweeted congratulations on Chaos 93 because it got to the Top 10 on the iTunes chart. I love what Big Shaq says in his, ‘Everyone’s always like where’s my FITB’, but if you’re good enough [Sloth] will holla you. I rate him because I put the work in and when I thought I’d gotten to the stage where I should be holla’d, he holla’d me.
“On the first one I deliberately did 15 minutes. I didn’t have anything to prove to my fans at that stage because my they had been with me up until that point. For new people, rather than just whack on a little 3 minute club track that’ll get played loads and go viral, I wanted to just go in with 15 mins of hard bars over 3 different types of beat so anyone could refer back to it, see how I did that one take and see the skill level rather than do something for cheap views. When people look back on this they’re going to respect it, and that’s more important than going viral. It was validation that all the hard work was worth it.”
What is apparent from listening and speaking with Ocean is that, especially compared to other high focus artists, his technical skill level makes it possible for him to effortlessly rap over grime instrumental speed 140 bpm as well as slower beats. This is no accident as he tells us, “I grew up listening to grime.” In terms of one grime artist he would choose to work with in the game unsurprisingly he answers, “Dizzee Rascal, without a doubt.”
His latest release, “Eye Contact”, was debuted alongside some super wavy visuals. In an age where track videos are so intrinsic to a project release, how involved is Ocean in the visual creative process?
“I like to be as involved as possible. Sometimes I see what rappers do in their videos and it’s all down to the director, but in my videos, I need to know if it goes wrong or right it’s on me.”
More growth comes in the form of his highly anticipated second album, Wizville. Although we already know to expect big things, some degree of secrecy surrounds its release. Pressing for details on release dates, Ocean drops that it’s coming “mad soon”. Pressed further in anticipation we’re told, “early 2018, very early 2018.” What we do know for sure is the concept is one that pays homage to his hometown of Brighton.
“Compared to Chaos 93 which was all produced by Dirty Dike, this album has so many different sounds. It’s the embodiment of Brighton town. You’ve got the dodgy part, the richer part and all the different types of people. When people are flicking through the pages of the lyric book, each tune will be a different part of the town. It’s going to be mad diverse, you couldn’t pigeonhole it into a genre.”
Even more suspense comes when speaking on what features we can expect, “I will say, I’ve got one of my top 5 rappers ever on it, but I can’t really go into any more detail then that at this stage.”
Speaking on what we can expect in terms of the difference in sounds on the album he explains, “I feel like I’m a grime artist with with hip-hop influences that decided to do a hip hop album with major hip hop artists like Dirty Dike. This time, I don’t think you can define the genre, but I’m a rapper whose trying to put his best on a record, and I can’t avoid grime because that’s what I am.
“I don’t talk like these hip-hop man, but at the same time I don’t do a lot of of what the grime man do, or what more spoken-word type artists do. I’ve taken little bits from each and it makes me, that’s what I’m trying to put across in Wizville. Yeah there’s grime, hip hop and trap in there, but there’s also a tune which I couldn’t even label that’s coming with a Spanish sounding vibe. We’ve worked with producers from Birmingham and all over the UK, Europe and America. If I rewound time and had to do this all again I don’t think I could pull it off. I’m so happy with it.“
So, what’s next for Ocean? Will there be a Tour next year? What festivals can we expect to see him at?
“It’s all in the pipeline at the moment. I can’t say some of the festivals that have confirmed but there’s some big ones. If I could choose to perform at any, I’d really want to crack Wireless. It still puts the fear in me a little bit which I like. It’s all growth.”
Something tells us nothing is unreachable for Ocean Wisdom. You’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in the near future, and what a welcome addition to the scene he is.
Watch out for Ocean’s new album, Wizville, coming early 2018.