O.C.

It must be strange being in this position, being best-known for a song that you don’t particularly like, or perhaps have mixed feelings about - O.C. – born as Omar Credle seems to suffer from this situation, having an ambivalent relationship with ‘Time’s Up’ from his 1994 Word …. Life the track that arguably built his reputation.

Often in interviews O.C. refers to the fact that 1994 was a stellar year for hip-hop albums and that Word ... Life, his debut record, with little or no publicity, released by a small label (Wild Pitch) prompted so much interest the Brooklyn-born MC was on tour for two years afterwards, in the US and internationally (indeed he says he is a real star outside the US where he’s just another ‘Joe Schmoe’).

[Word…Life] sold 100,000 [units] with no promotion – no promo and two videos. That says a lot, for [1994 when you had Ready To Die by The Notorious B.I.G., Illmatic by Nas and Lethal Injection by Ice Cube]. That said a lot! I knew I had somethin’ when I did that. Later on down the line, moving along a few years later to Payday [Records] with the Jewelz record.
— Interview with Jake Paine, HipHopDX, 2012

Let’s listen to this track, then that O.C. says that he originally wasn’t going to release and had to be pushed to do so. Listening to it now, decades on, O.C. sees the flaws in the performance/the vocalisation, saying he much prefers ‘Emotions’ for example from the Smoke and Mirrors record, but then when asked in 2012 to recommend three tracks for someone new to his music he suggested: ‘Time’s Up,’ ‘My World,’ ‘O-Zone’ (but added 'probably' as a qualifier) the last track is also produced by Buckwild and on Word … Life

And then when asked to nominate a verse he's most proud of, O.C. said:  

Time’s Up,” second verse. I never liked the record, but I get it now. “Speaking in tongues / About what you done / But you never did it / Admit it / You bit it / The next man gained platinum / Behind it / I find it ironic / I researched and analyzed / Most write about stuff they fantasize…” Blah! Blah! Blah! Blah! I get it now. Actually, I was ahead of myself with that. It’s prevalent to this day.

Let's listen to this track then, with its beat that was originally intended for Pharoahe Monch ...

Monch turned it down?

Nah. Someone else auditioned the beat for Monch, but they just played the loop. I heard the joint and I was like, ‘I need this!’ This was a year prior to me signing the deal. He didn’t use it, so I was like, ‘Let me take a whiz at it.’ When the album came around, he still didn’t use it, Buck found the loop – I let him hear the joint and he found out what it was. Buck hooked it up and that was the history on that.

Along with Jeru’s ‘Come Clean,’ it seemed like a reaction to stuff getting corny.

Definitely. It just seemed like everybody was trying to follow this certain type of lifestyle and they figured it was gonna sell records for ‘em. Everybody’s trying to follow the same blueprint and it just wasn’t cool.
— Interview with Robbie Ettelson, Acclaim
(Verse One)

You lack the minerals and vitamins, irons and the niacin
Fuck who that I offend, rappers sit back I’m bout to begin
Bout foul talk you squawk, never even walked the walk
More less destined to get tested, never been arrested
My album will manifest many things that I saw did or heard about
Or told first hand, never word of mouth
What’s in the future for the fusion in the changer?
Rappers are in danger, who will use wits to be a remainder
When the missile is aimed, to blow you out of the frame
Some will keep their limbs and, some will be maimed
The same suckers with the gab about, killer instincts
But turned bitch and knowin’ damn well they lack
In this division the connoisseur, crackin’ your head with a 4 by 4
Realize sucka, I be the comin’ like Noah
Always sendin’ you down, perpetratin’ facadin’ what you consider
A image, to me this is, just a scrimmage
I’m feel I’m stone, not cause I bop or wear my cap cocked
The more emotion I put into it, the harder I rock
Those who pose lyrical but really ain’t true I feel

 

If you listen to this track, without the video, O.C. sounds like a truth-teller from the 70s, so clear in his intention. He criticises his delivery now, but it’s all there, completely and totally, carried along by rhythm of the unusual, unexpected words he chooses to base the rhyme around. What immediately strikes me is the way he up-ends the typical MC – or any poet’s - emphasis on vowels to focus on weak sounds, consonants and weak endings.

See the repeated 'ins’ of the first line (vitamin, iron, niacin …the half-rhyme of ‘offend’ and ‘begin’) and the abundance of: 'More less destined to get tested, never been arrested/My album will manifest ...' 

Sure, there is a short vowel there – the ‘e’- which is repeated six times at the start, but he's also layering the endings and the consonants as well; and this continues throughout the verse (changer/rapper/remainder …) The value of this lies in the way it encourages us to look anew at language, something I have written about before with regard to Capital STEEZ, but he does this not in a showy way that distances us, O.C. makes it all seem so natural.

Herein lies the reason for the long-standing appeal of this song, I’d argue, in that we can see the skill of the MC in a linguistic sense, but this is not what we notice first. What we sense is a kind of passion, where O.C. is expressing something close to his heart, as expressed by the call for the importance of being true to who you are. It's also funny as well, that little reverie about the fake, pretender MC being little more than a 'mummy's boy' being seen in Church, on Sunday - all talk, all pretence, nothing much more.   

Matt Jost has written perceptively on O.C.’s work, this track and Word … Life:

Exposing the ‘perpetrator’ has been part of the rap repertoire since almost day one, but few songs on the subject have hit the collective nerve so accurately. “Time’s Up” could be considered the final part of a trilogy, chronologically following Main Source’s “Fakin’ the Funk” (1992) and Jeru the Damaja’s “Come Clean” (1993). And while similar songs often question whether a rapper is as tough as he claims, “Time’s Up” didn’t discuss what makes a gangster real, but what makes a rapper real.

Arguably one of hip-hop’s most legendary debut singles, “Time’s Up” should have stopped the entire industry dead in its tracks, and maybe it even did, if only for the briefest of moments. It certainly wasn’t the first, let alone the only manifesto addressing the stale state of a music scene where “everybody’s either crime-related or sexual.” But it was a particularly harsh indictment, coming not from a veteran assuming a snobbish air of seniority and superiority, but from a newcomer, who outlined with great determination what he considered “real in this field of music.” “Instead of puttin’ braincells to work they abuse it,” he lamented, strongly denouncing “this thing called rappin’ just for dough.

When having a little rave with someone yesterday about O.C. - someone who said that when he heard this track, he felt 'nostalgic' - I was told how it can take time to appreciate something, how your ear is trained – how you can untrain it – but I wondered what that all meant, in fact. Automatic responses, following instinct for me matter the most, as with time you start to see patterns that reflect something about you, your history – mapped out as if it were your own DNA.

For this man, O.C’s genius lay in the story-telling (something O.C. says he respects Slick Rick for and claims him as a key influence) …

O.C.: First and foremost, I gotta say Slick Rick. Slick Rick is a big influence on me because of the way he put together a concept [as] a song. He put a song together just as you would [hear on an artist like] The Delfonics or The Temptations. That’s saying a lot! This dude epitomized what songwriting is as opposed to being an emcee or a rapper. You’ve [also] got Rakim. Rakim is probably the father to a lot of our style, as far as the smooth, slow-flow, gettin’ across what you’re sayin’ clearly. [He had] rhythms and cadences. And probably LL [Cool J]. A lot of people don’t give LL his credit; that man right there is another big influence.
— Jake Paine interview, HipHopDX

… and the way O.C. creates a mood, and said also that he prefers Jewelz to Word … Life. In contrast, for me, it's always the sound, the confidence of the expression and how it works together that remains the most important, being lost in a melody, or a beat. Sure, I like the lyrics,  but when I heard ‘Time’s Up’ it stood out from the rest, like a classic pop-song does, in its pure perfection: total confection.

Produced by Buckwild, the track borrows from this version of pretty world-renowned song by The Beatles that is almost unrecognisable here (only becoming really obvious in parts, as if the original rises up in places) ...

This music is beautiful too, really. Love that big band sound and half-asleep beat; such a smart choice to use this in that creates the unmistakable mood of ‘Time’s up’ (refined, but simple, no need to overcook anything here).

Maybe also the fact that the O.C. track uses a cover of another song has some relevance. It could be said that the lyrics condemning the rappers faking it, performing it, is mirrored by the doubling effect inherent here, in the music that is a mirror of another piece of music. Mirrors upon mirrors and reflections. 

 Coda: 

Here's some earlier writing I did on Jeru the Damaja's 'Come Clean'