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’).
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:
Let's listen to this track then, with its beat that was originally intended for Pharoahe Monch ...
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:
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) …
… 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.
Here's some earlier writing I did on Jeru the Damaja's 'Come Clean'.