Posted by: Addison – Oct 09, 2012
Though the comparisons are not 100% accurate, Richmond’s Brad Ohbliv does not shy away from being mentioned in conjunction with musical geniuses Madlib and the late James Yancey, aka J-Dilla. “I consider it an honor and great compliment to be mentioned in any sentence with those guys. I have mad respect for both of them. I could talk about their music for days,” Ohbliv tells me sitting in his living room (and music studio), located on the Southside of Richmond. Always carving out his own unique sound, the former MC, now an avant-garde music producer, has begun to chart a new course in sound that he hopes Richmond music fans will appreciate.
I first met Bradford Thomas Caudle, known to most as Ohbliv, last year while photographing the hip hop collective Just Plain Sounds (JPS). I was immediately drawn to the soulful sounds that his fellow JPS comrades were freestyling over at The Shop. Every once in a while, the unassuming producer would come from behind his SP-404 and dance to his own groove or drop a few bars, only to return to his SP to change up the boom bap his teammates loved. I was unaware of this the first time I met Ohbliv, but he was one half of the team responsible for one of my favorite albums of 2011, Yellow Gold, his collaboration album with Richmond hip hop artist Nicklus F.
While Yellow Gold was highly praised among the underground hip hop scene, Ohbilv is always on a search for new sound. As I sat with him in his home, we talked candidly about his music, his motivation, and the relatively new spiritual journey through sound that he finds himself on. The consummate workaholic, in 2012 Ohbliv has traveled often to New York, San Francisco, and LA, playing gigs, meeting contacts, and working on new music.
He describes his latest release, SLPHNC2 [Soul-phonic-2], from June 2012, as one of his favorite of his albums to date because it best displays his true intentions in sound. “Oftentimes the sounds that are in my mind doesn’t come out exactly how I would like it on record,” he explains. “With SLPHNC2, it is really what I wanted to get out. I’m proud of that.”
Musical talents like Ohbliv do not come around often. His sound ranges the spectrum from hip hop, to funk, to soul, to even that 80’s rock that unites all walks of life. He’s a throwback to a different era, while still being ten steps ahead of his time. The real question is: Can you catch up?
Let’s start with Yellow Gold. That is the first time I was put on to your work and it just blew me away. How did working with Nick F come about?
It’s funny how it all came together. I had known about Nickelus F for a while--he is an O.G., a real local legend with his skills. It wasn’t my intention to work with him. At the time, I really wasn’t working with many rappers at all. But I had a pretty big show that was sponsored by SHHO (Student Hip Hop Organization), and I remember right after my set, Nick came up to me and was like, “Yo, that set was crazy.” We connected, exchanged contact information, and I just started sending tracks to him. Initially, it was just going to be a couple tracks for his upcoming project. But his turnover rate is ridiculous. He would be sending me back songs and ideas every day. And then he was like, “You know what, let’s just do an album.” It wasn’t really a big deal to us. We were just doing it for the love of it. It definitely wasn’t like, “We about to smash the game with this record.” It was more like, “We dig each other’s vibe and work ethic. We have a similar approach to this project. Let’s put it out there and see what happens.” So we ended up doing Yellow Gold. SHHO supported and sponsored the record. To this day, I still feel that it’s slept on, but it definitely helped me get my work to a wider market. Where I was coming from, I wasn’t working with a lot of rappers, but it really changed the landscape for me. It also solidified a new level of credibility because I was able to really craft a whole project. And even for Nick, we get a lot of love about the project. It definitely motivated me to keep going. Yellow Gold is a slow burning album, it’s really on some word of mouth type stuff. Somebody has to be like, “Have you heard this record?” But once you hear it, people really feel it. They keep it and hold on to it. That was our goal, to make a record that people could listen to years down the line, and I feel good about it.
You mentioned that you feel the Yellow Gold album is still slept on. Do you feel that you are still slept on as a musician/producer?
Yes and no. I get mass amount of love from all over the world. I have fans in Iceland. I’m about to do a record with a label in Iceland. They are putting out a 7” vinyl of my music. But at the same time it’s so hard to get people to notice what I’m doing right here in Richmond. This is not new; I’ve been dealing with this my entire career. Back when I started, I was mostly rapping. I wasn’t going hard with the beats and production. It may be different for other artists in other hometowns, but I do feel Richmond often sleeps on their own artists. Especially if the artist is not really blasting their work out all the time through social media and other outlets, it’s really easy to get lost in the shuffle. So I do think that I’m slept on locally, but I don’t think that is the case nationwide, because I get booked out in California, San Francisco, New York, Florida – and I’m dealing in a niche market for the music I make. Don’t get me wrong, I love Richmond, but we have never been on the cutting edge of the music scene. We’ve always been adapting to the most popping sounds we receive. And I credit that diversity to my style as well. My style is diverse because of the different sounds I have heard living here, but with that, the people in the city have a real hard time accepting and embracing innovation. People in Richmond don’t believe it until they see it work somewhere else - on a bigger scale – and then they will embrace it.
That’s interesting that you hit that point, because your following is very unique and made up of very knowledgeable and loyal music fans.
I really appreciate my fans. I take the time to speak to my fans on facebook, twitter, soundcloud, emails, etc. When I first started, my focus was really just one fan at a time. I’m not trying to take over the world. I’m not trying to run RVA. I just want to have my lane, and I want to stick to that. If people want to join me on this ride, that is great. I think when you do music with good intent, from the heart and from the soul, people feel that and respond to it. I want a really loyal following. If you have a handful of people really excited about your work, then it will spread out.
How do you describe the music you make? Is there a certain internal place where your music comes from?
Well, lately there has been a real place. When I first started, I was just putting out records. I inherited a couple of stacks of records from my dad, and in the beginning, it was just about hooking up records and seeing what I could come up with. But over time, my knowledge and attitude about music has changed, and now I do come from more of a spiritual place with my music. Especially at this time right now in 2012, there is a lot of chaos going on in the world, a lot of craziness, and a lot of lost souls and people. There is a lot of misinformation, disinformation, and ignorance in the world, and this may be a tall task that I may not be able to accomplish, but my goal is to change the frequency of people’s thinking and the way that they understand hip hop and music overall. I use to be on this term, “anti-bangers,” meaning I was against the “club banger,” because those bangers set the club off but there is no emotional content behind the music. My whole thing is trying to raise people’s vibrations through sound. I have learned that there are different octaves that strike different vibrations through your body, so I take that knowledge and apply it to what I do with certain samples and chops. I’m looking to get an emotional response with my sound. My music is all about spirit and emotion, and that is the place I’m coming from right now. I just want people to feel something.
So when you say spiritual, do you venture into religion? I grew up Southern Baptist and there is so much emotion in that sound… is that the angle you are going for?
Not exactly, but to a degree yes. I grew up going to church. I used to sing in the choir. I was really involved until I was about 15, then I started to back off a bit. It took me a really long time to get back into religion. Once I started to learn more about the ways of the world, my ideas about religion changed. I got to a certain point where surface knowledge was not enough. A lot of the questions that I had were not being answered, so I had to dig deeper. My music is a way of trying to open up those senses to understand things differently. Whether it’s social issues, spiritual issues, or internal, we have to get out of the box. I think that is another issue with music in general. It’s too easy to put things in a box, but there are some things that are better left unspoken and up to your understanding.
It sounds like music is therapeutic to you.
Absolutely. I would go crazy if I didn’t have music. I would probably be in jail or worse.
You are a different guy in 2012 then you were when you first started making music. You have a wife and a young son now. How have those life changes influenced your music?
Before I was married, before I had my son, I was just doing music as a hobby. It was something to do and I was good at it. I got married, had my son, and my mother passed away, all within 9 months. I was a wreck. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had all of these new responsibilities, and music wasn’t really going the way I wanted it to go. But that challenging time really made me focus. It made me start to really think, and go hard on what I wanted to accomplish. I was at the crossroads and I just decided to go as hard as I could.
The crossroads period, do you know the specific moment or was it gradual?
It was gradual, because I had always been involved in music but for me to come to terms with what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it was pivotal. Those months, with all that tragedy and joy, were such a roller coaster. It really solidified my motivation. I did make a change during that time, to fall back with rapping and go hard with the beat making and production. I made that change because at that particular time, I didn’t want to talk about what was going on with me – let alone rap about it. I just put it in my beats.
Some people will look back on a time like that and say that’s when they did their best work. Have you done your best work?
No. I don’t think so. I am my own worst critic. I always take my work with a grain of salt, and I’m always surprised at people’s reactions to my music. When I’m making music, I really don’t think about people’s reactions. It just comes out. I listen to it afterwards and make a call on if it’s good enough to come out, or it needs more work.
Have you done something that you really just love?
Actually, the last EP that I just came out with, SLPHNC2, I’m really proud of it. I feel like I was finally able to put down what I was thinking in my brain. To be honest, a lot of my stuff comes together by mistake; especially with the SP404 that I use – it’s very open to improvisation. So a lot of things that happen when I’m working on music just happen organically. With this record, the things that I had in my head, I was able to put down. I really enjoy SLPHNC2, but I don’t think it’s my best yet. I’m always trying to outdo myself.
Tell my about your musical influences. Where do you get your inspiration from?
It’s a combination of many influences from older stuff – I’m an old soul. If I had a preference, I would listen to older school music over modern stuff; including hip hop. Growing up, my parents had the standard essential black family music collection: Parliament, George Benson, and Michael Jackson. But then my folks had some really out there stuff too. I’m talking some really rare records you can’t find in the store. I would also say that my peers influence me a lot. Locally, my Just Plain Sounds partner Sleaze is a big influence on me. My homies out in Cali, the homie Ahnnu that’s in the collective Chocolate Milk with me. I try to take influence from all over.
What’s the most important thing that you are going to teach your son?
To always be himself. To know who you are – to have knowledge of self. That is the foundation to everything. If you don’t have knowledge of self, you don’t know what you’re going to do in life. It took me a long time, but gaining that knowledge of self allows me to do what I do today, because I’m secure in who I am and where I want to go in life. I know who I am and I know my worth.
Do you brick? Have you put out a musical brick?
Oh yeah. Like I said before, people’s reactions to my music completely surprise me. Sometimes I put out stuff just to gauge people’s reactions to it. Other times I may put something out that I’m feeling one day and I hate the next day. It’s really confusing to me. Some of the stuff that I really hate, people love. For example, on Yellow Gold, the track “What to Believe,” I’m not really fond of that beat, but people really responded to it. They really like it. It’s always a gamble.
Tell me more about SLPHNC2.
It’s actually a continuation from last year’s Soulphonic that I released thru SHHO. This is an independent release. It has 9 tracks. The record really reflects where my head is at right now. It has some experimental sounds, there are some groovy sounds – it is sample based. You can find it on my Bandcamp.
What next for 2012? What can people expect from Brad O?
They can expect some vinyl. I’ve got a 7” coming out on vinyl with a label in Iceland. They just hit me up on Soundcloud a couple months ago and asked if I want to drop something with them. I’ve got a spilt tape coming out with a guy named Dil Withers from Seattle. It will be released through a label called Dirty Tapes.
Check out Ohbliv’s groundbreaking sound at: http://ohbliv.bandcamp.com/
By Marc Cheatham