Forging three identities into one, the multifaceted producer of soulful hip-hop beats best known as Ohbliv has been a part of the game for over 10 years. He’s seen Richmond hip-hop go through a cultural boom, and helped define the direction that it’s moving in today. Ohbliv, better known by his loved ones as Bradford Thomas, is a busy man; he spoke to us on the phone while picking up his kid from school.
Juggling his personal life and two different artistic persona keeps him busy, but Ohbliv makes it work. His most recent project, Never Did We Not Exist, released under the moniker DarkTwaine by Los Angeles label Rap Vacation, is an experimental cacophony of sounds ranging from djembe drums to ambient samples, which manages to stay grounded with a hip-hop influence. I was initially surprised that it came from the same person, which Ohbliv found amusing. “DarkTwaine is my more experimental ambient… just weirdo stuff,” he explained.
Never Did We Not Exist is actually a coded message for black people and other people of color. “When it comes to black people, melanated people, people of color, or however you want it, in my understanding, we’ve always been here,” said Ohbliv. The artwork for the album follows suit, using the occult symbols that often appear in his work to reinforce the idea of a subliminal, positive message. This is reflected in track titles like “True to the Bloodline” and “Melanic Brew,” both of which come from his July 2017 DarkTwaine release, Mind Time.
The organic feel of his latest work is in part due to it all being created without software. Following in the footsteps of prominent hip-hop artists he grew up listening to, such as Pete Rock and Primo, Ohbliv sees no use in using digital beatmakers other than making final touches in post-production. He started making music before programs such as Fruity Loops and Logic were in widespread use, and decided to stick to his guns. “I didn’t even understand or realize the full capabilities of it,” he said. “I gotta get hardware. I’m from that school.”
His ability to reach for more than the typical bass driven beats gives him more directions in which to take his music. Thus, the need to release several projects and under different personas. His work is undeniably human.
“It depends on what mood I’m in,” he said. “From hour to hour it changes. I’ll wake up and start working on some ambient loop and put some drums on it. The next hour, I’m listening to some 80’s record, trying to chop that up. I try to be open to whatever the vibe tells me to do.”
This unpredictable, prolific process is why he is dropping another album this month–this time as his better-known alter ego, Ohbliv. His new project, Lewse Joints VI: The Bradford Thomas Tape, drops as a special for Cassette Store Day, and it certainly sounds like a throwback to the era of cassettes. “I remember putting out cassettes in 2011,” he said. “I was a part of a group named Chocolate Milk and we put out a tape locally. Nobody knew what the fuck was going on. It was still new then. It’ kind of turned into a thing now.”
This recent fascination with retro may seem like a fad to most, but to Ohbliv it is part of the culture. “Cassettes are cheap, you know? It’s cheap, effective and it has nostalgia value.”
Lewse Joints VI is heavy with samples and well timed kicks, but still has Ohbliv’s signature knack for experimenting. I was expecting Ghostface Killah to hop on the track as soon as I heard the opening melody on the song “Fable Chop.”
Ohbliv’s made a mark on hip-hop beyond his solo releases. He frequently collaborates with local artists, from established stars like Nickelus F to up-and-comers like Mutant Academy. He finds these artists in a variety of ways. “I either have to hear about you word of mouth, like, ‘Yo, this dude is dope, check his stuff out,’ or sometimes people do hit me up, they send me their stuff, and I like what their doing and I can contribute in some way,” Ohbliv said. “It just depends what you’re bringing.”
He may not be interested in every local artist, but regardless, he is satisfied with the state of Richmond’s hip-hop scene. “There was a time when there were literally a handful of people doing it on a real level,” he said. “Nowadays it is happening more frequently. There are a lot more crews and a lot more people making moves, which is motivating for me, because it is what I always wanted for Richmond.”