Versatility has become the law of the land within the Hip Hop arena. Long gone are the days where an artist simply rapped or produced; now they negotiate prices for beats, verses, and shows, create their own marketing plans, and blog about their own personal issues. While this entrepreneurial work ethic may teach them management skills, it has consequently led to their craft suffering in the process. And then you have the Oh No’s of the world, who without fear of promotion can focus in on one topic or theme and make it a full length adventure. Such is the case with his latest effort Dr. No’s Ethiopium.
Similar to how his 2007 release Dr. No’s Oxperiment sampled records from South Eastern Europe, Oh No’s musical direction this time around is inspired by Ethiopian Funk, Jazz and Rock records from the '60s and '70s. After going through the 36-track album (each two minutes or less), it is evident Oh No has done his homework in finding a diverse group of records to flip. Along those same lines, the Stones Throw Records artist has taken what he’s learned from Madlib and J Dilla in terms of sampling and created his own brand.
As stated earlier, none of the tracks on Dr. No’s Ethiopium last longer than two minutes. This short sequence approach works to Oh No’s advantage, as the listener is given just enough instrumental before a new tone is set. As an example, heavy drums and frantic horns cascade throughout “Adventure,” then immediately afterward a simple guitar lick and sparse piano keys on “Soul of Ethiopia” create a mellow mood. Likewise, “Questions” features boom-bap drums that turn the energy level up. This is then offset by soulful horns on “The Pain.” Dripping with emotion, the sampled vocals moan in and out as organ keys resurrect a time of suffering.
Though Dr. No’s Ethiopium could be loosely described as a “beat tape,” it’s very likely many of these cuts will never see the light of day besides this disc. Having said that, several beats could easily find their way onto another rappers album similar to how Dr. No’s Oxperiment’s “Heavy” and “Ghetto” made it onto Mos Def’s Ecstatic and Guilty Simpson’s Ode To The Ghetto, respectively. “Raw Block” exhibits just the right balance of melody and tempo for an emcee to kick rhymes over, while “The Funk” sounds like it has Mos Def’s cadence and delivery written all over it.
As the album ends on the hardcore fusion tip with “Whoo Doo,” it becomes apparent that more than ever projects like this sadly come few and far between. The skills Oh No has honed since joining Stones Throw in 2004 has been a proliferating journey to watch. And one thing is for sure; rappers need to holler at Oh No for some work. It’s a guarantee they won’t regret the product.