In 1994, OC became the second-to-last DITC member to release a solo debut, preceding Big L in ‘95 and following records from Lord Finesse and Fat Joe earlier in the decade. In 2012, 18 years removed from Word...Life and seven from a solo release, he returned alongside Apollo Brown with Trophies, an album that topped year-end lists across the web (including a spot on DX’s own Top 25 of the year). Trophies could easily have been a final book-end for Omar Credle, both as a late career renaissance but also as another characteristically indie effort (this after launching a career on Wild Pitch and jumping around between labels like Payday, JCOR, and Hiero Imperium through the years).
With Apollo Brown on deck, Trophies probably introduced OC to younger, blog-friendly fans as much as it brought his older supporters out to CD stores (the vinyl version of that album has also been repressed several times over). With Ray West in 2014, a producer with a little less buzz than Apollo had two years ago, OC has curated a more laid back and purposefully smooth affair. Besides flowing freely from track-to-track with the help of atmospheric interludes, Ray’s Cafe is noticeably and gratifyingly short at nine tracks long as well.
Released on Red Apples 45, a small label co-founded by West and OC’s DITC sibling AG, Ray’s Cafe is conceptual in approach more than in practice. While the cover-art and some of the subject-matter place the listener squarely in a hazy Jazz cafe from the 1970s, most songs aren’t tethered to the idea too closely. After an intro that sounds convincingly like a small crowd settling in before a show, OC opens up on the title track. “Grown folk relax like adults supposed to / You amped up, listen to the sound of my vocals,” he raps. For most of the album’s production, West carves out samples that manage to isolate and center interesting riffs and grooves without extra noise cluttering around them. “Have Fun” is the most obvious example of the approach with its echoing guitar strums and underplayed keys beneath. The song lacks a break or an obvious bassline but effectively ends up sounding like something the emcee might perform at an unplugged session.
Especially on the first three tracks, O mines the café theme for mellowed out party talk. Like the line above, the rapper includes a “grown folk” mention on the following two songs as well (“Grown folk keep it adult” he spits on “Soul Kitchen” before recalling a trip to Aruba). On these lounge-worthy tracks, when the rapper talks about pot-smoke or name-checks a liquor brand, it’s not a bottle service or endorsement brag as much as another scene setter. “Welcome to Ray’s Cafe / All welcome, none selfish / Shots at the gate, Grey Goose and Welch’s,” he raps halfway through the title song.
“Go Back” is the only track to include features with its space for Milano and AG, but their appearances come at the expense of an OC intermission. The track’s bounciness is a bit out of place but changes the pace nicely for the second half of the album. “Lovers” pulls OC back in for a track about anonymous attraction and an imagined relationship with a subway encounter. OC boosting himself up for an approach is as amusing as it is relatable, especially with its obvious tinge of self-doubt. “In a good way ready myself for battle / Thinking there’s nothing that duke can’t handle / Knowing how strong’s my alpha / It’s no doubt me and you could end up being…” he raps.
Particularly with Trophies as OC’s most recent late-career reference point, Ray’s Cafe is added proof that some veteran rappers still belong in the booth. With OC’s downplayed confidence and breezy production in tow, the album is less eager than nostalgic. Somewhere on Ray’s Cafe, in between mood-setting tracks and ‘back-in-the-day’ memories, OC proudly answers a question that any aging emcee might face. “You ashamed of your age?” he asks. “Nah, I lived for 38 summers.”