OKC suburban music collective talks its atypical sound, Internet word-of-mouth, and finally turning heads in Oklahoma.
On Spotify, the collective’s songs have more than a million streams and tens of thousands of monthly listeners, but among the cities listed under the heading “Where people listen” — Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Atlanta and New York City — Oklahoma is conspicuously absent.
“Honestly, I feel like it was more people on the Internet that listened first, and then Oklahoma came in,” said rapper Keshun Maddox.
Before he joined O2worldwide, Maddox was among the collective’s earliest Oklahoma listeners, a group he estimated numbered about 20, even after people outside the state–and the country–were taking notice. “Saturn“, uploaded to Soundcloud in April of 2018, has more than 17,000 plays, and, Maddox said, several thousand of those came within the first few days.
“The next day, it was, like, two racks, and then, like three days later, that shit was at five, and I was like, ‘Damn, these niggas doing numbers,'” Maddox recalled.
Those numbers convinced Ombachi — who started O2worldwide with Ethan Wilson, aka THEDARKSKINRAPPER, when the two were in middle school and “just messing around” with “the music thing” — to start thinking about the future.
“People were actually fucking with it,” Ombachi said, “and I was like, ‘Wait, this could actually go somewhere.'”
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is actually kind of crazy, because it was their second tape, most of them are still in high school, like 17-, 18-year-olds,” Frye said. “They definitely needed to take it serious because they had a lot of talent with it…I was like, ‘What is this?’ because it wasn’t the usual style you get out of Oklahoma…You couldn’t really tell where they’re from.”
Ombachi, meanwhile, isn’t sure where all the listeners are coming from.
I don’t know how people first found it,” he said.
Under the video for single “RIDE TO THE SIDE”, commenters compare the collective favorably to Odd Future and Brockhampton, thank Spotify for recommending the track, and give shout outs from Germany, France, Morocco, Brazil, Argentina and Taiwan.
Frye credits the collective’s polished sound for its broad appeal.
“It was very put together, very fun,” Frye said. “They’re amazing at their rapping, but at the same time, you could tell they’re, like, super young. They reminded me of younger collectives I used to listen to when I was growing up…I could tell this was actually something legit, but they didn’t even realize it at the time.”
Local listeners are beginning to catch on, Maddox said.
“It takes Oklahoma a minute to believe that there’s music coming out from Oklahoma,” he said, “but they can take as long as they want, because we are in Oklahoma, and there’s not a lot of people doing what we’re doing now.”
The “O2” part of the collective’s name comes from 2002, the birth year of its founders, but O2worldwide has grown to include more than a dozen members, some born as early as 2000, and all influenced by music made before then.
“Musically, we’re all into similar shit,” Ombachi said. “The stuff that influenced me the most is ’90s hip-hop, and that’s the production that I lean towards the most. I just like those older sounding drums, like the hard fucking breaks and shit.”
The ’90s, Ombachi said, was hip-hop’s “undeniable golden age,” but he added that he takes significant inspiration from outside the genre.
“A lot of my influences aren’t even hip-hop type shit,” he said, “and I think that’s tight, just throwing all those things in different contexts.”
Each member of the collective, he said, “brings something different to the table” in terms of style and inspiration.
Maddox listed Nas, Marvin Gaye and The Temptations among his influences.
“You’ve got to listen to everything,” he said. “You’ve got to get different pieces in your head. You don’t ever know what music you will make one day.”
He described O2worldwide’s music as “suburban pop.”
“We ain’t making no killing or violent music, you know what I’m saying,” Maddox said. “We’re just vibing. This is straight vibe music. Your mama can play this music at the function…We’ve got hella radio songs. I ain’t even going to lie.”
Ombachi doesn’t deny his music’s potential pop appeal, but he said that’s not necessarily his intention.
“I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and tried to write a radio song,” he said. “It’s just niggas having fun.”
The collective’s easygoing creative approach makes room for everyone’s viewpoint.
“We don’t ever shoot down each other’s ideas, never,” Maddox said. “Unless it’s really that bad…We have heard some crazy shit. I’m not going to lie to you.”
Witnessing these collaborations firsthand, Frye said he is impressed by their organic feel.
“Their chemistry is really natural,” Frye said. “When you see them going through their working process, it’s, like, worryfree a little bit.”
Even after the pandemic necessitated more remote collaboration, Frye said, the approach didn’t change significantly. Ombachi did add, however, that party-ready music created by a large groups of friends hanging out has been more difficult to make while get-togethers and other activities have slowed down or stopped.
“It’s kind of hard to be inspired when you’re just chilling all day,” Ombachi said.
In coming months, O2worldwide plans to release more solo projects to introduce listeners to individual members before coming back together for an all-collective followup to BACK ON TRACK.
Frye, a little older than the collective at 23, said O2worldwide, whose self-produced sound “ranges from heavy, grimy rap to melodic R&B” and whose appeal seems to be beginning to live up to its name, is indicative of hip-hop’s future.
“This next generation of artists that are coming out of Oklahoma, they have more of a chance to grow up with [digital audio workstations] like FL Studio and Logic and stuff like that,” Frye said. “I grew up in OKC most of my life, and I didn’t really know too many people that were working at my age trying to be producers and stuff like that…I never really saw many people expand into different types of genres too much other than what I heard on the radio. But you got these kids that grew up hearing…things from all over the world at this point, and they’re just bringing it together.”
“Niggas is on the Internet, bro.”