Release Date: October 14, 2014
Studio: Fast Traxx
Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap/Indie Pop
For Fans of: Lupe Fiasco, Murs, John Reuben, Churches, Purity Ring, Mount Wolf, Big Black Delta
As Oswald himself knows, California has been a musical breeding ground for all types of music for decades. Iconic rock, hardcore, metal and pop bands have all come out of California, as well as a robust collection of hip-hop soloists and rap artists alike. The massive state seemingly has different elements of style and culture throughout its lengthy 770 miles, with each major city reflecting a slightly distinct vibe and undercurrent.
Having trekked from midland Fresno to more northwest San Francisco, Oswald has been conceiving his bold and inventive tracks for about one year. With his debut EP Ride, Oswald has decided to pull out all the stops as he delivers what is notably a determined and intentional first release.
Opening track “Kid,” featuring Mico Ariola, is a smorgasbord of powerful production quality, fresh energy and an evident drive to break the bounds of conventional musicality. Along with the high level of production on Ride, the choices that producer Ose and Oswald chose for conveying the songs in the manner the artist wanted are unusual, albeit engaging.
Separate artists even within hip-hop and rap would have adhered to the genre’s more typical conventions, and funneled their songs into what could be “marketable” and “quickly palatable.” Respectably, Oswald has no concern for pigeonholing himself, and exhibits a substantial amount of open-minded creative hunger on “Kid.”
One aspect of “Kid” that seems to be lacking is how it opens up. An insanely catchy melody starts the EP off in lo-fi, but as the first full beat comes in, the first melody is dropped for a lesser one as the beat plods along. It could have likely been far more engaging to hear the original tension of the melody be released, instead of building up more tension. However, this original melody returns in full force later in the song.
Beyond this aspect, the listener can quickly grasp how Oswald spits his lines like a seasoned veteran of his genres, delivering his thoughts and considerations with deep purpose. Oswald often sounds like John Reuben, multiple award nominated rapper and hip-hop artist and experienced performer within the Christian hip-hop scene. Mico Ariola, guest vocalist on “Kid,” offers up a few very conducive clean-sung lines.
“Sea Full of Sharks,” featuring Hannah Georgas, is Oswald’s single from Ride, and it is easy to see how and why this track has helped propel Oswald to where he is today, and to keep his momentum active. This track has a solid flow to it and allows Oswald to release the darker and malcontented facets of his musicality and observations of the world.
Oswald chose the title “Sea Full of Sharks” to discuss how he considers the hip-hop scene to be ailing and also representing the wrong ideals. Indeed, there are many higher-tiered hip-hop and rap artists promoting misogynistic viewpoints, violence as a legitimate means for retaliation or justice, sex as the only pinnacle of pleasure and hatred as the path to vindication, all of which only serves to confirm Oswald’s message.
In light of wanting to address and correct the negative and destructive messages that he witnesses in hip-hop, it is certainly confusing to hear Oswald issuing a few insults to counterparts within his genre, which seems to cloud and distort his message. Oswald does bring up the confusion and pain he himself has experienced because of detrimental messages being shared through a style of music that he loves so passionately, but the budding artist would do well to maintain greater clarity in similar messages that he issues in the future.
“Sea Full of Sharks” has very bright inclinations of timbre and an overall lively musicality for such a weighty message. Oswald may have done this on purpose, perhaps with the intention of painting how one can maintain a high spirit even in the midst of executing a difficult task.
Guest vocalist Hannah Georgas lends her light and airy clean vocals for the chorus, performing well and demonstrating a competent range. The only aspect of Georgas’ vocals that seems off is how she sounds a touch flat when she sings the title words, “sea full of sharks.” This component notwithstanding, “Sea Full of Sharks” ought to be applauded by nearly every listener and fan that Oswald reaches. The message that the young and courageous artist is bringing forth is long overdue.
“Figure You Out” is a brief track in which Oswald vents his thoughts about a close relationship he has experienced. The artist also incorporates use of acoustic guitar, performing a few lines of regular singing before he jumps back into his rapping pattern.
Oswald has the fairly unique ability to convey and rap his lines in a way that is altogether swift, smooth and matter-of-fact. Oswald is a no-fluff artist, and given that he proceeds in his musical career with this DIY, expectation-shattering mindset, the appreciation he earns amongst fans will only continue to blossom.
“Home” picks the full hip-hop and rap vibe up again, as Oswald briefly reminisces about where he has been and fully reflects on where he is now, positing that he now feels “at home” in San Francisco and among its culture. Oswald and his producer Ose make wide use of beats, samples and sources of sound available to them, allowing Oswald’s brand of audio to evolve rather progressively as the EP pushes forward. He also pulls out more clean-sung vocals on “Home,” giving listeners every possible chance to experience all sides of his creativity.
Oswald wraps up his infectiously powerful debut EP with “Alive.” This track is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best and most thought-out track on the whole EP. Oswald expertly crafts his lyrical lines and spits them with full intensity to a backdrop of electrifying synth melodies and pulsating beats.
The artist wrote one lyric that is hard to miss: “I’m buildin’ skyscrapers but I’m leavin’ out the ceilings.” This is a line of gold, speaking to Oswald’s musical capacities as well as his decisions and future as an individual. According to his thoughts and propositions on “Alive,” Oswald is referring to both himself and the world around him when he is asking for change to take place, in efforts of a better tomorrow.
One of the only oddities about Ride is that, instead of remaining congruent with the larger scope of his music and message, which is positivity, progression, growth and sacrifice, Oswald chose to promote “Sea Full of Sharks” as his single instead of “Alive,” which could have been more effective in delivering his underlying message to the masses. In spite of this, Oswald is plunging into all kinds of musical territory with his entire self prepared, ready for the opportunities that will greet him next on his journey.
Cutting out the time and pouring in the discipline to shape up this musical work is an already ambitious and inspiring work by Oswald. His music largely speaks for itself, showcasing the vibrant cohesion when handcrafted music and soul-deep lyrics are woven together.
For an 18-year-old, this is no EP to be passed up. The rest of the hip-hop world had better watch out, because if Oswald is not turning many heads yet, he soon will be.
Ride will drop on October 14, 2014. Below, you can pre-order Ride on Oswald’s Bandcamp, check out his website, visit his publicity company, Working Brilliantly, and follow his happenings on Facebook.
Underground Examinations is a series of Independent Music Reviews with the intention of giving new music a fair and appropriate opportunity to be enjoyed.
Review by Brad Johnson