Ozay Moore Talks ‘Of Process and Progression,’ Michigan Hip-Hop + More

2021-10-28

Photograph of Lansing, Michigan, emcee Ozay Moore.

Ozay Moore – Story by Anne Erickson, photo by Rosa Maria

Local Music Beat: Lansing, Michigan’s Ozay Moore discusses his new LP with Tall Black Guy, “Of Process and Progression,” the Michigan hip-hop scene and more in this edition of the column

Ozay Moore is passionate about music and hip-hop. The Lansing, Michigan, musician not only regularly releases hot tracks and LPs, but he’s also executive director of All of the Above Hip Hop Academy, a nonprofit that mentors youth in the arts.

Moore and Tall Black Guy recently released a collaborative LP, “Of Process and Progression,” and the set is garnering national attention, including music streaming service Tidal featuring the duo on the cover of their Jazz and Hip-Hop Heroes playlist. Moore caught up with Audio Ink Radio to discuss his background in music, the new collaboration with Tall Black Guy, the strength of the Michigan hip-hop scene and more. Find Ozay Moore online here.

Anne Erickson: Tell me about your journey into hip-hop and how you discovered this love and talent for the genre.

Ozay Moore: I grew up in a musical household. My father was deep into Motown and worked as the dance choreographer at the Paramount Theater in Seattle, Washington. I was somewhat of a theater brat growing up, running around the Paramount exploring the endless rooms and hallways of my pop’s entertainment world. I was exposed to hip-hop through MTV and radio. My aunt worked in the music industry and would send me records and tapes. I would study the music like I was preparing for an exam. (Laughs) In terms of finding my path as an emcee, I had a cousin who rapped that came to live with us when I was in elementary school. My folks saw how interested we were in hip-hop, so they got us a karaoke machine for Christmas. It introduced me to my own voice, and I was hooked. We quickly found how we could make songs with a cheap mic, blank tapes and instrumentals off cassette singles we copped from the record store. We dubbed these tapes consisting of five to six songs and sold them at school. We took the profits and bought more “beats” – thank you Sam Goody – and blank tapes. We legit had a little business, slanging our music to our friends. By middle and high school, I was immersed in the culture. Breakers, graffiti writers, DJs, emcees, cyphers, battles, etc. were all around me. I gravitated to wherever I could learn or experience more in my particular interests- rhyming, breaking and visual art. Older heads supported me and mentored me, in a way. They got me some of my first shows and opportunities to be on the mic in front of people. I’m thankful for all of that.

You have a new single out, “Viberite,” off your just-released LP, “Of Process and Progression,” a collaboration between you and Tall Black Guy. How did this collaboration come together?

“Viberite” is actually the fourth single off the album. We’ve been slow-releasing “Of Process and Progression” for a year now, essentially forcing people to take their time with this music. (Laughs) For this particular track, we were actually building with Lady Bug Mecca from the famed “Digable Planets” to feature. Things were rolling smoothly until we were approaching our deadline to have it turned in, and we still hadn’t received her parts. We pivoted to another emcee on our list, Kumbaya, and it ended up being the best decision for the track. Not only did she slaughter her verse, but she added extra texture singing and vibing out at the end of the song. It was perfect! In terms of Tall Black Guy and I’s collaboration, it’s been in the making for almost a decade. We’ve been featuring on each other’s projects always talking about how, at some point, we need to do an album. The tail end of 2019 provided the opportunity. He came out for the Below the Stacks Mural festival and stayed a few extra days. We locked ourselves up in the Lansing Public Media Centers recording studio and broke ground on the project. Shout outs to Dominic, Jason, Tina, and especially Jarrod Emmison, who helped tremendously engineering early sessions as we crafted the direction of the project. The rest is history.

What was your vision for this LP and collaboration, and what kind of themes are present on it?

Terell (Wallace, Tall Black Guy) and I were having conversations around the value of art, from its production to the product. We were talking about technology, master craftsman, analog vs. digital, streaming and the experience of putting a needle to the record, and it came to me. It sounded like a title for a novel, but we both felt it was fitting as a foundation for our collaboration, seeing as we were in sync with most of our views and perspectives related to the concept.

Your music is inspiring and thought-provoking. What kinds of subjects and situations do you find yourself writing about most?

As an MC, I feel my function is to “move the crowd.” Whether physically, emotionally or mentally, I write in a way that is anchored to that goal. I’ve never been one to speak on things I don’t know. I’ve never banged or sold rocks. That’s not my story. My content comes from a deep appreciation for humanity and the narratives found therein. Central themes to my work revolve around struggle, inspiration, motivation, development, compassion, empathy, creativity, mindfulness and the pursuit of our individual and collective best.

What are some national rappers you look up to, who you think bring that positivity in their rapping at a national level?

I look up to a lot of emcees, but folks who inspire me, skill and content wise, are Black Thought, Lil Simz, Skyzoo, Common, Talib Kweli, Jamal Bufford, Kumbaya, Shad and Add-2, to name a few.

You’re based in Lansing and are heavily involved with hip-hop in mid-Michigan and throughout the state. How would you describe the hip-hop scene in Lansing and greater Michigan?

We have world class talent here in Lansing. James Gardin, Jahshua Smith, Sareem Poems, Ward, Mikeyy Austin, Young Heat, Pat Rogers, Dj Cutt Nice, Ruckus, Y’z Council, Kwaj and really everyone in the All of the Above Hip Hop Academy (AOTA), just to scrape the surface. The dope thing is they all have the capacity to mentor the next generation of artists coming out of our community. Peace to all of our AOTA alum and students- they got next! Our scene has a rich history, no doubt. On top of that, there are dudes like Tugga, Fresh B, Kaz Drumatik, Diamond Jones, Sway Boi and a whole group of talented artists in the 517. All of the Above Hip Hop Academy is a mechanism in the scene to carry the legacy and build on top of it for generations to come. Michigan, as a whole, has produced artists who have made global impressions on the culture. I’m so proud to be here.

What kind of synergy exists between the Lansing and Detroit hip-hop scenes?

Speaking for myself, I have always been inspired by Detroit artists. From the late J. Dilla, Slum Village, Elzhi, Finale, Invincible, Guilty Simpson, Black Milk, Waajeed, Phat Kat and countless others, many of which were rocking in Lansing monthly when I first got here for Respiration at Mac’s Bar. Respiration was a monthly event held by a crew called F.O.S. They, along with Jamie Wilkins from Code of the Cuts, were actively connecting Lansing artists with Detroit and the broader Michigan hip-hop Scene. The newer Detroit sound is definitely prevalent in the approach of younger artists in Lansing, as well. I would say there is a deep connection.

What keeps you in Lansing and makes this a creative place for you to pursue your music?

My community. I love my community here. The All of the Above Hip Hop Academy also anchors me to this city. In this stage of my life, I can create with no pressure. My livelihood is in my community work, and my craft plays a part in it but isn’t responsible for sustaining my family. I love that! At one point, being a recording artist was my vocation. At the point where my family was growing, the ups and downs of the independent artists could not sustain my or my family’s needs. Making music felt more like a job than a passion. This season feels so good, to me because the pressure to create isn’t there, only the urge and desire. I think it’s reflected in my most recent release. The whole process was sweet, and now that it’s here, it’s even sweeter because it’s back to work and letting the music just do its natural thing.

You’re also executive director of Lansing’s All of the Above Hip Hop Academy. Tell me about the organization’s mission and what you do.

We are a nonprofit organization made up of artists, educators and advocates who mentor youth, support artistic expression and serve communities as a hip-hop cultural resource for the purpose of creative community development. We do this work through programs, classes, workshops, events and community collaboration.

You also involved with 2019’s Below the Stacks festival in Lansing and have worked with Dustin Hunt to feature vibrant murals around Lansing. Tell me what inspired you to contribute to this project.

We were inspired by the sheer amount of beige walls here in Lansing. Shout out to Samskee for all the work he put in prior to, during and after the festival. We are lucky to have him here. We knew that it would take a strategy, funds and serious organizing to activate some of these walls. So, I hit Dustin up with the initial idea. We both have lived in communities with thriving public art scenes and agreed on how important it would be for Lansing’s creative climate to see and value the spaces below our beloved stacks through new lenses. So, we started dreaming, put together a pitch, got a city impact grant through The Arts Council, a matching grant from the Community Foundation, raised additional funds, organized an amazing team of folks to pull Below the Stacks off through Muralmatics and All of the Above Hip Hop Academy and Boom- nine massive walls transformed the city with a sparking a new wave of creative energy throughout the region. Muralmatics has been busy developing programming to work with youth in the strategizing and implementation of large-scale murals. His most recent was in collaboration with BCFI downtown and is incredible! Dustin also did all the artwork for “Of Process and Progression.” I’m telling you, we have brilliance here in Lansing.

What other projects do you have in the works for the rest of 2021 and into next year?

Sareem Poems, DSTL and I are working on a project called “Grown Folks.” I’m DJng more and handling some mural work myself. Besides that, I’m working every day with All of the Above Hip Hop Academy and our team to support our young creatives here in the capital city. It’s all about the youth and community for me. This work is what I’m most passionate about. Between now and the rest of the year, we’re fundraising for AOTA through our “Dolla 4 Dolla” campaign. Folks can donate at AlloftheAboveHipHop.org. We’re looking forward to what this next year will bring.

Anne Erickson’s column appears regularly in Audio Ink Radio. Have a band or concert to share? Contact her at anne@audioinkradio.com.

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