Now lemme take you to a place where the rays of the sun/Blocked by the gray lofty rain often come...
Pontiac, Michigan, is a chiefly African-American, working-class Detroit satellite whose main export for decades was courtesy of the General Motors plants that produced the city's namesake vehicle. It's a long way from the affluent, predominately Caucasian hills of Seattle, but Nahshid Sulaiman—the dynamic MC formerly known as One Man Army of the cult favorite indie-hop crew Binary Star, today known as the solo artist OneBeLo—is a familiar face to hiphop fans in the 206. Perhaps it's the cities' similarities in weather: For some reason, OBL's music has resonated with Seattle audiences for the better part of a decade.
"Seattle really is like a second home," says the man known as Lo. "Cats out here were just hitting me up about shows back in the day, and I was skeptical at first. But dudes just showed me a lot of love from the start." It was the members of the SHOW—the Student Hiphop Organization of Washington—UW students, promoters, and local scene fixtures like Jason "J-Promo" Norcross, (former Stranger columnist) Samuel Chesneau, and Marc "Sense" Matsui who reached out, bringing Binary, and later just Lo, to the city to rock shows whenever possible and establishing a business and personal rapport that stands today.
The Seattle connection only deepened when Lo was christened an official member of Seattle's world-champion b-boy crew Massive Monkees. "I hosted the Brainstorm battle and they were rocking, doing one of their routines," Lo says. "The music was playing, but cats were just quiet. I remember thinking I should go say something on the mic, but I didn't know cats like that; I didn't want to disrespect them. Later I kinda just mentioned it to a couple of the dudes, joking, like, 'Yo, son, lemme in the crew!' I ain't from Seattle, man; I don't dance—and they was like, yeah, we want you! I was like, me? Why me?" he laughs.
His connection to Massive Monkees makes real sense in the big view, both entities being dues-paying torchbearers of venerated South Bronx tradition, yet having the technical skill to push the craft ever forward. "They on that fundamental shit," he says. "Just like me." A hidden last track on his banging new album, The R.E.B.I.R.T.H., has Lo riffing raw over a BeanOne-laced breakbeat with all the Technics 1200 trimmings. Gleefully pumping up his adopted crew, it's a rare glimpse of an MC at his level paying homage to the purest pillar of the culture.
His previous records were chiefly dated material, but The R.E.B.I.R.T.H. captures the OneBeLo of 2007 in full fighting form, and features production from the 206 trinity of Vitamin D, Jake One, and BeanOne, as well as upstart boardsman Eric G. After parting ways with Fat Beats Records (who released his first official solo album, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M.), Lo is feeling and sounding better than ever, bringing a wide palette of tones, juicing insight from warm reminiscences as well as true Midwest grit, relevant to today but brimming with the same old-soul authority that made him such a standout from jump.
"It's like—damn, I got four producers from Seattle," Lo says. "The photographer snappin' pics is from Seattle; Seattle is all over my shit! I just got shown so much love. Man, it really is like a second home. And I didn't do that on purpose; I embraced that 'cause it's natural. I wasn't like, 'Yo, I gotta get Jake One, gotta get Vitamin, get down with Massive Monkees.' Man, I couldn't have planned that shit if I wanted to."
"Some people say, 'You're going in a different direction,'" he continues. "I'm not headed in a different direction; I'm trying to get to the top! I wasn't trying to go to the East, to the West. I'm trying to elevate."