Get a life and then die.
—Onry Ozzborn, "Dope"
Sometime in 2004, I was enjoying a drink at some random hiphop show at Chop Suey; who headlined I don't remember. The important thing is that it was the first time Oldominion MCs Onry Ozzborn and JFK, with bassist Rob Castro, performed as Grayskul. From the minute the lights went down and the two dug into the grim beat (courtesy of Mr. Hill), it was obvious that these dudes were officially on to something.
Grayskul crystallized the essence of the heady, doom-and-gloom-filled, so-called "goth-hop" that Seattle luminaries Oldominion had been trying to perfect for years, but even darker, and yet more palatable. Somehow, Oldominion had produced a breakout act.
Aside from our slew of producers movin' the major units,
We brought the rain to 50 states with five exclusives.
Stupid humans seem confused with the gospel and think we're gothic.
And break out they did. Soon after that show, Grayskul signed to indie-hop juggernaut Rhymesayers Entertainment, who gave them a major boost with their 2005 debut LP, Deadlivers. Since then, they've been on dozens of tours, nationwide and international, by themselves and with their RSE brethren (including the massively popular Atmosphere, whom they're touring with this fall), and released a fistful of exclusive, full-length tour albums. The September 11 release of their second RSE album, Bloody Radio, puts their output at seven long-players in three short years. This creative abundance, this straight-up unmatched level of productivity ("It's all for the fans," laughs Ozzborn. "Lil' Wayne drops mixtapes every week—we drop albums") has honed the once ad-hoc Grayskul ethic to a wicked edge.
Bloody Radio cuts with a surgical precision compared to the chainsaw attack of earlier releases. Having sharpened their fangs on the hard grind of the last couple years, Onry and J both manage to go in harder than ever before on the mic.
"Conviction is key," insists JFK, a man whom many fans and artists—myself included—call Seattle's illest MC. Instead of the hellish lyrical free-for-all that typified previous efforts, Bloody Radio stays on track and topical, making the album's vision that much clearer.
If I was Paul Wall I would tell you to keep tippin' 'til the wheels fall off,
If I was Lil Jon I'd be pourin' that crunk juice all over my enemies' moms,
If I was Outkast I'd be braggin' to mu'fuckas I could sing and could rap,
If I was Pimp C I'd be countin' the days 'til I got out to blow up the kings!
—Onry Ozzborn, "Haunted"
The inadequacies of mainstream hiphop are a dead horse long beaten to jelly in the annals of independent hiphop. So instead of the typical holier-than-thou approach, Grayskul grind their own warped mirror of radio rap, something every bit as hook-filled and sleek as it is hardcore. Not that this is anything new: Both MCs agree that the Bloody Radio concept was on one of their first tracks.
"On our first album, we had the song 'Prom Quiz,'" Ozzborn says. "It had a beat that was really kind of happy and upbeat."
"So of course we thought we should make it a tragedy," counters JFK. Hence new joints like the dead-Disney-score stomp of first single, "Scarecrow," and the sneering crunk-rawk of "Haunted," where Ozzborn advises, "Lyrical this, lyrical that/learn the mainstream/then apply it to arsenal/now you're deadly on both sides of things."
"What we wanted to do is find the balance between what we do and what makes sense to the rest of the world," Ozzborn says. "To be able to show that we could do anything, like, say, an Outkast can, and do a big-sounding record without dumbing it down."
Bloody Radio is possibly the best Seattle hiphop album to come out in a year full of impressive releases, but its real test is in the national marketplace, not necessarily in Grayskul's adopted home of Seattle, where the crowds are fickle and the media regularly overlooks their contributions.
"Yeah, we used to be everywhere out here, we had our little reign," Ozzborn says, "but at the same time, we were even more focused on touring, and making our presence—ours and that of Seattle hiphop, period—known everywhere else. We're focused on pushing our stuff outside of the town—and nurturing the cats coming up—but we ain't goin' nowhere."