Anxiety, death, and coffee, the new EP “Callous” by OKnice is chill without being laid back, cynical with out being bleak, and heavy with out being inaccessible. The themes on “Callous” also include fame, success, money, and what it means to not have any of them. The dense and intricate lyrics of “Callous” are balanced out by the awesomely tense, jittery, and light on the bass production provided by Deergod. The beats provide a perfect soundscape for the reoccurring subjects of loss, pressures to succeed, and coping with what you can’t control or change found throughout the EP. With very few pauses, “Callous” jumps from subject to subject while never feeling chaotic; everything’s connected and you barely notice the transitions. I could talk about individual songs, but the EP feels more cohesive than that, and reminds me of a four part prog-rock song that takes up the A side of a record. For that reason I don’t really have a favorite track, more just lyrics that stand out: “Work to stay alive, but don’t live because I work so much, I think success is what brings out the worst of us, and successful isn’t happy, it’s a difference” from “Pretty Much, Yeah” and “We all look like villains when the world looks like Gotham” from “Rx.” Based off everything so far you could get the impression that the EP is dark and brooding, but there is an element of getting through and getting by, of keeping your head up and carrying on the good fight, even if it falls short of being optimistic. “Callous” is another amazing project from OKnice, check it with the exclusive preview below and out everywhere April 2nd, you’ll be glad you did.
(Melodic Noise) Who is OKnice?
(OKnice) When it comes to who is OKnice, just one person (civilian name Cris Gibson.) But I can't pretend like it doesn't take a village. My main producers are Deergod, Hex, & Ajani Abstrakt. Live I play with this tall & devastatingly handsome cat named Jay Weiler who drums/dj's.
(OK) Hip Hop
(MN) What’s your origin story?
(OK) I've rapped since I was 13 and when I moved to MN in 2010 I kind of gave it up thinking it was too hard to start over. Then after playing in some (not always great) bands with Jay he & our friend Hasani really pushed me to get back into after randomly freestyling and realizing I wasn't just trash and lying about what I used to do. That's when I took up a new stage name that repped both the places I called home as well as what most people say when they first hear me rap.
(OK) No labels, just friends.
(MN) What’s the story behind the name of the EP?
(OK) Our latest EP is called Callous. Our full project, i'm here but i'm not, was several years worth of working through loss, my journey in mental health, and just finding my feet as a songwriter. This project is very present. Where the full length was a culmination of experiences and feelings, some several years old, this EP came out of a very present feeling of being kind tired and bitter. I've been through therapy, I've worked through a lot of things, bettered myself and just had a lot of days where I don't feel as down or vulnerable but I have been angry and a little aggressive.
(MN) Lyrically what stands out on the album?
(OK) Beyond having thoughts/feelings to express, I really just felt like rapping. This is easily the best I've been at my craft. I didn't worry so much about writing catchy songs, or proving that I can be the most inventive song writer. I just set out to really show why I'm one of the top folks in my city doing the thing. Everybody got bars but I like to think I've got bars AND a point. I also got more abstract on this than past stuff. I write a lot of concrete images, tell very blunt stories, and what not so this kinda let me flex in more of the metaphors and play with ideas more.
(MN) Who are some of your influences and Minnesota influences?
(OK) This will change everyday forever but major ones off top are Big Pun, Tupac, Bone Thugs, Earl Sweatshirt, Chris Orrick, Jay Z, El-P & Cage. Definitely influence from growing up near that Texas sound with UGK, Paul Wall and Lil Flip. Outside of rap I really loved bands like Armor For Sleep, Less Than Jake, Box Car Racer & Senses Fail. Those are definitely all major ones that I can still play at any time. Minnesota Influences were way more subtle because I actually wasn't at all familiar with the scene until I moved here in my early 20's. Before that though I definitely knew of Eyedea and freestyle wise he was someone I looked up to heavily. After living here I really learned a lot from Metasota, Illab, POS, and Manny Phesto.
(MN) Who are your favorite current Twin Cities artists?
(OK) This is always so massive. I'll try to keep it shorter with more recent folks. Darren Sipity, Bailey 26 Cogan (& 26 Bats!), Nyasia, Mic QA, Love, Ulysses, Dungeon TheBaptist, Hard_R, Niiice., Unturned, Hasani Harris (now lives in Chicago but still, fire), Mariah Mercedes, and there are so many more that I'm definitely forgetting and will probably get scolded about but the cities are so full of talent in literally every genre. It's a really cool time to be making music here.
(MN) Favorite venue to play & see shows at in Twin Cities?
(OK) For bigger shows I really love Turf Club. I just like the layout and being right off the light rail and in St. Paul is heaven for me because so few venues are. For smaller shows I like the feel of 7th St. and Honey. I'll always love a basement feel and pit settings. I also really dig playing places like that. Honey is kind of like home just because so many of us who rap started doing shows there and both Jon the owner and Jon the sound guy are excellent to work with. 7th st. has super professional staff and great sound setup. Both places are stress free to play which is my favorite part.
(MN) What can fans expect when they come to your show?
(OK) They can expect a LOT of words. haha. I've really worked to make an engaging show that feels like we're having a conversation. I really like to have that pit/punk feeling and have worked (out) a lot to have a more energetic live show. It's easy to think because the music is a lot of feelings the shows might not be high energy but that's definitely not true. I put a lot of thought into each set and never just have some robotic default or anything. I love making sets. Most of the time you can catch me with my guy Jay dj'ing/drumming and that always adds a cool vibe to things just because we've played together so long.
(MN) Do you have a favorite memory of playing a show?
(OK) One of my favorites is when we were playing the Red Herring in Duluth, one of my favorite cities to rap in, and I'm doing one of the only slow songs I do from the mic stand. I've got a beer in my hand and doing this rap about my grandparents. It's a really emotional song for me to do and I just see this hand sloooooowly creep out of the crowd to cheers my beer on stage. It was so hard not to laugh.
(MN) What was the inspiration behind the album?
(OK) We dropped a full length, i'm here but i'm not, back in September and I was sure I wouldn't put out ANYTHING for a long time after that. Well, clearly jk. I was really hitting my stride with writing and naturally just pumping out good bars and better flows. I'd had an idea for a while to do an EP with Deergod that drew influence from some of our favorite emo and hardcore bands. I didn't want it to be some gimmick thing though just to be an appreciation of our influences. It's an album for people who love bars as well as for those who love honest lyrics. It's definitely the most raw I've been both in raps and in my honesty.
(MN) What do you hope people take away from the album?
(OK) With every release I just hope people have something they can relate to and feel heard. I also hope I have bars & lines that every kind of hip hop head will just make a screw face to. I recently said my goal for 2019 is to be undeniable. I think that this project is a step in that direction as far as being one of the best rappers around right now.
(MN) Who are your dream tour-mates?
(OK) WOO. Love this question. I like the idea of doing a mixed genre tour. Big dreams would be The Wonder Years or Earl Sweatshirt. If letlive. got back together I'd do a Hunger Games style competition to get on that tour. That'd be dope.
(MN) What do you like about living in the Twin Cities?
(OK) I've been in St. Paul since January 2009 and definitely moved here thinking it was temporary and now it'd take something big to make me leave. I cant' quite describe it but it's the only place that's ever felt like home. I've been in the midway (or right by it) the whole time and I just love every part of it. Most of my folks live over south and in NE so I get plenty of my Minneapolis time too. It's just a cool place to be. It's def got it's issues and things that need to change but it's the only place I've felt safe to just be myself, whether that's in the arts, beliefs, whatever.
(MN) Favorite places to grab food or drink in the Twin Cities?
(OK) Oof. This is like that favorite TC artist question. Let's just dive in: Neighborhood Cafe, Revival, Taco Cat, The Dubliner, Lake Monster, Republic - 7 Corners, Cecils, Sharretts (it's a liquor store but I def like grabbing drinks there), Workhorse Coffee Bar and Sweeneys are all go to's.
(MN) Day job?
(OK) I work in IT & am working on a Creative Writing masters (basically another job). The plan is to teach creative writing after I get that wrapped up.
(MN) What are your plans for the future with music?
(OK) Keep creating & improving. It's wild I got a late start in doing this all seriously but I also feel like I haven't even touched a prime yet. I'm excited to keep experimenting and sharing and telling my story. The hope is to connect with as many people as possible. It's something I love & as long as that's true I'll keep doing it. Definitely trying to hit some tours & festivals & hopefully way more collaborating to close out the year. Darren Sipity & I owe everyone a joint EP we've talked about for like a year now.
Catch OKnice at these upcoming events:
Fresh Hop at 12 Eyes Brewing 4/4
Final Spring Fest pre-party at Nomad World Pub 4/27