"We'll be taking a lot of shots tonight!" 1 O.A.K. is about to head out and celebrate his brother's 21st birthday by hitting up a few local bars -- but the Oakland-based singer and producer has good reason to indulge in some reveling with his debut solo album, Special Request, having dropped last week. A free download, the 13-track project is the latest installment in the mighty Honor Roll Crew's saga, and showcases 1 O.A.K.'s slick and sophisticated vocals over Bay-based soul grooves.
With an album launch party going down at Vitus in Oakland tonight, which will include 1 O.A.K. performing with a four-piece live band, we checked in with the singer to talk about recording at the Honor Roll Academy, hitting up hip-hop in-stores at Rasputin, and a covers project he has planned with Trackademicks that will include the duo tackling songs by Wham! and The Smiths.
Listening to songs on the album like "Weekend" and "High Roller," it seems like your singing and phrasing is influenced by rap music. Is that right?
Yeah, I definitely grew up listening to rap. My music trajectory is kinda weird 'cause I didn't really start listing to anything outside of gospel music and maybe a few records my mother had and a lot of Stevie [Wonder] records until high school. It was at high school where I started to get deep into rap. I went to Berkeley and we were right by Rasputin and Amoeba records, and so I'd pick up various records there.
What sort of rap records did you first get into?
Well Rasputin was really the spot where local Bay artists would drop off anything they made as they hustled. So in high school I was really into Turf Talk, Mac Mall, Mac Dre, and pretty much my friends who rapped on a local level.
Did you check out any in-stores at Rasputin?
I remember a few in-stores, including one when Turf Talk was there and another where J Stalin was there. Turf was cool. It was for his second album, but I was a real big fan of the first album. He performed a song from the upstairs balcony; it was just a bunch of people hanging out at the bottom. I was too young to go to rap concerts, so that was like a rap concert to me.
Through your association with the Honor Roll Crew, you're known for being the singer in among a group of rappers. How is that?
It's cool. I kinda grew up musically with these guys, so it's deeper than just these guys being rappers. We have conversations that make up the song material on everyone's projects, whether it's me doing a hook or a beat, so I'm instrumental in most of it and I love hip-hop music, so that's pretty much the core of it for all of us. I'm a producer first, too, so it's definitely not a problem, but they encourage me to sing.
Which member of the Honor Roll asks you to sing the most ridiculous hooks?
Ha ha, well Josie [Stingray] has been known to have the funniest ideas. She'll kinda be playing, like 50 percent playing, so I just laugh it off. But, nah, I wouldn't say they have literally given me something where it's like, "Nah, I can't do that!" on a serious note. Everybody has great ideas.
What sort of ideas does Josie suggest to you?
Josie just has crazy ideas about how she wants me to sing, more than exactly what I'll be signing. She'll say, like, "Can you sing like R. Kelly here?" She'll be semi-serious and then it will just be hilarious to us.
Which member of the Honor Roll is secretly a really good singer then?
Trackademicks is a decent singer. He won't tell you if you ask, but there's some songs in the studio that will never see the light of day that prove he's a decent singer. He has an ear for melody and he co-wrote my album, too.
What are the sessions at the Honor Roll Academy like?
It's usually me, Tap and Track in there on a day-in and day-out basis, but everybody records different. Mike Baker [The Bike Maker] likes to have the entire idea in place and then we can sit and build the music from the idea. Then sometimes we'll make the beat and know exactly who it's going for. When we're all in there it's fun, like we might have a bottle of Jameson, a little herbal or whatever, and the music comes out. But it's always good conversation with us and that makes for the best music that comes out.
You've released a cover version of The Cure's "Love Cats" in the past. Do you have plans for any more covers?
Yeah, me and Track actually have an entire EP of covers that we're planning on putting out this year. The Cure cover that we did has been circulating for years -- that's probably one of my first joints that I did -- but we've finished a whole project based around alternative songs that people think we wouldn't love. Like Track is really into Wham! and Go West and stuff like that. I wish I could play them for you now, but you'll just have to wait and see...
What's the Wham cover you guys have done?
Ha ha. Should I tell? Okay, it's "Nothing Looks The Same In The Light." You can have that one! We also did The Smiths' "How Soon Is Now." That one's hella fuckin' cray, man!