Local MC Ogun Brings Hot Tracks and a Strategy to Bolster Baltimore Hip-Hop
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In the land of enormous egos but miniature skills lives a humble lyrical giant. Ogun, born Kevin Beasley, obtained his alias--which he says means "the spirit of iron and truth"--from the Rites of Passage, an African-centered youth organization. "I just took that and ran with it as far as the aggression [in my music goes]," he says. "The whole philosophy is that Ogun [of African mythology] is the one that cut the path to other's understanding. So I try to take that and cut the path as far as Baltimore hip-hop and lead the way."
The Northeast Baltimore native began rhyming seriously about five years ago, after admiring hip-hop pioneers such as Rakim and Gang Starr. And when finishing up his recently self-released debut album, The Movement, he also encouraged listeners and friends to give some constructive criticism. "I really try to put other people's input into it," Ogun says. "Like if somebody says to try something a different way, a lot of people can't handle that. I can't make a song that everybody will like. I understand that. But I don't want to put nothing out there that people are just gonna straight dis."
Ogun strives for the same sort of communal experience during his live shows. With a rough but clear voice, hearty stamina, hot tracks, and various guests, he puts on a tight show--he'll actually jump into the crowd and roam around during a performance. At his recent album-release party at the Patterson Center for the Arts, the pumped-up Ogun took a cordless mic to the bar and out through the venue's lobby to sway wallflowers over to the stage. "My live show does a lot for me," he says. "Being an artist, as far as trying to get people to be a fan or to be interested in my album, I feel like my live show is a real good pusher."
The Movement takes listeners for a similar roller-coaster ride. "It's Ogun" boasts a West Coast bounce, and it and the catchy "Show Love" definitely rouse crowd participation. Ogun goes gutter-tough with "Yin and Yang" featuring Skar Akbar, "War Games" featuring rappers Ohh of Brown F.I.S.H. and Profound, and "Domination," in which Ogun rips it M.O.P.-meets-Freeway style. The "Rap Attack" freestyle, which comes from a live radio appearance on WERQ's (92.3 FM) weekend hip-hop show, throws enough heat to make any local listener cheer this hometown boy along. And Ogun shows his heart with "A Ma," "Shorty," and the clever "Private Conversation," which has him talking on the phone to himself. Laying down the dancehall hooks are Riddims Jahiti of Brown F.I.S.H. and Reese.
Ogun makes it a point to expose listeners to various voices with an abundance of guests on the album. "The songs with other people are not just a homeboy hook-up," says Wink, Ogun's manager and producer. "We thought of Gang Starr and Pete Rock. They had albums that just had a hard beat [as an interlude] or had songs with like six yos just rapping on it for exposure." But "Dugout" features six MCs, none of them Ogun, and while it spotlights new acts, they're not as captivating.
Ogun also stays community oriented. His 9-to-5 job is in social work, and he met Andrea Dawson after she entered a self-improvement program. He frequently made visits to the Dawson home, and when her East Baltimore residence was firebombed and she, her husband, and five children were killed last October, the tragedy hit home and led to "Dedication," a track memorializing the Dawsons. Ogun organized rallies for the family, and the song received radio play on WERQ and helped inspire the Maryland Hip-Hop Alliance's collaboration CD, Strength in Numbers.
Since he is a man of the public, Ogun knows that Baltimore club music, local hip-hop's biggest competitor, is thriving. But he doesn't think local hip-hop and club have to butt heads. "If the right person does it and they still have street credibility, it can work hand and hand," he says. "Let them [club fans] dance and then introduce them to so-and-so [on the mic]. It can work out, because club music ain't going nowhere."
In short, he thinks local musicians just need to get their priorities straight. In the song "Industry," Ogun advises artists to stop looking for the lazy, major-label money-train route to overnight success. Local hip-hop, he says, needs more local support and a better hometown infrastructure to turn more heads. "Baltimore is bigger than we think," he says. "A lot of people say we don't have a good scene, and I understand what they're saying. I don't think we have good venues and promotion, but, for the most part, there's a lot of people that have good music.
"As far as why we haven't really 'made it,' I feel that a lot of people are scared to invest in us right now. We don't invest in ourselves, so why should somebody else throw a million dollars at us? If people in Baltimore can start to invest in themselves and just go hard with it, I think it'll be a better turnout versus just making demo tapes and hoping someone will pick us up."