OOH steps outside Brown F.I.S.H. for a little mature content
Published: April 20, 2011
OOH performs with Brown F.I.S.H.
Forest Park Golf Course, Saturday, May 7
For more information, visit brotherswhocancook.com.
“I don’t make music for children,” says rapper Derrick “OOH” Jones, when asked about the distinction between his long-running group Brown F.I.S.H. and his solo career. “The OOH album is like the old Redd Foxx albums—you put those on after the kids gone to sleep.”
The explicit lyrics on recent OOH singles like “Pink Money” and “Brotha on the Run” aren’t a total left turn from Brown F.I.S.H., which has been melding conscious hip-hop, roots reggae, and contemporary rap with style and personality for more than a decade. But where Brown F.I.S.H. has built a relatively family-friendly image, frequently performing at community events and local festivals, Jones is simply not concerned with making his new solo material safe for all ages. And he’s doing it all for the kids.
“I’ve been a schoolteacher in Baltimore City for the past 10 years,” Jones explains one morning over the phone from the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center, where he’s been taking an active role in mentoring at-risk children outside the classroom. Youth Advocate Project, a nonprofit organization that’s existed in some states for more than 30 years, established a Baltimore chapter three years ago, of which Jones was recently appointed director.
In recent years, as he’d taken on more responsibilities aside from his former day job teaching at Gilmor Elementary, Jones had slowed down his musical output. It was becoming a parent himself in late 2009 that reinvigorated his passion for rapping. “With the birth of my daughter, it kind of made me get back into music again,” he says. “A lot of the same people that was around during the music time came back around, so I started making music again.”
And some of the motivation for those new songs was to raise money for his community activism. “So I started making music that I was thinking would actually generate funds, in order to fund my projects dealing with the kids,” he says.
The result is The Big 7, an EP with big creative and commercial ambitions belied by its brief running time, with huge hooky beats from Baltimore club vet Dukeyman and longtime Brown F.I.S.H. producer DJ Vertex. “A lot of the times people get on with some one-hit wonder type songs,” Jones says. “So I figured, if I make seven songs that I feel are single-worthy, and I put enough power and money into the production and everything, one of these songs should be able to get enough push that it brings enough notoriety to my cause.”
Since the charismatic, slick-talking MC ended up with far more than the seven songs he needed for The Big 7, which won’t be released until July (on the seventh day of the seventh month, naturally), he’ll be releasing the extra tracks, including one produced by Baltimore hip-hop legend Labtekwon, as part of his first mixtape. Jones drops The King of Pops May 29, his 35th birthday, and instead of filling out the mixtape with the standard freestyles over current hits, Jones instead chose to rap over beats from golden-age classics by Big Daddy Kane, Diamond D, and Poor Righteous Teachers. “All the tracks I grew up with,” Jones says. “Everything that I’ve loved, I redid.”
Jones formed Brown F.I.S.H. in the late 1990s with fellow students at Coppin State University, including Jahiti, a New York native with Jamaican roots who gave the group its distinct island flavor. Gradually, the two became the group’s permanent core, as they nurtured an extended family of backing musicians and guest rappers. “Brown F.I.S.H. became just me and Jahiti,” Jones says. “And that’s when the whole Wu-Tang effect just came from nowhere, like everybody just wanted to be down with the whole movement.”
After turning down a deal from Def Jam in 2002—they decided it was simply not financially worth giving up their day jobs—Brown F.I.S.H. set about fostering a grassroots following based largely on live shows and never releasing a proper album. Instead, the group occasionally compiles its various studio recordings and collaborations on a series of official “bootlegs,” the latest of which, Bootleg III: F.I.S.H. and Friends, was released in 2008, with a fourth installment currently in the works.
Even the unorthodox way Jones released Brown F.I.S.H.’s music had an additional agenda of helping out local kids. “The basis behind the [first] bootleg album, it was really for everyone to make some money,” he says. “We would just make the CDs, but we used to take ’em to the kids at the gas stations that was begging for change. We’d just give ’em CDs, like, ‘Look, if you sell the CDs, then you can make money like that.’ So we just had the kids bootlegging our album. What it did was it caused a great street buzz for us. We got a great core fan base that always comes out and supports and shows love.”
Jones, who grew up around other Baltimore rappers who’ve gone on to participate in their own community programs such as Ogun and Bear, says he’s gotten several of his musical collaborators involved in the Baltimore YAP, including Jahiti, Jahli of the group Golden Seal, and Jeneba Suma, who’s featured on “Pink Money.”
Even with his solo career taking center stage at the moment, Brown F.I.S.H. isn’t going anywhere, and in its frequent concerts even performs OOH songs, if they’re appropriate for the audience. The Big 7 runs the gamut from radio-friendly bangers like the darkly funny “Let the Light . . .” and “Baltimore City Slicka” to big-hearted material like the ode to Baltimore “Hometown” and “Daughter of the Most Fly,” a reworking of groupmate Jahiti’s solo track “Daughter of the Most High” that Jones says was inspired by becoming a father.
“The album, it’s real personal,” Jones says. “But I really feel like this is my attempt at making industry-standard music, to get those industry-standard results.”
For more information on the Baltimore Youth Advocate Program, visit yapinc.org.
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