Odario Williams is a modern renaissance man. He's a radio personality + album reviewer on CBC's Q, one of our fav DJs (find him at Drake One Fifty on most Saturdays) and he's also the front man of Grand Analog. Before his show w/ Grand Analog in the Underground, we get to know Odario better and pick the brain of one of Toronto's hip hop mainstays about mumble rap, beefs + The Beatles.
You’ve classified Grand Analog as Rap n’ Roll. What does that mean?
We are a tightknit collective of characters that keep it raw and rebellious when creating sound. We keep it analog, reminiscent of early Rap and early Rock'n'Roll. Hip-Hop is our foundation, but we also experiment with classic dub and groove music. Basically, we are a funky-ass band.
You’re also on CBC's Q now. Do you pay attention to what people define as the “Toronto rap/hip-hop sound” and if so, do you feel as though it represents Grand Analog?
In terms of searching for that definition of "Toronto's Hip-Hop sound", I think our city (and it's Hip-Hop community) is trying too hard. Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is impossible for us to agree on what defines Toronto's musical sound because our cultural history is too dense. Therefore our city is capable of multiple sounds, not just one. We should embrace the fact that Toronto will never be another Atlanta, Memphis or London. I'd rather not have one sole crew define our sound, when there's so much more happening that equally represents Toronto style.
What is it about live instruments that Grand Analog is keen on staying loyal to?
Our live show is very important to us as recording artists. Performing on stage is a major focal point to our writing. We consider ourselves a band of brothers, as opposed to just session players. Having said that, my bad ass musician family members love to reinterpret old songs on the road. We try to make use of experimenting with old crowd favorites and giving them new perspective.
What would surprise a person who’s seen you DJ but are now seeing you perform for the first time?
It's two different mindsets. Two completely different personalities. The lines are so thick that the two personalities have in-depth conversations with one another about tips on how to be better at their respective professions. The lines are real.
Which came first? Making music or DJing?
My father was a party DJ in the 80s & 90s. We were born in Guyana, then dad moved us to Winnipeg when I was a toddler. By the time I was 16 I was assisting dad with setting up his DJ gear, testing the speakers and choosing appropriate party records. Our tiny living room had wall to wall speakers stacked to the ceiling and records all over the living room table. My brother Ofield, who is also in Grand Analog, and I used to busk on Corydon Ave (in Winnipeg) as breakdancers. I'd recite poetry in between dance moves (I dunno, I thought it was cool I guess... I thought I was being, umm, theatrical). The poetry eventually morphed into rap lyrics. There always comes a time in an emcee's life when he must stop reciting his idol's lyrics, and start writing his own. Hmmm, I'm not sure what came first.
What record do you constantly reach for? When you’re DJing and in your own downtime?
At home I tend to listen to a lot of 60's & 70's jazz records. It's the perfect balance from the hit songs I tend to spin on a regular basis in clubs. I enjoy dwelling in the best of both these worlds. There's so much great music out there, you can't sleep on the classics. I usually end my club sets with jazz standards, in order to get the party people to promptly leave the venue, but most of them stick around... and fall in love with one another to the music. Everyone starts making-out and shit.
What do you think of mumble rap?
I giggle every time I hear the term. You'd think the title 'Mumble Rap' would make a great children's album. As far as the actual sound is concerned, I think Kid Cudi and Lil Wayne were the first to perfectly 'mumble' thru their lyrics and make it feel good. I admire what it's recognized as today, as it's free minded the way jazz used to be. If you mumble a good melody, it's still a good melody. It's full of flavour and goes down easy the more autotune ingredients are added, I noticed.
What do you think of rap beefs?
I'm a big sports fan. I tend to make a lot of basketball references when approaching different aspects of music, such as performing, recording or touring. For example, just before a show I huddle with the guys, ram our foreheads together and give the type of pep talk only heard in championship sports. In sport, most times you need your opponent to strike a nerve in your quiet little gut, diss you in public and fire up the best (and worst) out of your abilities. Rap is reminiscent of that type of heat. Rap beefs are like UFC battles, using demoralizing lyrics & punchlines instead of physical technique to shame your opponent. And yes, it is a form of shaming... but rap beefs have been around before the internet existed. Those old-school beef songs were cut to vinyl, sold to the public and immortalized. If you're a rap fan, you know what your favorite all-time beef track is. If you're a rap artist, you know who not to start beef with.
As a DJ, you’re curating music and creating a mood, what kind of scenario would Grand Analog be perfect for?
I hear plenty of random suggestions for the perfect Grand Analog scenario. Back when Songza was created, Grand Analog was on a curated playlist titled 'Toronto Apartment Party'. I've had a DJ from Berlin tell me he always plays Grand Analog in the smoky dive bars he usually spins in. And a director friend of mine, now living in LA, is adamant about shooting a couple GA music videos along a sunset Venice beach. Most of Grand Analog songs have been written at night during summertime. We keep it fun, we keep it open to interpretation.
Do you agree with a statement made by Donald Glover that Migos are The Beatles of this generation?
What's with all the Beatles fascination lately? Kanye West, Rihanna, Rae Sremmurd, Donald Glover & Migos are all hot for the Beatles... or the idea of what the Beatles represent. What about the Rolling Stones though... that's my shit.
Migos is to The Beatles as Grand Analog is to blank.
Good question. I'd say Miles Davis. Grand Analog is the Miles Davis of Rap. Always creating music against the trend's grain. Always searching to uniquely define our sound, so at the end of the day you look back and understand that the flavours, and all it's little details, were finely curated.
Grand Analog plays the Drake Underground with Bus Up Shop + Maiko Watson, live, on MAR. 18 @ 8PM_$10. Get tickets here!