Bad Rap: OCnotes on Why His Acoustic Guitar-Playing Self Is "The Real Me."

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Lucien Pelligren
The situation On a recent Sunday, I'm capping off my weekend with a beery night out at Liberty on Capitol Hill. Joining me is Otis Calvin III, better known as the local musician OCnotes. "I kind of want to start going by Otis," he says, "but I'm Otis the third, my father's a preacher, and I don't want to have people typing 'Otis Calvin' into Google and have my weed-smoking ass come up when they're really looking for my dad. That's the only reason I don't go by my name."

How He Got Here Calvin splits his time between Pioneer Square and Bellevue, where his two-year-old daughter, Bella Day-Mars ("It means 'beautiful day on Mars,'" he explains), lives. "I love my daughter. She's filthy," he says, happily flipping through cell phone pictures of Bella eating, playing a toy guitar, lounging in the grass in a model's pose.

Calvin's only employment right now is his music; he spent a few years working in kitchens as a cook, but the hard grind and low pay of the work got to him, and last year he decided to focus all his time into music. "I grew up around a lot of hustlers and people who did for themselves," he says, "and through that I definitely learned that the devil is a lie, and the government doesn't give a shit about you, and you gotta make shit happen for yourself in America, or you're going down."

Shop Talk Through his solo material and as half of the duo Metal Chocolates, OCnotes is one of Seattle's most popular and highly regarded hip-hop artists. But Calvin is also a songwriter of a different sort--at a recent low-key show at the Fremont Abbey, I saw him sing a series of charmingly simple, stark songs that he plucked along to on an acoustic guitar. "That's the real me," he says. Calvin started playing the guitar at around 12, and he names off "rock and roll white boy music" influences like Weezer's Blue Album and the Buddy Holly song "True Love Waits." "I really like cats like, what's his name, Elliott Smith? When he was around, he was filthy," he says. "I'm not the best at guitar, but I understand movement of music." In 2008, Calvin released a record of his acoustic material called Yes...It Hurts, but he believes that because of his role as a black hip-hop artist, no one's given those songs the time of day.

"They want cats to just rap and make beats and DJ. I think that's what makes people comfortable," he says. "I grew up in church, I been playing music since I was like 7, 6 years old. I can read and write music. And I've always been doing that shit. But people see me and say, 'Oh, he makes beats.'"

BTW Calvin doesn't believe he could play a show of strictly his guitar songs at a place like Neumos or the Crocodile--because he doesn't think people would come. "Even if I told them and painted a picture of exactly what's going to happen, people would still think it was going to be some hip hop shit, and they wouldn't get off their asses and come watch it," he says. It's the narrow categorizations that bother him--why can't a rapper also play guitar and sing? "Pearl Dragon from Champagne Champagne, he writes incredible songs on the guitar," he says, citing another local example. "People want to really plastic wrap hip hop artists--people that do performances without a band behind them--'cause they don't understand. It doesn't mean we're any better or worse than any one of these rock bands. We're just doing some different shit."

OCnotes (the rapper) plays the Barboza this Tuesday, July 17 with Wolf Hotel and White China Gold. The show starts at 8 p.m. and there's a $5 cover.

 
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