Article by Gina Myers

On a hot summer night this past July, Bay City's Westown Theater and Night Club was filling up with hip-hop heads anxious to see Pittsburgh artist Wiz Khalifa.  The modest crowd was not prepared for one of the opening acts, OJ The King, who took the stage with the 80s Babies and a live band.  Their short performance was upbeat and high energy, and they brought the house down with their song "Party of the Year."  For a few minutes, the crowd might have really believed they were at the party of the year. 

Born Odell Walker Jr., OJ is quick to point out that's where his nickname comes from.  "It doesn't have anything to do with OJ The Juiceman," he laughs.  Since he was old enough to remember, OJ has always loved hip-hop, but it wasn't until he was playing football at Arthur Hill High School that he started rhyming.  He says, "After away games we used to play around and freestyle on the bus.  My teammates thought I was good and suggested I make a song.  I posted some songs on MySpace joking about food and stuff, and people actually liked it.  Soon after I dropped my first mixtape Six Figure Swag."  Now he has been writing and performing seriously for a little less than a year, and he's recently dropped another mixtape, Superstar Status.

The mixtape sheds light on what makes OJ a little different than many of the other performers in this area.  "My subjects differ from ones you normally hear around these parts, like drugs, crime, killing, guns, et cetera," he says.  On Superstar Status topics range from living the good life, to love songs, to inspirational songs.  It even includes one touching song written about OJ's grandmother, "So Long Granny": "You were my backbone / We used to pray together / I hope the family ain't lost hope / We need to stay together."  The song goes on to list OJ's desire for one more day to spend with her: "One more Uno game / One more trip to Ojibway with the church I wouldn't be the same / One more funny joke or the whoopings you gave / One more trip to the store to be your shopping slave."  But the song isn't mournful; it acknowledges the positive influence she has had over his life.  As OJ says in the beginning, "She lived a good life so I can't rap over no sad beat." 

Some of the strongest  tracks on the mixtape are the potential club bangers "It's My Time," "Motiv8tion," and "Party of the Year," which come at the listener full force and have catchy hooks.  "It's My Time" is about the grind—working hard and making up for past mistakes.  It opens with the chorus: "It's my time / I got to go get it / I'm livin' my life / Can't no one else live it / Future's so bright / Picture's lookin' vivid / Give me all the money / And the shit that goes with it."  "Motiv8tion" and "Party of the Year" are collaborations with local group 80s Babies, which is comprised of J-Will and DJ, both of whom OJ has known since middle school.  "Party of the Year" is a clear party anthem which can appeal to a wide audience.

OJ sees numerous mutual benefits from collaborating with the 80s Babies and the support they give each other, and he thinks others could learn from this.  While the local scene is coming along, OJ says,  "A lot of artists are out here for themselves instead of working together to get noticed like how Atlanta, Houston, Detroit come together and unite.  Even though their cities are bigger, that doesn't mean we can't do it here—there is power in numbers."

As far as his own musical tastes go, he's open to anything "if it's good." In addition to rapping, OJ can sing and he comes from a musical family too, with one of his uncles having been in Gladys Knight and the Pips.  His favorite acts right now are Wale, Drake, Lupe Fiasco, Wiz Khalifa and Kanye West.  "I'm definitely influenced by T.I.," he explains.  "Also a little bit of Rick Ross, Young Dro, Biggie and Big Daddy Kane.  But T.I. is one of the sole reasons why I even do it."  Superstar Status has some recognizable beats and samples, including Drake and Michael Jackson.

At only 20 years old, OJ's future certainly does seem bright or at least wide open with possibilities.  Although he is working to make a career out of music, he's also currently studying fashion design at Northwood University.  His immediate goals are to build his fan base, gain a bigger internet buzz, and get to the point where he is performing at least 3 to 4 times a week.  "Money is the last thing I'm worried about," he says, "When you start to think that way, then the hunger/grind becomes lost."  In January, OJ will be re-releasing Superstar Status through Coast 2 Coast DJs, and people will be able to purchase songs off of iTunes and Napster, as well as "a trunk near you," he adds with a laugh. 

OJ The King will be performing with DJ Snakes this Wednesday, December 30th at White's Bar (2609 State Street, Saginaw).  The show is from 10pm - 2am, 18 and up, no cover.  He'll also be performing January 16th at Club Rox in Alma.  To stay up to date on OJ The King's events, you can visit his MySpace page or follow him on twitter.

© Gina Myers, 2009