Santa Cruz’s own Otayo Dubb brings blue collar hip-hop to the Lagoon
he name Otayo Dubb—a moniker taken from the Swahili term for “ambush”—connotes the effect of the rapper’s blue collar hip-hop style. Straddling the underground hemispheres of street and conscious hip-hop, Dubb’s musical ambush is a bumping meditation on the struggles and joys of everyday working-class people.
Though born in Oakland, Calif., Dubb was raised by two working-class jazz musicians on the west side of Santa Cruz. His hunger for rhythm was established before birth, as his mother, an avid musician of Caribbean and West African influence, played congas while pregnant with him.
Reflecting on his childhood, Dubb says, “It’s funny how things always come around full circle. Back in high school, I’d bring homies or a girlfriend to my house, and chances are there was this full-on band rehearsal goin’ on in the middle of the living room … I kinda resented it.”
Over time, though, the struggle that came with being a teenage youth of color in the Reaganomics era pushed Dubb to heed the call of his creative muses and self-expression.
“At first, I was into drawing and break-dancing from all the time I spent in Oakland and the culture of hip-hop that was evolving there,” he says. “Santa Cruz was a space where there was a hip-hop community, but I also was friends with many different kinds of people and cultures that make up the town.”
Growing up, roots reggae music (particularly Bob Marley), soul, jazz, and alternative rock were big influences on Dubb, who found refuge at Palookaville—a now defunct Pacific Avenue music venue—where West Coast hip-hop once thrived.
Things took a turn, however, when Dubb was accused of assaulting someone on New Year’s Eve in Santa Cruz, handcuffed, and put under house arrest. Though upset by the accusation, Dubb channeled his emotion into song and made vows to the pen, paper, rhythms, and stories that form the foundation for his hip-hop.
“In fact, the first show I performed was fresh off house arrest with my cousin Sakima and our group, Co-Deez [short for co-descendants]. Soon enough our name was out there and we found ourselves being called up to open at Palookaville for the likes of the Heiroglyphics crew, Goodie Mobb, and De La Soul.”
The opportunity to share the stage with artists he respected, motivated Dubb to pursue his self-proclaimed “blue collar hip-hop.” So, in 1994, he moved back up to Oakland, where he and Sakima would release Do-Deez’ debut album, Royalty. Critics and fans responded positively, acknowledging the production quality, samples, and the group’s genuine and unique rhymes.
In August, Dubb released his first solo album, A Cold Piece of Work, for which he enlisted the help of hip-hop’s A-list producers—6fingers, Digital Martyrs, CAV3—and emcees like Geo of Blue Scholars, Zumbi of Zion I, and Bambu. Half of the tracks were produced by Dubb himself.
The lyrical content of the album gives voice to the realities of life, with a vibration you can dance to, cruise to, or even “Bang Ya Head” to. Dubb’s articulate flows carry from the banks of his tenor vocals to touch down on issues of violence, poverty, and fatherhood.
“I was able to say everything I wanted to say on A Cold Piece of Work,” says Dubb. “Blue collar hip-hop is not pretentious … it’s about putting in work, whether that be for a cause, a dream, or to make the ends meet at the end of the month—something 99 percent of us can relate to. So, I live by the words my dad [Santa Cruz jazz pianist, Murray Low] always told me as a kid, ‘Talking ain’t walking! Don’t talk about it, be about it.’”
Otayo Dubb performs Friday, Nov. 25 at The Blue Lagoon, 923 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $5. 423-7117.