As the 5th and final chapter of Main Attrakionz’ Green Ova Records, Oakland’s Shady Blaze appears to be an afterthought — in reality he was there in the beginning, when Squadda B and Mondre first came up with their name. With a new project out November titled Green Ova’s Most Hated, and a slew of EPs with producer Spadez queued for the future, Shady Blaze prepares to drop his unique brand of conscious street rap at a relentless velocity. The rap game best catch up.
Having just gotten the word from his homie, a teenage Shady Blaze hops in his car in Hayward and points his wheels in the direction of Oakland. In the back seat the battery flap on his Yamaha keyboard makes a sound like rattling tic tacs. Slung over one’s shoulder, its belt of D batteries looks like ammunition.
Fifteen miles down the road, Blaze’s homie Peter directs him to pull the car over, to where two little kids stand.
“It’s them,” says Peter, nodding at the two boys.
“Come on, dude, this can’t be them,” says Blaze, watching as the kids stroll towards his car.
“It’s them,” says Peter.
Ah man. We’re about to bring these 12 year olds to the house. What we about to do?
That’s what Blaze’s thinking as he drives himself, his homie Peter and the two kids, who call themselves Squadda B and Mondre, to his mom’s crib.
But when they get there, and unload the Yamaha into the garage, Blaze reasons with himself. They’re there. They might as well try it out.
And is he ever glad they do.
“It was crazy,” says Blaze in a telephone interview. “I’d never heard a 12 year old rap like this.”
After playing a selection on the keyboard, inserting a blank tape into the cassette and writing, Blaze plays Squadda B and Mondre a beat they later perform at Oakland Idol, a local Bay Area talent show.
Short a studio, what would become the duo Main Attrakionz used the talent show platform to master their art, which ultimately led them to organize the Green Ova family and reconnect with Shady Blaze. But that part of the story comes later.
Coming up as a young homie in East Oakland
Shady Blaze grew up in East Oakland to the music and sounds his mom and grandma liked, a little rhythm and blues, jazz, Michael Jackson. In fact before rap he wanted to be a famous R&B artist.
“I wanted to do R&B until about 11, but I couldn’t think for shit though.”
Discouraged about his prospects of joining the next Jackson 5, Blaze turned his attention in school to instruments, and learned how to play the trombone, trumpet, drums and piano. The latter he taught himself.
When he was eleven the family moved to 89th Avenue in East Oakland, which is where Blaze first got introduced to rap. On the way to middle school he passed groups of neighbors chilling, playing football and freestyling.
“They started rapping, making songs on cassettes,” says Blaze. “I was the standout. I wasn’t doing it because I didn’t really get it.”
Reluctant to be the outsider, however, Blaze caved and one day stopped on the way to school to try his own freestyle. And that’s all it took. From that day forth, the only time his teachers and friends saw him was during music and P.E. class.
The rest of the time he spent rapping, or scouring the music store for the latest Ca$h Money, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Twista records. It was around that time too that he came up with his first rap name, inspired by Ludacris and how he combined his real name (Chris) with his rap name. That’s how the name Velocity was born.
Young homie stops going to school
Only 15 and spinning rhymes faster than a strongman spins a dreidel, Velocity waxed unstoppable to any force other than one — that of his mother.
“My mom would kick me out because I had to go to school and do something with my life,” says Blaze. “Instead I would just stay home all day and make music.”
Kicked to the curb repeatedly by his mother, Blaze remained stubborn on his quest, inviting the then-12-year-old Squadda B and Mondre over to his mom’s crib to make music. But when little came out of that, the mounting pressure from his family got to him.
For the rest of his teenage years, or at least until he was legal, Blaze put rap on the back burner. In the meantime he met his girlfriend, with whom he would later have a son.
Then one day, almost four years later, he got a phone call. Blaze’s homie hit him saying he met a cat in Oakland who knew him. His name was Squadda B.
Blaze immediately put down his hammer, and ceased work on his white picket fence.
At this point in their careers, Squadda and Mondre of Main Attrakionz were well-known and buzzing artists in The Bay. Soon they would attract national attention with 808s and Dark Grapes II, put out through Mishka and including that coveted A$AP Rocky feature (“Take 1/Leaf”) that also appears on Rocky’s Live.Love.ASAP debut.
To reconnect with those dudes must have seemed like a no-brainer for Blaze, who’d yet to experience any real reception for his music. So when Squadda B encouraged Blaze to stay patient, to keep dropping songs on SoundScan, he did.
When faced with few to no responses online to his music, again, he listened to Squadda B. “It’s going to be your time, you just got to wait on it,” Squadda would say.
And in 2011, it happened. Blaze and Squadda B dropped their collaborative mixtape called The Shady Bambino Project, which earned Blaze his first local attention.
For a kid at the “Crossroad,” to quote Blaze’s favorite song, the mixtape was a reason to keep going. And it did just that, until later, when tragedy struck.
Soon after dropping The Shady Bambino Project Squadda B and Mondre decided to wean their crew down from 20 to five, and asked Blaze if he wanted to be Chapter 5 of Green Ova Records, the indie label they were about to start.
Blaze said yes, and along with Chapters 3 and 4, Dope G, and Lolo, respectively, performed shows and made music under the umbrella of Green Ova, popping up on more blogs and in more magazines nationwide. They also set a deadline for Blaze’s album, The 5th Chapter.
It was also around this time that Blaze’s girlfriend became pregnant with their son, which, despite being a blessing, presented a problem. Bay Area rappers, traditionally outside the mainstream, make only enough money to keep themselves going. They make a living show-to-show, and have little left over to support a family, let alone raise a child.
So, although he already had started recording, Blaze prepared to break the bad news to his fans. He would be hanging up the towel, again, on his rap career — to get a job, make a living and support his family.
It seemed to be the right move: leave rap to make a comfortable life for his son. But unfortunately that chess piece never left its square. On March 2 of this year, Blaze’s girlfriend gave birth to their son 23 days prematurely.
“There was a slim chance he was going to make it,” says Blaze of the birth, of his girlfriend’s Cesarean.
Twenty days later the child died. They held the funeral a week later, and right after Blaze returned to the studio where he would write a song about his son.
“At the time I had one song on there, ‘C5 Money Hype,’ and when he passed I just went back in the studio … after that the whole project came together in a month.”
Hardly recommended by the APA, recording became a form of grieving for Blaze. And on May 15, less than a month after his son’s death, he dropped his proper debut, The 5th Chapter, his official Green Ova release. It was met by rave reviews from critics.
The 5th Chapter
Drawing on sounds common to The Bay, in that their idiosyncrasy defies categorization, Blaze’s records blend The Jacka’s street aesthetic with a free-form, rapid-fire delivery.
Among the 18 songs that round out this socially-aware and stubbornly authentic mixtape, “Kids Meal” stands out.
“That song,” says Blaze, “while my girlfriend was pregnant I was just thinking about being a dad and thinking about all the kids, how everything starts at an early age. We always grow up and blame each other for so much shit that goes on in the world.”
The song’s chorus, “the truth lies in the youth eyes until we feed them the lies,” reflects Blaze’s feelings about the naivete of children, how fragile they are.
“We all talk about racism at an early age in school, before that you don’t even know about racism, and you’re in a class with a bunch of different races you don’t even think about it.”
Whether the Tree of Knowledge ought to be tapped for its fruit is one of several stimulating and important questions Blaze tackles on The 5th Chapter.
Whether Blaze is comfortable being the serpent is another one. And is something we’ll likely find out on his forthcoming project, the follow-up to The 5th Chapter, Green Ova’s Most Hated.
“I see somebody post on Twitter, I love Green Ova but I hate Shady Blaze,” says Blaze of the inspiration for the title.
As if awakening teens to the processes by which public institutions program them is a crime, such fans lamely complain about Blaze’s bluntness.
Unlike Main Attrakionz, whose vibe often overrides their message, Blaze delivers the rap equivalent of Thor’s hammer.
And he doesn’t seem destined to stop.
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