If you're a fan of Michigan hip hop, you'll know of OneBeLo. The Pontiac native has been a fixture in local music for more than a decade, has been featured in these pages, and is one of underground hip hop's most beloved figures nationwide. Whether it's from his material as a solo artist or his days in Binary Star, OneBeLo makes his living as a thinking man's emcee; his lyrics jump from the spiritual to the street to the boom-bap at any given moment. Lo has never been afraid to reinvent himself, and that takes certain self-belief and confidence.
Since last September, Lo has been playing shows with members of the all-female band Yin and performing under the DoubleLo7 name. Aside from the, um, clever concept with a catchy moniker, Lo says he's really looking to hit audiences from a different angle, with something new. That, and he travels the country with a van full of lovely musician women who play everything from guitar, bass and drums to keys, flute and turntable.
The bulk of songs are OneBeLo classics set to live music, but realistically, it's the visual and aural dynamic of having a crew of righteous women alongside him that makes the group pop.
After a well-received show at this year's South by Southwest, Lo took the band on the road, earning the kind of crowd reactions that he has never experienced.
OneBeLo talks about the group:
"Would I take off on the road with an all-male band if they were tight? ... yes," he says. "But would the perception be the same? Of course not. I've rocked with various bands over the years ... but with an all-female band we're hitting different kinds of nerves. The reactions are different; ain't nobody gotta be all sexy with it, they're just being real musicians, I'm spitting real shit."
What's it's like touring with a van full of women?
"I would have to say it was one of the most rewarding trips I've ever been on," he continues. "It's not about being in the car with women, it's about these women in particular. We driving through the mountains and we're all meditating, and everyone sees it as a spiritual trip. With dudes, we might be banging some music instead. But on this trip, we'll be reading Quran, we're listening to The Art of War on tape, reading hadiths, or [Malcolm Gladwell's] Outliers, and it's completely different than any touring I've ever done. It's a learning experience."
Considering Doublelo7 is now back in Detroit, performing as part of this weekend's Hip-Hop Congress, it's a good time to hit Lo up for his own Motor City 5.
1. Who is the best musician to come out of Pontiac?
OneBeLo: I would have to say Keith "Bubby" Webb. Bubb makes beats, he can play keyboards, he can play drums, he plays in jazz bands, church choirs, the whole nine. I'd say either him or Melanie Rutherford. She's a singer-songwriter, she was on Black Milk and Pharoah Monch's album and she's amazing.
2. Where is your favorite place to eat in the D before or after a show?
OneBeLo: I fuck with Oslos. The sushi is real dope and the Thai food is dope. I'm a snob when it comes to both sushi and Thai food so they really must be doing something right over there for me to give 'em the thumbs up.
3. Who's the most underrated emcee in Detroit hip-hop in your opinion?
OneBeLo: I'd say Miz Korona.
4. What's your favorite local blog in Detroit?
OneBeLo: I don't know nothing about the internet. I don't even know what blogs are in Detroit. I need to start checking 'em out though. I just let people tell me what's going on and then I keep it moving.
5. What's your favorite memory of performing at St. Andrew's?
OneBeLo: I would say freestyling behind St. Andrew's back in the day when [House] Shoes used to spin, back before cats really blew up. You could see Baatin, Elzhi, Cool E, Phat Kat, young dudes like Black Milk was probably still in middle school or something. Paradime was still skinny. Back when everyone had locks. Hardcore Detroit would come out and represent. It was just ill shit. Nothing compares to it.
DoubleLo7 performs with Jay Electronica, Slum Village, 5ELA, and Ro Spit at 8 p.m. Saturday, June 26 as part of the 9th Annual Hip-hop Congress National Conference. St. Andrew's Hall, 431 E Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-8137; $15 advance, $20 at the door.Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org