Kaz Oliver goes time traveling

The Columbus rapper will celebrate his new Audio Unit-produced album ‘Business on tha Regular 2’ with a release party at the Vanderelli Room on Saturday, Jan. 21.
Kaz Oliver (left) and Jack "Tha Audio Unit" Burton
Kaz Oliver (left) and Jack "Tha Audio Unit" BurtonCourtesy the artist

Kaz Oliver has done a bit of time traveling in recent years.

On Business on tha Regular, from 2021, the rapper drew inspiration from the music and culture of the 1970s, even appearing on the album cover decked out in a leisure suit, his hair teased into an afro. For the follow up, dubbed Business on tha Regular 2 and out today (Friday, Jan. 20), Oliver continues on into the ‘80s, piling on references to those cultural touchstones that helped shape the decade for him, including L.L. Cool J (“James Todd Smith”) and Dapper Dan (“Dapper Dan ’88”), who outfitted the iconic musicians and athletes of that era from his Harlem boutique.

“I’ve been a hip-hop head my whole life, and I love to go back, because those were my favorite times for music,” said Oliver, who will join Weezee (Still Loading) and producer Jack “Tha Audio Unit” Burton (Organic Cruis’n) to celebrate the trio of albums with a three-pronged release party at the Vanderelli Room on Saturday, Jan. 21. “One thing I always love to do is pull from my imagination, where I just get into my mode, get into my zone. … It’s nice to sit there in my own fantasy world.”

Oliver said this escapism afforded by the music served him well in recent years, particularly living amid a pandemic and a resurgent Black lives matter movement driven by continued police violence against Black men and women. In late 2020, that tragic reality hit so close to home for Oliver that it even managed to punctuate his creative cocoon, briefly bubbling to the surface on “Mobile Motorola.” On the track, Oliver momentarily turns his attention to law enforcement, rapping amid chirping cell phone alerts that officers “want to see me bleed before they see me eat,” a line he said emerged in the wake of Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Meade shooting and killing Casey Goodson in December 2020.

“We worked at Chase together. He was my little homie,” Oliver said of Goodson. “He was like a little brother to me, and I’d show him different things from back in the day, when I was young, because he used to call me an old head. … But he was really quiet, and he never got into any trouble, you know what I mean? He wasn’t in the streets. He just did his work and went home and took care of his siblings. So, that one hurt. That one hit home really hard, because that was my little man.”

Oliver is joined on the album by a handful of guests, including Weezee, Don tha Element and Wu-Tang Clan rapper Cappadonna, who injects brawler vibes into the concrete-hard “N.Y.F.W.” Regardless of the surrounding talent, though, Oliver remains in complete control throughout B.O.T.R. 2, weaving his way through the beats, a majority of which arrive courtesy producer Burton, in his ever-unflappable cadence. 

“I’m just kind of a smooth guy,” said Oliver, who teases out this trait on a pair of tracks inspired by iconically smooth players: “James Todd Smith” and “Teddy P. Mansions.” “I make smooth songs, and my content is smooth. … I’ve always had that smooth, Mack Daddy persona, you know what I mean?”

The rapper attributes this trait to becoming a father at a young age, which he said required him to mature earlier. “So, every decision I made, I tried to make it with a level head, thinking about my kids and thinking future-wise,” he said. “I didn’t want to make any brash decisions based on emotion, so I kind of developed this shell where I’m just cool, calm and collected about everything. Or I try to be, at least.”

While Oliver’s more recent albums fully reflect his personality, he said getting to this point was a process, with early recordings serving as a way for him to audition various personas. When he started rapping, for instance, he longed for little more than to catch the attention of those Columbus artists who first inspired him to pick up a mic, including Rashad and the 3rd Power, and his vocals carried trace elements of DNA absorbed from those artists. He then went through phases where he emulated uber-conscious backpack rappers and gangster acts before finally stepping into his own a few years back.

“I came to a point where I was like, you know, I’m neither one of those. I’m just me,” said Oliver, who traced this breakthrough in part to the 2020 release of De’Cure, a collaborative album and the first release on North City Music, a label spearheaded by P.A. Flex of the 3rd Power. “And I just started following my own path and talking that shit that I’m into, and it’s been working for me ever since.”

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