Derived from Japanese etymology, Oyabun means "the father" and refers to an absolute leader of a Yakuza clan. While 23-year-old Royal Palm rapper Oyabun takes his name from that mythic and shadowy underworld of organized crime, the Brooklyn transplant is still working hard to lay down roots and stake a claim in his new South Florida turf.
Born to Jamaican and Vincentian parents and raised in Brooklyn's Canarsie neighborhood, the newcomer had an idea of what hip-hop sounded like when he set out to make music, but he didn't want that to define him. When we think of New York rappers, the classic sounds of Jay Z, Biggie Smalls, and Nas usually come to mind. But while Oyabun respects the old school, he's made it a point to push his boundaries and find his own beat over the course of his relatively short but varied rap career.
"At different times in my life, I've had a nostalgic New York sound," he says. "I adapted to what would be considered a South Florida sound," though it's tough to pinpoint exactly what that sound is. On "All I Need," a sleek and slow-burning trap cut, Oyabun lays down smooth, Auto-Tuned verses that allude to a typical street lifestyle of taking and dealing drugs, though beneath the heavily manipulated vocals and party façade, the young upstart strives to layer more complex meaning in his raps: "Money is the root of all evil/But I need it to free all my people," he sing-raps.
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While he was attending Florida Atlantic University, Hurricane Sandy hit Brooklyn, destroying parts of his childhood home and spurring him to relocate permanently to South Florida. Though his first instinct was to meld his sound with that of the local underground scene when he moved down in the fall of 2012, Oyabun eventually decided to drive in his own lane. "When I was actually trying to fit in, it was hard," he admits. "Being from New York, I was treated as an outcast. But I've grown to understand that many of the people who weren't welcoming to me were just crabs in a barrel... Many of them didn't even show support for Florida local artists, so what was I expecting being from out of state?"
Dedicating much of his time to music and school, Oyabun eventually linked up with Lucky Fattori, a master beatmaker, and LeMieux, his right-hand producer. Those three teamed up to kick off 2016 with Oyabun's "official curve anthem," the hauntingly trippy breakup track "New Phone Who Dis." An unexpected and fresh-sounding mashup of the Weeknd's irresistible self-loathing, the psychedelic sound of Frank Ocean's epic "Pyramids," and Future's Auto-Tune artistry relating the pain of modern heartbreak, it's described by Oyabun as a record that can stand up to time.
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"Honestly, I went for a more modern sound, because I'm more interested in national and international appeal. This way, everyone loves the vibe," he says. But he insists, "In 2018, you can listen to the record and feel exactly how you felt in 2016. It represents a new mentality. Those people who didn't believe in you last year, leave them in last year. This is the new me, and I've left you in the past."
Right now, "New Phone Who Dis" is making the music blog rounds and buzzing all over the internet. After just a week on SoundCloud, the anthem garnered more than 20,000 plays. Millennials have been dubbed "the breakup generation," and clearly, lots of us have already changed our numbers in 2016.
Oyabun's plans for the year include dropping more hot singles with LeMieux and others, though you most likely won't find him onstage just yet. "I want to have the resources to put on an amazing show for my fans. I'm done doing disorganized, low-budget, underground shows with 20-plus other performers," Oyabun asserts with the kind of cocky swag required of an aspiring rap godfather. "Next time you see me onstage, it'll be a movie."