Throughout the years in rap music, there have been artists that have remained topical because of the impact made on Hip Hop culture. Duos: Run DMC – with Jam Master Jay – crafted witty dialogue and those that followed, from Eric B. & Rakim, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Gang Star, Mobb Deep, EPMD, and Outkast, incorporated clever wordplay and have all contributed to elevating emceeing throughout the years. Are there artists that have been ignored or haven’t received enough acknowledgment? Of course! Names like dälek, Lab Waste, Binary Star have never trended throughout the mainstream but have diversified Hip Hop musically and radically enough for many to take notice. Also left out of the mainstream conversation is Dark Time Sunshine, the union of Chicago producer (Alexander) Zavala and Grayskul/Oldominion emcee out of Seattle, WA, Onry Ozzborn. The two artists first met through Ozzborn’s Oldominion cohort, Sleep and bonding soon after. The two then released its first album, Believeyoume in 2009. The release was the start of a fruitful collaboration filled with Zavala’s thickly clustered beats, owing much to an electronic influence melded with Ozzborn’s poetic storytelling. While both artists also focus on solo projects releasing material on their own, there is nothing quite like the Dark time Sunshine experience.
Throughout the past 12 years, Dark Time Sunshine has dropped five albums under the moniker, which also includes 2010’s Vessel, bookended the same year with the tour-only release of Cornucopia, 2012’s ANX, followed by this year’s LORE (Fake Four Inc.) Both Zavala and Ozzborn have found a place where there’s a meeting of artistic minds, creating music that couldn’t be the same without either one. Zavala’s distinct & unique sound clutches onto strong melodies as Ozzborn wraps his crafty words around those melodies and beats. I caught up with Onry Ozzborn while on a west coast jaunt down to Southern California and we talked in depth about music, family, and more.
I had been meaning for a few years to actually do this but something always got in the way for whatever reason… So, new album. With you and Zavala as Dark Time Sunshine. First question, not going to beat around the bush: where have you been? Well, I know where you’ve been but why did you take such a long pause in between albums for you guys.
I guess after we did ANX, Zavala got into a phase where he was really into house music and music of that nature, so he worked on a solo album and was working on that, and I was just doing my thing. I can’t even recall what I did at that time. I think I made the Grayskul album and then a few solo things, ventures. We tried to come together a couple of times to make some Dark Time music and it just didn’t click. Right? For some reason. I don’t know. We just weren’t in the right space to make it and we don’t force things. We just try to let them take shape and… I don’t know. For some reason, during the whole pandemic, when all that stuff hit, (Zavala) started sending me some music. At that time I had been through a lot already, with my son, went through a number of things, my daughter got sick, and then I went through a big breakup, and it was all right in a row. Three years in a row and then the pandemic hit right at the end of it. Here he goes sending me music, and I don’t think I’m even in any shape to make it- unless it was going to be sad, or negative. It ended up coming out way more positive. We just went with it and we hit our stride… and… I don’t know. It just came to fruition, at a really bad time.
With the album itself, there’s a lot of emotion that goes through it. For me personally, I feel a lot of different things when I hear it. I can definitely break that down a bit more. Like say on, “Ritalin”, on that joint itself, it makes me think how people, not just kids though but also with adults, and with so many pharmaceuticals, everyone is numb. You really don’t get someone’s true emotions and feelings. And that’s what I took from that. It took me back to 20-some odds years to when some shrink had told me I needed to be on drugs, but it just didn’t feel right. What was the premise of it initially?
That’s a good interpretation but to be honest, I didn’t have any premise. I literally, with every single song on LORE, I just let the music – I kind of free-wrote to a lot of it, but I was just letting stuff pour out. And like Ritalin, actual Ritalin, I’ve never even taken or anything, it’s way more metaphoric. And it is – it’s just about being numb and really scatterbrained and just, you know, dealing with a bunch of different emotions and not necessarily knowing how to deal with it. Whether you self-medicate or get therapy, etc. It was just the headspace that I was in at the time when I got that particular beat.
It’s like I said, each track seems to evoke different feelings. Even “Ayemen”. I know what you wrote about, because you’ve said it’s about surviving heart surgery, it just evokes a feeling of hope throughout it. I was having a conversation, well not even a conversation, but a question my son asked me yesterday, “What was the worst day of my life?” And I told him it was when my aunt died. And he asked me what was the best day of my life? And I said, probably the same day because I knew she wasn’t in pain anymore.
Was it like that?
I mean that’s just what it’s about. Going through, being pushed as far as you can be pushed and surviving it.
And speaking of ANX. I can actually say I was this year’s old when I realized ANX stood for..
“Anxiety.” A lot of people don’t know.
I figured that out. Actually, it wasn’t me that figured that out. It was my wife. I had it on screen and she was the one that pointed that out and I was like “Oh, ok, now that makes sense.” Getting back to ANX though – The title track for LORE– now you have Ceschi on it, and it’s funny how it opens up the same way “Hosanna in the Highest” does.
You’re both on it.
Vessel, too, if I recall right. Maybe I’m mistaken but I thought Vessel had Ceschi on the intro, too. I could be wrong.
I have to double check that. Was that purposeful?
It’s just a thing. But I mean, again, there’s no planning, but it just happens in that way, both times. When he put that bell up at the beginning of the beat like that. I already knew. It was like, ok, this calls for Ceschi as well.
I wasn’t sure if I was listening to something else, or I was listening to something old and then it was like, oh wait….. it’s something different.
Triggers that old emotion.. yeah.
It really did. On a different note, where did you find inspiration from growing up? Aside from music, or is it all music-related?
I grew up in a small town in New Mexico called Farmington, which is like an hour and a half out of Albuquerque. I was really into sports. I like music. I was into it. But my sister was playing 80’s music and my cousins were playing metal, my parents were playing Mexican music and old country, and I kind of listened to all that. Then, we went on a baseball trip. And I had a friend that had a Run DMC tape and he played that the whole trip, and it blew my mind. I had never… I fell in love immediately. I didn’t even know, I was like what is this shit? Rap music. And from when that happened, I think I was like 10 maybe, something like that, then it was just full-blown. I did everything possible to learn as much about it as I could, and it just evolved into that. It was that and sports. And finally by the time I got a scholarship to play baseball in Arizona. Went out there. But I was also doing the rap thing, writing my own raps, and that. The thing about baseball is- I was good enough to where I was being scouted by a couple of professional teams, and things of that nature, but if you’re not all in, that shit’s not going to pan out, and I had the music in my head all the time, too, so… it got to the point where I ended up taking a trip to Seattle, and I was supposed to only be there for like two weeks, to come see Sleep, who I grew up with- he’s another rapper from Oldominion– I never went back home. I ended up staying, and I’m still here.
So you made that conscious choice…
Yea I mean… I just…. Yea, I guess. I don’t know it was a conscious choice or what…
An unconscious choice.
It pissed off my parents, I know that. I had a scholarship so they were like what the hell are you doing?
So you gave up school and pros?
Just went full fledged on the music. I fell in love with it too much, so.. and then that was it.
I know you’ve gone through things with your daughter, I can’t even imagine how much of a toll it took on you emotionally. If you want to talk about that you can.
There was just a latency to it, which was really crazy because when she got diagnosed I just became a robot, and took care of her like a nurse. That was it, 24/7, for a year. Just full blown. So when she went in to remission and she got better, you know obviously so grateful and happy, but then all the trauma hit. So then I went for the next six months, or whatever, I can’t even recall time. But then all the depression hit. I just hit this fog and I was just numb. It was like I was just dead to the world. That’s when it really took a toll on me. I didn’t have time for it to take a toll on me when she was going through it.
It was great the way the community got so directly behind you.
It was incredible. I can’t even– I still can’t fathom how well, just that support was just mind-blowing. I didn’t even want to do it. Ceschi was like, you have to do this. There are people out there that you’ve helped, and they’ll love to help you out, too. For a month at least I was like nah, I’m not going to do that. I’ll figure it out. Then finally it got to a point where he’s like, we’ll handle it. You don’t even have to do shit. I was like ok, and then, it just.. yea. The support was… definitely, I was taken aback.
That was amazing, and just like having the support from someone like Ceschi, it’s just like, you know what, don’t worry about it, because I’m sure you had enough on your plate.
For sure. And that’s how he is with anything. Anybody who knows Ceschi knows that it’s anybody before him. When people say they’ll take the shirt off their back for you, he will. That’s not just a saying for him, that’s the kind of person he is.
It’s pretty literal, and every time he’s played out here I’ve pretty much gone, and my wife has gotten to know him pretty well, and she doesn’t like anybody. I’m trying not to talk too loud. But she doesn’t like anybody and she loves Ceschi and they’ll have conversations and I’ll just walk away and let them talk.
There are only a few human beings that I know in this world that are cut like that; that cloth. Where they’re just so genuine you know there’s no bullshit about them. He’s one of them, for sure.
So you said you’re in LA with him, what are you guys doing out there?
He had to come out here and do a video, and he’s recording at the NOFX studio tomorrow, some punk shit, and I just needed to clear my head. I’m filming one more Dark Time Sunshine video when I return so I just wanted to get out of Seattle and clear my head, get some sunshine, because it was it was just piss rain for the next whatever days until Tuesday, so I was just like, I can’t be in that right now.
I thought you guys were maybe getting together for something specific.
Not yet. They tried to get me in the video he was doing but I was like nah! I already don’t like being in front of the camera as much as I’ve had to do it. Whatever is necessary, but I was like nah I’m good.
I feel you on that. With everything opening up, since, I mean everyone thinks the pandemic is over…
In Texas they do.
They’re opening up here now in Arizona as well..
It’s insane. What are you planning on next?
Really just trying to hopefully get to a point where in the fall we can start pushing this new material live to some degree. And then just really focus on getting you know, my kids and getting them back to reality in a safe manner. That’s really it. That’s all my focus right now.
How is Washington state right now as far as pandemic goes?
Doing good. Really well.
No plans on opening up further, right?
They’re opening phase by phase, little by little, but I don’t imagine them being out anywhere like everything’s open. That’s just not how the Governor out there is. Gradually it seems to be doing well, and opening.
Back the the music though, looks like, I guess, 9 solo albums and a couple of mix tapes?
I have no idea to be honest, but that sounds about right.
We can talk about that for a bit. There was CVPID, and what was the one, more recently?
What went in to those?
Different producer from Boston name Rain that I work with, and there was really nothing to it. We just had, uh, I’m just really into his production. Kind of a lofi version of Zavala. He just has a really unique way of making stuff and we’ve been friends for a minute, so he’d send me some stuff, and I’d put some stuff together and that was really it. Making music on the phone with it. That’s all it really was.
Any thoughts on creating and producing your own material at any point?
Nah. To be honest with you, before LORE, when I got LORE, at that point I was just like not sure if I was going to be able to make music anymore from a bad place, so being that I was able to go through with it and it came out the way it did, it’s the only way I can, I can’t see a future right now besides Dark Time Sunshine and the LORE album and hopefully getting the opportunity to go push it around the world, in some degree, on some level. Doing some live stuff. I have no future plans of anything right now. And I just live day by day now. I used to always plan ahead on a lot of shit but now I literally just… I’ll wake up one morning, you know, whatever, tomorrow, and whatever happens. Like LA? I didn’t decide to go to LA until the day I went. The day before yesterday. I had no plans of coming here. So. That’s kind of how I go now.
That’s awesome, I used to try to plan but none of my plans ever seem to work out. LORE is a great album.
“Familiars,” that song I really dig. The whole negative voices and getting out of your own head-space.
I have so much negativity that goes through my head at times, and I guess it’s just my past that always seems to catch up with me, with the negativity, and “Familiars” is that song that directs towards positively.
Yeah, don’t beat yourself up so much. That’s me, too. No one is harder on me than myself and you have to shut those voices down sometimes. I mean yea, take accountability and things of that nature, but also you got to let that shit go at some point and just do better, so that’s what that song is about.
Seems you’re doing a whole lot better now, especially after LORE?
I mean LORE saved my life. Honestly, Zavala sending me those beats … at the time he started sending them when he did, I was like this is the worst timing EVER, I’m going to just write the most negative, sad, dark music and it ended up being therapeutic, and really got me through that shit, to be honest.
I’ve talked to a lot of people, and everybody says the same thing: “That album is just so fucking dope.“
I’m happy to hear that. It was tough. People love ANX, so it was tough. Obviously after 9 years, and then going through the shit that everyone is going through, I was like this is going to either be a good thing or a bad thing, not sure. I was just being honest with whatever I wrote. I made sure it wasn’t just all negative shit. The feedback has been…. people have just been like… well I guess it’s just something they need to hear at this time, so I’m grateful.