Melbourne-based rapper Ivan Ooze has just come off the back of several A-list supports, including Ice Cube and Cypress Hill, as well as his first ever headline tour. In between shows, he can be found smoking and drinking in his bungalow, dropping Friday freestyles on Facebook and clashing in the occasional rap battle. When we spoke to Ivan (real name Ben), he was kicking back in hospital on a morphine drip following a nasty skateboarding injury. Despite the offer to reschedule the interview, he was keen to power through and chew the fat about his future projects and current achievements.
Ivan Ooze is playing Beyond the Valley on Monday December 29 to Wednesday December 31.
What’s going on, Ben?
Nothing man. I’m just in hospital right now. I fucking got knocked out skating last night so I’m a bit doped up at the moment. [Laughs.]
Oh shit. What were you getting up to?
I don’t know, just skating at the park and stuff. I’m not really sure what happened. I was waiting for a mate and I don’t remember what happened. I just woke up in the morning and I was here.
Hopefully you’ll be alright in time for Beyond the Valley.
Pretty sure I will be, yeah.
How’d it feel getting your name on the top of a bill [in August] for the first time?
Pretty cool. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s unreal getting to host your own show but you have a lot of people there who are really real so, I don’t know, it’s really cool.
What was it like hanging with Ice Cube on his Australian tour?
He was pretty cool. We only met him once, saw him twice but we really just chilled out with him for only about five or ten minutes because he’s a lot more Hollywood and professional now and stuff. We pretty much just talked to him and stuff and he’s a really nice, chill, nice dude. It was really surprising, I guess. From NWA to Ice Cube now, you know?
You’ve had a sick run with supporting big names and running into celebrities. Any sharable stories?
Yeah, I’ve got some pretty stupid stories. Rolling blunts and shit for Cypress Hill was pretty fucking insane. I don’t know, just everything that pretty much happened has just moulded into one sort of, like, day. Everything else is just really awesome and just crazy. [Laughs.]
Your social media profile is getting attention from established names like B-Real and Sasha Grey, too. You’re getting actual celebrity recognition. That must be a pretty strange feeling given you’re so young.
Yeah, definitely. It’s a real kick in the nuts, I guess. I don’t know, it’s really strange to see people who are down for your music and what you’re creating in your bungalow while you’re smoking and drinking and just having fun with it and everyone else is having fun with it as well. It’s just a cool feeling.
Your vocal style is fairly staccato and pitched kinda high. What rappers do you take style cues from?
A lot of my favourite rappers are more, like, I like listening to Apathy and Busta Rhymes and I used to listen to a lot of Cypress Hill but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Schoolboy Q and stuff. Just a mix of all influences and ‘be yourself’ sort of thing. Rap how you wanna rap. All that sort of stuff and take different little bits from everyone else’s style and create your own style.
You can definitely see the Busta and Schoolboy influences in your rhymes in terms of speed and intricacy.
Definitely. Most of all that comes from Busta and all that stuff. Schoolboy Q, definitely too. Especially with my li’l high voice.
So run me through your creative process in the bungalow. What happens from idea to track?
Pretty much just whatever comes into my head. [Laughs.] It’s just whatever I’m thinking about at the time and then I’ll just look at random beats and everything. I’ll find a beat and be like ‘oh yeah, this is cool’ and then I’ll start thinking about it, what it makes me feel like or what it reminds me of and then I’ll start writing from there and see how it goes and if it sounds good, I’ll get writing and if it doesn’t sound good, then I’ll scratch it up and go onto the next beat.
Where do you go scavenging for beats?
Everywhere, man. I just sit for hours and hours and hours on end and just go through the internet and go everywhere. I just keep clicking on random links and stuff and it takes me everywhere and then if I can find a beat or somehow get it, then I’ll do that but it can take a really long time.
Is this where we get those Facebook freestyles too?
Yeah definitely. If I feel like doing a video then I’ll just start looking through the internet again and try and find a beat and be like ‘this is dope, check that out’ and start doing a freestyle. Sometimes I’ll be in the mood for writing and I’ll just do that. I don’t really force it, I’m more like ‘just let it happen’ and if it happens, it happens. It seems like it gets projected better if you just let it happen instead of forcing it, so yeah. It’s pretty much whatever you feel like doing.
I guess that organic element of it and sharing it is indicative of the innanet rapper wave that you’re part of it at the moment. A lot of that is about adapting, maintaining relevance, curating your SoundCloud and so on. Do you see things going in a particular direction over the next couple of years?
Not too much. All my style is definitely random. I don’t listen to the radio or any chart stuff or anything. I just download shit I find, basically. I guess that’s why a lot of my stuff is – I guess I would say different? I don’t know where I’d be heading. I’ma probably try and do some kind of trap EP or something like that.
A trap EP?
Yeah, something really fast or something like that because I like rapping fast because it gets everyone turned up and – well, it gets me turned up when I hear someone rapping fast and it’s just like ‘OH FUCK, MANE!’ and just breaking it out, rapping so fast with veins popping out their necks and shit. But yeah, definitely something to do with trap and everything like that. I’ve got a couple of trap songs on my new mixtape which is coming out next year but I sort of want to fill it up with some really, I don’t know, groovy trap shit.
So that’ll be your next release. Your last EP came out about four months ago. What motivated the decision to drop it for free?
Pretty much because I know that you don’t know who an artist might be, you just want to listen to their shit to find out what they’re all about and everything. In Australia, it can be a bit harder to get your shit out and be like ‘Buy my shit. You haven’t really heard it, but buy it.’ So pretty much I put it out for free because I like getting stuff for free and everyone else likes shit for free. So I pretty much wrote all that, all the EP stuff, in my friend’s house when I was living there and we had heaps of time and no internet. [Laughs.] So we wrote the whole thing there and just put it out afterwards and before that, one of my videos on Facebook went viral and the EP got received really well from that.
I guess it’s also necessary for Australian rappers to do that kind of thing too because we don’t really have that physical mixtape spruiking culture out on the boulevard or anything like that so it can be hard. If you saw that in our streets, you’d be like ‘What the fuck, man?’
Yeah, exactly, exactly. That’s the thing. I couldn’t imagine people buying my shit if they didn’t know who I was and I couldn’t imagine myself buying someone else’s shit if I didn’t know who they were, so yeah.
Your rise to a headline act is indicative of Aus hip-hop really beginning to take off and garnering more variety. Do you think there’s been a catalyst for emergence like Milwaukee Banks, Allday, Tkay Maidza and yourself?
I reckon it’s mainly the social media aspect of everything. Back in the day, you didn’t really have Facebook. I mean, you had MySpace and all that which I’m not really sure about because I wasn’t doing music stuff back then. But definitely Facebook and Twitter and everything. Coming off that, people will start listening to your music and be like ‘I fucking like this dude’ blah blah blah. And pretty much all aspects of internet and everything because you can get whatever you want, basically. It’s not hard anymore to put out a mixtape or an EP or anything like it used to be. So yeah, mainly social media and the internet and everything completely changing it.
So you’ve got an EP out, a mixtape coming next year. Are you planning on a debut album anytime or are you still conceptually a bit far away from that point?
An album, probably a bit more down the track. I’m more about making a solid mark in what I’m doing right now. When the time is right and I can feel it, then I guess I’ll put out an album. Until then, most of the shit will be free and stuff so you won’t be paying for anything.
You got your name from a Power Rangers villain. Is there a story there or did you just like how it sounded?
I used to watch the Power Rangers movie every single night when I was a kid. It was really fucked up. My parents wanted me to get help or something. I just kept watching it. I used to have another name that my friends called me which was AZlyrics.com which is just because I knew every hip-hop song in my head. Like, every single lyric. So they used to call me AZ but then I figured out later on that there was another rapper called AZ so I’m like ‘Fuck, what the fuck am I going to call myself?’ and then I was watching the Power Rangers movie like ‘Fuck, I love this movie’ and I’m pretty sure I was high and I was like ‘This is actually really, really good’ and Ivan Ooze came on again and I’m like ‘This is the dopest supervillain in the world’. Like, he’s actually funny but still evil as fuck and I’m sort of like ‘Hmm, my traits resemble his a bit’ so I took his name and I guess it went off from there.
People are really digging the villainous element of rap. You know, like Run the Jewels, MF Doom, Captain Murphy. It sort of adds to the cartoonishness of the persona.
Definitely. You sort of want to be a villain more than a hero. Heroes always save the day easy and shit whereas villains actually have to really try to ruin your day. Plus, I wouldn’t really ever want to be a superhero. [Laughs.]
I guess there’s a commonality between rapper and villain there. Villains have to have that complex scheme; heroes just come in later on and fuck it all up for them.
Definitely. They have to actually think of ways to fuck with the world and then superheroes can come down and just piss on you. I think I’d more want to be a villain and that if this was real.
Share the love. Who else out there is good who we should be listening to?
I always listen to Apathy. He’s just, variety-wise, crazy and he produces a lot of his own beats and everything that’s why I dig all his shit. Who else? Busta Rhymes, Spark Master Tape. Spark is a bit mysterious but definitely look up his shit. It’s old school boom-bap trap shit but it’s crazy. Just a completely new level of shit.