I heard him on NotJustOk.com a site I serve as a columnist, contributing music business and law articles. His track was titled, ‘Taxi’ and immediately captured my attention when I clicked the play button. “X.O” (Xtra-Ordinary) as he introduced himself was refreshingly talented with a “sick” word play and could clearly hold his own, globally. “If you sleeping on me, it must be undercover, get it” he rapped in ‘Taxi.’ His delivery was strong, beats solid and his image concealed in the photo accompanying the music displayed on the website. Nevertheless, ‘Taxi’ managed to only lodge itself at the doorsteps of the part of my brain that does jumping jacks when I stumble on brilliant music ‘wordplay’ i.e. solid rap. Then, one day, on a subsequent visit to NotJustOk.com, I heard X.O’s second track, “Victory.” It indeed became a “victorious” day for X.O as the ‘Victory’ track entered into that sacred space in my brain reserved for a few music greats.
“They wanna mosquito us but we always keep it fly. This is our V.I.C.T.O.R.Y!” he raps. WOW! If you are like me and spent time on the African continent, you know what it feels like to be subject to the assault and battery from mosquitoes. As such, you can truly appreciate the absolutely humorous word play on mosquitoes by X.O in ‘Victory.’ ‘Victory’ coupled with ‘Taxi’ told me, intuitively, that X.O was one to watch and America’s Next Hip-hop Star.
Borrowing one of his lines in ‘Victory,’ “I am always on the money like in God we trust.” At Ladybrille, we have a track record of success when it comes to picking the next big stars and I knew I was on the money and onto something on this one.
Nevertheless, something was suspect about this guy. As a lover of hip-hop music, an absolute sucker for intelligent word play and a practicing attorney who “word plays” everyday for a living, “I just knew” something was up about this guy. There was a bigger story to this man than meets the eye and his lyrics gave me all the clues to put the puzzle together. They say, “if it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, it probably is one.” I was highly intrigued.
‘Victory’ begins with Mandela speaking, in what sounds like a legal setting, about his willingness to die for freedom and equality for all, if need be. I notice it’s a clever departure yet parallel use of how socially conscious hip-hop artists typically incorporate video/audio clips of Martin Luther King Junior in their works, a clever way to immediately connect with African-Americans and Africans.
“The culmination of the struggle is this victory. . . So raise your fist like you are in Arizona and you are legal!,” he continues shortly after the Mandela scene. I am in stitches with laughter. I LOVE great word play. Who does that in the rap game anymore?! Did you get what just happened? If you are Mexican or of Hispanic heritage, you so get it! As it stands, there is current controversy over the Arizona law which is set to take effect on July 29th, 2010. The law essentially directs officers to question people about their immigration status during the enforcement of other laws such as a traffic stop. What’s one way to know an illegal immigrant? His/her accent! X.O references Arizona ‘s current controversial racial-profiling law in a subtle way. Brilliant!! For me, every line in ‘Victory’ was like eating a really, really, delicious meal. Yum!
Throughout the song, I noticed it is all brilliant wordplay delivered with the same consistent super confident potency. There are no expletives yet X.O is able to make his point and penetrate a diverse audience: Whites, Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Africans, Nigerians, South Africans, Ghanaians and the list goes on. Pure talent. Even more acute to my ear, however, are his constitutional overtones.
I searched high and low and could find nothing on this X.O guy. I contacted him, asked for an interview, he agreed and granted me one but remained mysterious as to whom he was. My basic question like “Did you attend college” was answered with, “I did.” Who does that?! After conducting countless interviews with numerous personalities, I know that question would typically be followed up with where the interviewee went to school.
After trusting my instinct and unleashing a thorough attention to details investigative journalism on the mystery surrounding X.O, I finally found what I was looking for. I follow up with him. He now knows that I know. He calls me. “Busted!” I tell him when I answer my phone. “Now what I ask him?!” laughing. He is shocked and is laughing, a whole lot. He tells me he knew he had to be careful with me when I asked for an interview. “The culmination of the struggle is this victory,” I quote his line back to him, laughing. “You might as well spill it because I am running the story,” I tell him. Our conversation is full of laughter, pleas from him to forego sharing his background and finally total submission to his fate uncovered by Ladybrille Magazine. I am humbled, once again, for the privilege to be at the beginning of a career of an emerging personality, who in this case, will be America’s Next Hip-Hop Star, period! You better believe the hype! America, Africa, stand up!
X.O Senovae was born in California, USA to parents, both of whom were teachers. Of Ghanaian and Nigerian parentage, at an early age, his family relocated to Ghana where he lived until college. While in Ghana and at age ten (10), X.O’s father died. “I do this for the people … shoeshine boys, ‘Pure Water’ girls, tro-tro drivers, oka riders,” he raps in ‘Victory.’ He should know.
Growing up in Ghana in a single parent home, life wasn’t exactly a walk in the park for him. X.O had to learn, quickly, to be fiercely independent. A keen observer of life, beyond his own personal struggles, he saw numerous socio-economic and political struggles faced by Africans, particularly those in Ghana and Nigeria (he visited and still visits Nigeria regularly).
Finishing high school, X.O returned to the USA, Grand Rapids, Michigan to pursue his college education. He attended Calvin College where he was a major in Business and a minor in Pre-medicine. In college, he continued with his knack for excelling at everything he does. He was News Editor for the school’s newspaper, organized and hosted the school’s international talent shows and was an excellent athlete, holding till today, the school’s triple jump record.
Two years prior to graduation, setbacks struck, again. X.O could no longer afford college so he was forced to drop out. After a year of sitting out, help came in the form of an anonymous donor who donated money for him to complete college. Just when the excitement of graduating from college was starting to sink in, X.O had to deal with yet another setback, the loss of his mother in 2004.
Motivated to be even more focused and successful and not taking life for granted, X.O focused on his natural talent for words, opting for law school and enrolling at Howard University School of Law in 2005. At Howard Law, he continued his legacy of success. (While in) law school, X.O organized a movement mobilizing Howard Law School to create awareness for ‘Jena Six’ trial and the constitutional issues raised in the trial that brought attention to the nation. Not losing momentum at Howard Law, he also helped establish the law school’s first student center. He was later elected president of Howard International Law Society, then president of the Student Bar Association and before he graduated, he was chair of the Student Board.
After such successful run and achievements in law school, graduating in 2008, it was no surprise that X.O landed a job as a young associate attorney at one of the top law firms in America. What was surprising, however, was that a little over a year into his work at the firm, he quit! “(My firm) was ranked in the top ten firms and at the time 2-4 on the (American Bar Association) ABA list. To leave that, seems crazy,” he agrees with me. “But, I don’t want people wondering if I made the right decision . . .I want them to instead look forward to the music.”
Fortunately for X.O, his rapidly growing fans are looking “forward to the music;” and appear to agree he made the right decision to follow his passion. For example, X.O has released ONLY two “freestyle” tracks, ‘Taxi’ and ‘Victory’ and indeed as he says in his lyrics in ‘Victory,’ “it’s a marvel how the flow has the people going insane.”
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Solid sound, solid music. Who are you and what influences your music?
X.O: First of all, thank you very much. To have a feature on Ladybrillemag.com so early on in my career is a great honor. “I appreciate!” What a loaded question?! The ethereal response is: I’m just a guy trying to maximize the use of God’s talents ’til my time here is done. Lyrically: as I said in “Taxi Music” (freestyle), I am and will be: “the culture, the people, the streets, the struggle, the future, the purpose, the legend, the hustle”. I see myself as representing the entire continent and when I’m making music, I try to have something for everyone – from the person who doesn’t like rap at all, to the new fan, to my folks in the markets and street, to the most buttoned -up corporate-ish person. In “Victory”, I said I’m spitting for “the people … shoeshine boys, ‘Pure Water’ girls, tro-tro drivers, oka riders”. I’m influenced by all my experiences – personal and otherwise – by the desire to connect with people on all types of levels. I love music and I’m truly privileged for people to appreciate mine.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: There is such power in your delivery. An unabashedly confident “swagger” for lack of a better word. Where does this come from?
X.O: (Laughs) It’s unintentional. Definitely NOT fake or made-up. I guess I’ve never really doubted what I’m saying or how I’m saying it. People are so much more intelligent and worthy of great music than some artists may give credit. If “you” (whoever you are) understood it, why wouldn’t Emeka or Akua? So I try and respect my audience and some of that comes through my delivery. Generally, the “swagger” you speak about comes from the lack of fear of anything or anyone. I believe humility, respect, confidence and a lack of fear can co-exist, and are not mutually exclusive. Like I say in an upcoming song – I had ‘it’ way before they started calling it “swagger.” (laughs) Though I may be confident in what I say and how, I truly stay humble because I have A LOT to learn and I continue to every day.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Share with us your music background. Did you study music?
X.O: I’ve always loved music. Very much. When I was younger, I would listen to my father’s old records – everyone from Stevie Wonder, Fela, The Ramblers, to Bonny M, ABBA, to Simon and Garfunkel. I sang a bit growing up, though I didn’t actually study music past a few classes in secondary (high) school. I didn’t really start getting into rap until I was a teenager and then I was hooked. However, I never actually rapped. Just listened, appreciated, and – for lack of a better way to put it – became a hip-hop fiend. In addition to other things I do and despite the fact that I have chosen to share my stories through hip-hop music, I see myself as a musician. And, as time goes on, the fans and the world will see the range.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: A critical part of a rapper’s success is also working with the right producer. Kid Konnect produced the beats on Victory and Taxi, the two tracks I heard on Notjustok.com. How did you meet Kid?
X.O: I had heard of Kid through my brother and compardre, M.I (Abaga), before. After “Taxi Music” came out, Kid hit me up. Of the beats he gave me – all great – I chose one which was originally called “Victory too late”. He thought it would be the last beat I would like because of how “busy” it was. But I decided it was great for a different kind of song, and “Victory” was born. The work he does on it, and other upcoming songs, is amazing. The “Taxi Music” beat was made by JUSTICE League, not Kid. That is a freestyle I did on that beat.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How did you know he was the right person to work with for what you were trying to achieve?
X.O: Generally, it comes down to the beats and the vibe. I have a great vibe with Kid. I call him my “Ace” – and vice versa – because we share a common goal to make great music. And we’re creating some great stuff, I believe. There’s so much more to come. I also will be working in the upcoming weeks with other producers including Green Gafacci and Killbeatz (Apeatus), to mention some. Beat makers should hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You are signed with Chocolate City ( I believe), when do you drop an album?
X.O: Haha. The album talk is quite premature. I don’t even like to tell folks how long ago I stepped in the booth for the first time – they may not believe me. I haven’t signed to Choc City or any record label, but Loopy is my family and M.I, Jesse Jagz, and Ice Prince are my brothers (for real) so that may happen. It would be a dream team and an unbelievable roster, I believe – which is already unbelievable as it is now. My other families are Black Avenue and The Merc. They rep me hard and vice versa. Fans should look out for great music too. I will be on MI’s “MI2”, and on several collaborations including Sauce Kid, R2Bees, D-Black, Ice Prince, Beazy, Corey Gunz and The Aphilliates (DJ Drama etc), to mention a few.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Your word play is simply brilliant. Are you like Jay-Z. Do you reference the dictionary a lot?
X.O: Once again, thanks. You’re gonna get a pretty-dark guy blushing. (Laughs). Nah, I don’t actually go to the dictionary, but I’ve always been blessed with a way with words. And when I’m rapping or thinking up bars (as I call it), I craft almost each line – even the simplest – to have more than one meaning: double and triple entendres.
In “Taxi” Music, for example, I said what seems a very simple line: “Dawg, you wanna flee or do time, well my flow ticks”. But you could also hear it as: “Dog, you wanna flea or do time, well my flow tics”. “Ticks” (clock/watch), “do time” (as in prison, or the right time), “dog”, “tics” and “fleas” (my flow makes (your brain) itch like a flea or tic). One of folks’ favorite lines in “Taxi Music” is also: “I’m always with dimes, I call em sub-woofs; You always with em one’s/once, just like the swine flu; H1N1, get it? Cool; When pigs fly, I’ll rap; (well) swine flew.” In “Victory”, folks quote many of the lines actually, but one I’ve seen a lot is: “Playing chess with God’s talents, while checking out mates; it’s like a time machine, the way I be turning down dates”. The last I’ll quote is: “This is the Genesis, be-lieve it took us (Leveticus) this long to Exodus? Forever!; A dude to run on me (Deuteronomy) for Numbers? Never!”.
My goal is – for those who listen to rap for the music only will like the flow; listeners to at least one (or more) references in each line; and those who are rap fiends will love hearing it years later, discovering hidden metaphors, meanings, punch lines and entendres. My playful tag line is “The Sickest Lyricist To Ever spit” – I try to live up to that. Having said that, you will hear more commercial stuff from me too. Stuff you can just chill and relax to, dance your you-know-what off to, or just sing/rap along – a bit of everything.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Why do you think even with the limited work you have done, people connect with you?
X.O: Honestly, I have been pleasantly surprised with how people from all walks of life have connected so far. Surprised because there’s been no marketing, no label launching, nothing like that – and because I haven’t released yet dance tracks for radio and so on. I get messages almost every day about folks wanting more – which is not a bad place to be in. In a “Light It Up” freestyle, I say “I make music with a vision, you could say I have good pop-eye”. I do make music with a vision, but wouldn’t presume to know why exactly people connect with me. It’s a great feeling that they do.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I want to take you back to a little more sensitive area. You mentioned losing your father at age 10 and of course 6years ago, your mom. Did that drive you to be as successful in everything you touch? You are very driven. What drives you?
X.O: I mean, my parents were phenomenal, and I don’t mean that euphemistically. I mean, even if they were not my parents, I would look at them and go, “what amazing human beings these two people are/were.” One of the things their loss did was to show me that life is truly short and that all we can while we are here is to do our best. I try to do that. I mean, I’ve been blessed. I had a great childhood and my memories of them are fond. Also with any difficulties, there have been some growing up, but I haven’t really dwelt on them. I’m quite introspective and there have been times when, like anyone, you find yourself in “that” place – but I keep it moving. Life is short and I’ve been very blessed.
LADYBRILLEmag.om: Let’s talk about how you left your law firm to do music. Obviously it seems a crazy move. What next with respect to your music and your move?
X.O: Not at all. It was an opportunity to do now what I would regret not having done later; and it’s not a move from one into the other – not mutually exclusive. (Laughs) I’ve been fortunate to have people love it right from the start. But the proverbial saying the sky is the limit (applies).
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Speaking of the sky is the limit, you actually have not been rapping for too long and yet the reception is incredible (blogsphere is buzzing about X.O he also has two upcoming features on the cover of two magazines). What projects are you currently working on?
X.O: Well, I’m working on my own songs when I get a chance – real songs and the occasional freestyle. I am currently working on MI2 as well as joints with r2bees and dblack (Ghanaian ) and Sauce Kid to mention a few. I’m grateful for and appreciate the reception in this relatively short time. I already have a few things under my belt. Some of the collabos I’m doing will be on the mixtape but currently folks like Kid Konnect, Gaffaci Green and others are sending me beats for joints for an album.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I really have to go back to that question. What do you think makes you connect with such diverse groups with your music as you do?
X.O: I think (I connect) ‘cos I think of err’one (laughs), when I’m thinking up bars for a song. I (also) have the unique opportunity of understanding both without pretending to be one or the other, so it’s kinda effortless.
In “Taxi Music” I say: “I’m all over the web, DJ’s spin it like Ananse” – aside from the play on words, it speaks to all of us who grew up on Ananse stories in Ghana and Nigeria and beyond. In an unreleased song, I go “She said: ‘Baby, u the fella for me (Fela Femi)”, so he called her his “Cutie” (Kuti).” If you know Fela or Femi, you’ll get it. If you don’t, you’ll only hear fella for me and cutie, and the song will still make sense to you.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What do you think makes you stand out from the (millions) of rappers out there?
X.O.: I think I stand out because I am myself. I think one stands out when one is oneself. Sounds like old logic – but no one can be you better than you. Whether standing out puts me in the top category or not, is for the fans to decide. I’ve learned, in this short time, that you let the people do the arguing. I’m interested in hearing what others say makes me stand out. What would you say?
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (I laugh) You get to read the interview. Let’s talk about influencing youths with your music, African youths in particular. What do you hope they come away with when they hear your music?
X.O: Honestly, I want them to enjoy the music, first. Preaching is for a different medium and place and pulpit. I’m not tryna hit anyone in the head with the heaviest of messages on each song. Nobody can take that. But even in the most playful of songs, there will be something. Don’t get me wrong. I’ll definitely have songs that deal with issues like corruption and inequality and the likes. Music is too much of big platform to not speak on those issues. But I want the message to also be outside the music itself – and into the life lived: one that hopefully shows that we need not be only what we are on paper, but seek to maximize God’s talents. Don’t let anyone define you, and most importantly, don’t let anyone look down on you. We are all special and supremely gifted in many ways.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Speaking of being “all special and supremely gifted in many ways,” what music stars would you like to work with?
X.O: Honestly the list is long. I’m going to be on MI2 and other great, aka, “sick projects” so I’m already in great company. Something with Nas and Jay may seem wishful thinking but . . .who knows the future? Honestly, think of any great one, and it’d be a privilege to create with them.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Indeed. Let’s zone in on M.I. I hear you attended the same college with MI who was nominated at the 2010 BET Awards. How was it back then?
X.O: Jude and I are like brothers. No matter what I got his back and vice-versa. . . I share his vision of being a part of the revolution of music from our part of the world and I am very proud of what he has accomplished so far. Jesse, Ice, and others – are brothers too. All of it is beautiful.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Thank you for the interview! Any last message you would like to share with Ladybrillemag.com readers?
X.O: Once again, I appreciate this very much – and am thrilled you “love” ‘Victory’. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t even made for “commercial consumption,” just for industry heads to show range, etc. But the people have gravitated to it. To the readers, I’d say thanks for even taking time out to read this and to listen to the music. Of course, I’d like to thank a lot of people – so let me just say thanks to everyone who has been a part of this journey so far, and to family and the fans. I look forward to hearing from you so you can join the fan page on facebook and follow me on twitter. Keep supporting and looking for X.O music as we shape the future.
LISTEN TO VICTORY[audio:https://secureservercdn.net/22.214.171.124/xzr.c35.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/VICTORY-by-X.O-@Senavoe.mp3|titles=VICTORY by X.O @Senavoe]
~Story by Uduak Oduok
~Courtesy Photos, X.O