New York City, as the birthplace of hip hop, was the cultural center of the famous feud between the east and west coast hip hop communities back in the 1990s. During this time both sides of the country had burgeoning hip hop scenes, albeit with differing musical ideas. Rappers on the west coast used more energetic beats based around synthesizers, while rappers on the east coast used sparser beats based around pianos and turntable scratches. One of the most prominent east coast rappers during this period was Nas, who’s debut album Illmatic set the blueprint for the “east coast sound” that would be closely followed by artists like The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z. While the overall sound of hip hop has developed and changed over the last decade, OurStage’s own H2-O is a skilled MC with a sound that is very similar to Nas’ gritty east coast sound.
The first thing you will notice when listening to H2-O is that his voice sounds very similar to that of Nas. If you listen to his track “This Is Me,” you can hear a lot of similarities between the two artists. The beat is simple and sparse, but at the same time very elegant. The beat mostly relies on a looped piano sample, with only a simple bass line and drum beat backing it up. The beat is reminiscent of Nas’ classic song “The World Is Yours,” which uses almost the exact same instrumentation and tempo. In addition to the vocal similarities, H2-O also possesses a equivalently strong delivery and flow. His lines are delivered very clearly and it is easy to understand exactly what he is saying, a valuable skill that is extremely underrated. He also uses complex and unusual rhyme patterns, a skill that Nas is known for.
It’s also worth mentioning H2-O’s interesting back story, which shares some likeness to Nas’, but is also unlike anything you have probably heard before. Like Nas, H2-O had a tough childhood, but his struggles motivated him academically and he ended up attending Duke University. After graduating, he got a successful job at a corporate incentive firm, but music was his lifelong passion and he quit his job to pursue this aspiration full time. His song “Dreams” outlines his decision to quit his job and why he wants to succeed as a musician. His story is a major theme in a lot of his lyrics, and it gives him unique lyrical topics that not many up and coming rappers have.
While most of H2-O’s songs are based off of the vintage east coast sound, he occasionally branches out into other styles with successful results. “Innocent Guilt” is a downtempo song with gloomy sounding keyboards. The R&B influence on this track is obvious, and the beat sounds very similar to the sound of Drake’s producer Noah “40” Shebib. “Don’t Turn Around” is another more modern sounding track that uses the technique of speeding up old soul samples popularized by producers like Kanye West and Just Blaze in the early 2000s. H2-O’s style is versatile enough that he can rap over almost any style of beat and make it his own.
You can download H2-O’s mixtape RESET for free here.
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