"We're made for this moment. We've been ready for this moment our whole lives," states Oxymorrons' guitarist and vocalist Jafe Paulino. For the Queens, New York four-piece, timing is everything. The universe has decided that it's finally their time.
It wasn't until June this year that the hip-hop/rock group saw a real upswing in their trajectory, with the announcement that they had signed to 333 Wreckords Crew, the record collective of former letlive. and current FEVER333 frontman Jason Aalon Butler. There was also the release of their first single under 333 Wrecks, the rip-roaring rallying cry 'Justice', marking the culmination of a long journey marred by being misunderstood.
"Oxymorrons started as an idea between my brother Kami and myself," explains vocalist Demi Bellevue. "From day one, Oxymorrons was a hip-hop/rock hybrid, we never wanted to stay in any one genre, and those were the two genres that spoke to us. Different people joined and left until we morphed into the four-piece you see now. It took some time to get here both in formation and sonically – when you're blending genres, it takes time to learn and know how to execute those genres in precise ways."
"We've always been too rock for hip-hop, and too hip-hop for rock," adds Jafe. "Everyone is always trying to box us in when we're trying to create this borderless world of music. Oxymorrons has been around a long time, but it's taken a long time for people to come around. Now people are interested, it's great because we can sort of kick the door down and let everyone know that we've been here; not that we're here, but we've been here and belong here."
"A lot of the time, people just haven't known what to do with us," says Demi. "They either want us to be completely rock or completely hip-hop, and most of the time, they just want us to become hip-hop. Rock has been so whitewashed that we're really threatening in a lot of spaces – mainly because we're really fucking good, but most of the time it's because we're black and we'd change the paradigm."
Oxymorrons are firm believers that everything will happen when it's meant to happen. It's an incredibly refreshing philosophy in a world where self-entitlement is rife. Instead of becoming jaded, the band have focused their energies into more positive channels.
"It's maybe for a good reason that this is happening now we're older, more mature and more centred within ourselves," muses Jafe. "Anger is an energy, and all energies can be converted into something else, whether it be into a song or a powerful message."
"It's the universe's time anyway, that's the time we operate on," adds Demi. "No matter how important your message is, if it's not ready to be received, it won't be. I've been a practising Buddhist for six years, and it's helped me understand the world in terms of energy and how my internal completely effects and controls my external. I can understand other bands giving in to frustration and giving up, as we tend to allow what we're doing to be measured by the outside, and outside acceptance isn't an absolute in music."
When it came to working with like-minded souls along their path, it genuinely seems like the stars aligned when the band connected with Jason Butler and 333 Wreckords, with Jason becoming something of a mentor to them.
"Our relationship with Jason and the Wrecks Crew is perfect because he has lived experience in everything that we are, we are one and the same," says Demi. "I have a lot of love and appreciation for Jason because assisting and propelling a black rock band in today's scene comes with a lot of fight and push back. It's not that we haven't had people that love and support us, it's just that this mountain is not for the meek. We are climbing this mountain forever, and it's such a difficult fight, so you need people who understand that it's more about passion than gain. Jason has taken that on because he directly understands it."
"We cannot be subpar in this space. There are luxuries that white bands have that we don't have, we don't have the luxury of saying 'hey, this is ok' – it has to be outstanding. Because technically they want to say we don't belong in a space that our ancestors created."
"The essence of hip-hop and essence of rock both come from a rebellious place, the energies are identical, just the execution is a little different. Hip-hop was birthed in the absence of instrumentation, not because we didn't want it. It's not that black people don't want to play instruments, historically we have, look at Chuck Berry, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Jimi Hendrix – the list can go on. It's just the access to it is always cut, and then we have to figure it out, flip it, and turn water into wine every single time."
Initially, Oxymorrons didn't plan on releasing 'Justice' in June. Having written and recorded the track during sessions in LA with Jason and the Wrecks Crew at the beginning of the year, they were still figuring out which songs would be released first. "Then Ahmaud Arbery was murdered while jogging in Georgia, and we were like, 'Damn, we need to say something about this'," says Jafe.
"After George Floyd, we knew we had to just put this song out and align it with the people," continues Jafe. "We were a bit torn because we weren't sure it was appropriate to put something out there and ask people to listen to our shit while everyone is taking to the streets, but then we remembered the importance of art activism itself and that all movements have soundtracks to them."
With 'Justice', Oxymorrons have fully realised the sound they want to create. Listening to the band's back catalogue, it's obvious they have something special, but with 'Justice' it really feels like things have fallen into place. Not only does it share a vital socio-political message, but it absolutely shreds. Though further recording sessions for their upcoming release have been postponed, Demi and Jafe are confident that the project will be a true representation of who they are.
"What you hear in 'Justice' is us figuring it out and working with the right people. 'Justice' is one of the best representations of what it feels like to come to an Oxymorrons show," says Demi. "It's easier now that we understand our musicianship and have found ourselves in the right rooms with the right people."
"The LA sessions at the beginning of the year were the first time the four of us have sat down and written from scratch together with no previous ideas or producers trying to give us songs - it's just us," adds Jafe. "It's not going to sound like a RATM record where it's all similar Morello riffs and politically charged lyrics. We're multi-faceted, and our music will always show that. Now we've really found the right formula for the four of us, and we love the product."
Taken from the September issue of Upset, out now.
Featuring Deftones, Bully, The Front Bottoms, De'Wayne and more.