Oldominion was a hip-hop collective that rose to prominence in the Northwest right around Y2K. Comprised of more than twenty members, the group’s debut album One was released in 2000 to critical acclaim. A few years after One, a side project emerged from Oldominion titled Grayskul that included three members: Onry Ozzborn, JFK, and Rob Castro. Grayskul would go on to record at least ten albums together, but their greatest work remains Deadlivers, released in 2005. Deadlivers is a masterwork of rap theater in the same vein as a Prince Paul hip-hop opera. Grayskul paints elaborate pictures in your mind using archetypal good vs. evil battles to illuminate their concepts and bring them to life. “This is the birth of miracle, magic, and majesty,” raps Ozzborn on “Behold,” transforming a cute little line from Paul Simon’s Graceland into a vaguely ominous warning. Both “Vixen” and “After Hours” bring an accessible, fun balance to the album’s generally more dark themes. “Adversarial Theater Of Justice,” and “Action Figure Of Speech,” both appear near the beginning of the LP and display the nimble poetry and twisted imagery conjured by Grayskul on this project. Deadlivers is a hauntingly beautiful fugue, and by daring to stray from tired rap stereotypes, The album achieves true greatness. A 206 classic! (Written by Novocaine132.)
Here’s another take:
The Stranger selected Deadlivers as one of the “Top 6 Hip-Hop Albums of 2005,” saying:
If the Northwest Oldominion crew has an artistic peak, it’s Grayskul’s Deadlivers, which has one of the greatest opening lines of our (post-9-11) times: “If ever there was a time in your life to be afraid/I think this qualifies as the most terrifying of days” (“Behold”). Released by Rhymesayers Entertainment, Deadlivers is relentlessly dark and menacing, with flawless production. More than any other Oldominion record, Grayskul’s sound is both cinematic and architectural. Listening to Deadlivers is much like watching the shadow of a man—a murderer? a superhero? a vampire?—walking through wet, windswept streets. The beats are built big with splendid gothic details, and above black rushing clouds, is a moon that is silver and monstrously pregnant. In Deadlivers the horror/crime/sci-fi image is translated into sonic forms.
“We did about 50 songs,” explains Mr. Hill, who provided most of the beats for Deadlivers. “Castro, Onry, JFK came up with the idea of Grayskul and they wanted to use my style of music. Critics often describe it as dark, sinister, or theatrical, but to me, it just sounds normal. I never think it’s that dark; it’s just my ear, the way I like to hear things. Some of the beats we used were made as far back as 1999, but most were made while we were putting the record together.” Grayskul’s core is Onry Ozzborn, who plays a character named Reason, and JFK, who plays Recluse, and their rhymes are twisted like a madman’s mind, heavier than a tombstone, and as shadowy as the evil eyes of Bela Lugosi. Mr. Hill’s music complements Grayskul’s grave fiction. In fact, if there is one producer who has really helped define the region’s somber aesthetic, it is Mr. Hill, who contributed four beats to Silent Lambs Project’s darkling Street Talkin’… Survival and will contribute two beats to Kool Keith’s next Dr. Octagon CD.
“The thing about hip-hop,” Mr. Hill explains, “is it takes 30 minutes or two days to make, so it’s all about each song. But once I make a beat [Grayskul] go into the studio, and while putting the track together things begin to change. What we start with is never what we end with.”