Oreo Jones is the hardest working man in Indianapolis hip-hop. We caught up with him while he was working at the Q95 studio during an Indian’s game.
Oreo Jones is a man of many talents. Rapper, hip-hop curator, cooking show host, and now event coordinator.
Oreo is the man who set up the Chreece hip-hop festival and performed with Ghost Gun Summer. Oreo spent the day running around, making sure that Chreece was going smoothly. Now with some time to reflect on what happened, he knows how special it was.
But Oreo isn’t just looking back. With a full-length solo album “Cash 4 Gold” completed and an EP with Sirius Blvck ready to drop, Oreo is constantly growing as an artist. Oreo’s first release was 2010’s “Delicious EP,” the same year he graduated from IUPUI.
How old are you now?
I just turned 29.
You didn’t grow up in Indianapolis?
I graduated from high school in Warsaw in 2005. Then I came to IUPUI and graduated in 2010.
What’d you study at IUPUI?
Communication studies major and African American diaspora studies minor. I was shitty, because I wanted that [African American diaspora studies] to be my major and literally the year after I graduated they offered it as a major.
Let’s talk about what you are doing as an artist. You have some albums coming out soon?
The full-length “Cash 4 Gold” that will be coming out this fall. I’m just waiting on the wax. I’ve got the test pressings for that. That’ll be out on tape as well. It’ll come with a ‘zine. I shot a bunch of 35mm photos for this publishing company called “Knighted.” They’re out of Oakland. I have an EP with Sirius Blvck that we’ve finished. We are just waiting on our solo projects.
So beyond music and radio what else do you do?
I’m an expediter at Milktooth. I just run food and drop plates on people’s tables.
Get recognized a lot doing that?
Yeah, for sure. It’s hard when we’re slammed, and people are trying to talk and ask questions. Even if it’s just buddies, it’s hard to say, “I can’t talk right now.” It’s a lot of people just saying what’s up and asking me what I’m doing. It’s not so much people handing me their mixtape.
Did you get a lot of mixtapes at Chreece?
Yeah, dude. It’s funny, I was hauling ass from Joyful Noise to Pizza King to check on it. And I’m running, and this kid’s like, “Eh, bro, you want this mixtape?” I told him, “Yeah sure, I’ll listen to it.” He says, “Before you grab that I’m gonna need five bucks.” [Laughs] Man, get the fuck out of my fucking face; I’m not dealing with this right now. I think it’s silly when rappers hand out their mixtape and charge $12 for a CD-R with a piece of paper and no one has ever heard a single joint from your catalogue. I get you’re trying to hustle, but come on, dude.
You’re about to head out on tour?
Ghost Gun Summer is going on tour of the South for a couple weeks. I don’t even have a time to decompress--I’m just on it.
We would love to sit down with Ghost Gun in the studio…
You guys are still in the production studio in Cavanaugh? We shot my cooking show, “Let’s Do Lunch,” in Cavanaugh. It was an independent study for Poli, and we just used that and did our pilot season there.
Was Chreece what you expected it to be?
Not at all. I really had no idea what to expect but I feel like, once four o’clock hit and I looked around and people were filling in and the weather was perfect, it was even sunset and it was already going off. At 7 we hit capacity for all the venues and had to call it. I walked around and heard people trying to buy wristbands off of people to get in. I had no idea it would be like that.
So are you doing Chreece again next year?
I’m like 50/50 right now. From the outside looking in, we have to. It was crazy. It was so successful its first year. As an artist, I just like doing one-offs. And that’s with anything, from printing a shirt or writing music, because I just feel like it is important for people to live in that moment of what is happening around them. I think it would be pretty cool if Chreece was a one-off, like a snapchat in time, when literally everyone came together one day and nothing bad happened. Everyone was so happy and respectful and hype for one another. Who knows. We will see. I’m an artist, not an event coordinator.
Chreece was a benefit for Musical Family Tree?
Every dollar, every penny, everything went to Musical Family Tree. They’re on 5013C status, and they just really need our help. They help so much with the music community, beyond hip-hop; every Hoosier musician benefits from them. They help with residencies or artist spaces where artists can go to work on flyers and merch and recording and touring. It’s important that they got every penny. The sponsors, the awesome sponsors, who supported Chreece, every penny from them went to paying the artists who performed. Every artist that touched the stage on Saturday got paid. We literally wrote a check to every artist, and that’s all thanks to local businesses.
How often do you think the artists who performed get paid?
Not very often. More often they are paying for fucking gigs, and it’s fucking ridiculous. It’s such a prehistoric concept, the pay-to-play. It’s unfortunate: a lot of the artists I hit up are so conditioned to pay to play on a bill that they offered us money. The way it works is that if you want to play with, I don’t know, Lil’ Scrappy, you have to buy $500 worth of tickets, and those tickets are for you to either sell or give away. That’s really evident in Indianapolis, and it’s ridiculous. As an artist and some who has been playing shows in the area, I thought it was really important to show these artists their worth and pay them. If I could, I’d tell everyone to not accept that and to get across that you should never pay to play a show, you should be paid to play a show. It seems that this concept is only for hip-hop.
Why do you think that is?
Hip-hop is kind of that red-headed stepchild that nobody respects until they see all the money it brings in. The businesses in Fountain Square on Saturday saw this. The Pizza King had its best night that it has had since it opened up. Hip-hop is strong enough to stimulate an economy for one night. It’s important that people realize that.
We were getting blues the whole time with planning. Filing for insurance for these events--to get special event permits you have to have insurance [and] in order to get insurance you have to show what genre of music you are playing. Specifically hip-hop is a high liability case. The insurance companies would give us astronomical quotes, and some wouldn’t give us a quote at all because hip-hop is such a negative force for some reason. Even up to the day of the event, we were getting hell for it. But we prevailed and we didn’t have a single security officer there. There was not one fight, there was not one arrest, and there was not one incident. And there were easily over 1,000 people in one area. No one really shed light that there was a hip-hop festival going on. Could you imagine if someone got shot or someone got hurt or something terrible happened? Could you imagine all the headlines? “Hip-Hop Fest Gone Wrong” or “Hip Hope Fest Gone Crazy.” It’s just a shame that it’s like that.
The positivity was amazing…
For sure everyone felt it.
What was the hardest part of the day?
The hardest thing was not being able to see my good friends play, people that I was wanting to see because I had to run the thing. There was the specific time when Mick Jenkins pulled in with his trailer during peak time and wanted to know where to park. We found a spot and it was okay, but there are so many things that you don’t think about.
How did you pick the artists?
I handpicked them. I’ve played with a lot of them and I know them. For the first year I didn’t want to do a submission based thing. I had the confidence enough in the city to kill it. It was cool getting to know everyone on another level. At the end of the day we’re all artists and we respect each other.
At what point did you know everything was running smooth?
After Ghost Gun Summer’s set, I went into cruise control. I was soaking wet with sweat and I could barely breathe. I was just exhausted. I walked like 20 miles all around the square checking up on the venues. I could take a breather and just think, “Yeah, we fucking did it man.” The plaza was clean, and at the end of the night it was like a ghost town, like nothing ever happened. I’m still trying to soak it all in. I’m still trying to assess what we did. It was such a crazy event. It was so big. I feel like we made history.
You have a documentary coming out about it?
Yeah, Sam Mirpoorian was shooting a lot of footage and interviews. He did the video “Tribe Quest” for Sirius Blvck and me. He is doing a lot of videos for “Cash 4 Gold.” He is an IUPUI student. He works at the library.
Would Chreece have worked anywhere but Fountain Square?
No, Fountain Square is my home. It’s where I feel comfortable. Any space can be a performance space here.
How do you think Indianapolis will change after Chreece?
The city is just growing, and it’s not even just hip-hop. There’s something magnetic about this city, especially in the summertime. It’s a beautiful place. When I first moved here I hated it. I was 17, and I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing here. I had to find my place.