It’s been a good year for hip-hop. Both rookies and veterans have released an array of stellar projects. For instance, Logic’s Def Jam debut album, Under Pressure stood up to T.I.’s true-to-life Paperwork album and peaked at No. 5 on Billboard charts. Long Beach native Vince Staples recently dropped his respectable project dubbed Hell Can Wait while Killer Mike and El-P—collectively known as Run The Jewels—released the second installment of their self-titled LP, which is definitely one of the year’s best LPs.
Missing from the conversation is California-based rap group The Wow. The rugged boom-bap and lyrically energetic duo consist of a nerdy, swaggy white guy named Balthazar Getty and former battle rapper, KO The Legend. On Oct. 14, the rappers released their debut project titled LGNDRY on their independent Purple House Music label. The album boasts appearances by well-respected MCs such as Method Man, Prodigy of Mobb Deep and The Pharcyde’s Fatlip.
The black-and-white rap tag team have been putting in work for more than a decade. KO barged his way into the industry after murking a rap battle competition at L.A. radio station, Power 106.1. “They had this battle competition called the Role Call,” he tells VIBE. “I had this record on there. It was on there for five months. They had to retire it.”
After obliterating rappers with heavy bars and metaphors, KO garnered a following as artists like Lil’ Flip and Britney Spears reached out for help with their respective projects. Industry connections provided a plug for Balthazar, who was also producing and acting at the time, to KO. Here, The Wow stopped by VIBE HQ to discuss their album, recording process, trap music, their childhood and much more.—Darryl Robertson
VIBE: Why the name The Wow?
Balthazar Getty: It started as a joke. I thought that it’d be funny if an announcer came out to announce a band and a white guy came out in a suit and he said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, The Totally Wow.’ We were calling it The Totally Wow just as a reference. In time, it just broke down to The Wow. It’s just one of those words that you start to notice by how often we say it as a culture. When we play the record, people go, ‘Wow’ and ‘The guy who makes the beats is white? Wow.’ It’s just a fun word to play on. It’s in the vein of The Beatles, The Who, so it doesn’t feel hip-hop, it’s not the Kush Mafia, or something. It feels timeless in a way.
The album is very aggressive and it seems as if you guys were homeless and had only one shot at getting off the streets.
KO: What’s crazy is every single song from beginning to end was created there. The way the album was sequenced was very well thought out. Balthazar had the beats, and he literally said, ‘This is the feel, this is the vibe I’m hearing. Go for it.’ Then we added accordingly so it was a very organic process.
Your beats are so ’90s inspired but aren’t dated. How do you manage that?
Balt: I appreciate that. For the most part, I want you to make that face (makes screwface) when you hear it. I just like shit that knocks. Guys like Premo, DJ Muggs, Large Pro, and Diamond D—I’m inspired by all of those guys. But, I can also embrace something like a LGNDRY to embrace where music is going. We don’t want to be a retro 90s band. That’s not The Wow. We’re not some hip-hop purists that don’t fuck with 808s. We love that shit. If you just follow the trend, you’re a wrap but if you move with it and make it your own, you’re good.
What are your favorite songs on LGNDRY?
Balt: My favorite is “Talk My Shit.” No features. Just me and KO doing what we do—sick bars and that ol’ boom bap shit.
KO: I’m going to agree and say “Talk My Shit” as well. As a relatively unknown MC, I feel this record best displays my aptitude for rap. It validates the gods [like Prodigy, Method Man and Fatlip] giving The Wow their stamp of approval and blessing our album with those jade tablets of knowledge.
This is your first project together, but you’ve been in the game for a while.
KO: After Power 106 retired me, I met different people. Lil’ Flip was one of the people that I started producing for. Brittany Spears heard me on the radio once so she brought me to the studio. I recorded a joint with Britney Spears [which] led me to me some people and that led to Balt. It’s crazy because I started in the pop world and Top 40.
But you spit like a battle rapper. Would you be interested in stepping into that arena?
KO: Not anymore because I did it for so long. It kind of broke my heart. I did Sway and [King] Tech’s battle and I got robbed so bad that the people were screaming and booing at Tech and Sway because they knew I won. But the dude that beat me had just come off an MTV battle.
Who’s the guy who beat you?
KO: His name is C4. I’ll never forget. He’s an Irish dude. He’s dope as fuck.
When did you start experimenting with music?
KO: I grew up in a place that had zero hip-hop—San Luis Obispo, California—and I was one of twenty blacks in the area. Me and some of my friends were just obsessed with the culture, and all we could do was go to 7-Eleven and buy XXL, The Source and VIBE. We bought every magazine because that was our only plug to hip-hop. Then the Internet broke things wide and I started creating a following there.
How old were you?
KO: I was eight years old. My pops was a preacher and they had this talent show at church. I don’t remember the name of it but I did not want to do this one song and the whole time I sang it, I cried on stage. I was so nervous but after [the show], all these girls ran up and every one was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ and that was like my first hit of crack. I was like, ‘Yeah, I can do this.’
You went home and started writing?
KO: Actually, I just got into music generally but I couldn’t listen to secular music so my parents were like, ‘You can make music. That’s your only option because you’re not going to listen to what’s out.’ I started writing and when that happens, everything just comes to you. I couldn’t go to school dances, couldn’t read what I wanted to read, listen to what I wanted to.
What do your parents say now after listening to LGNDRY? You have some vulgar stuff on there.
KO: They never saw music as a career choice but once they saw that I opened for Nelly Furtado—it was like 20,000 people there. That was the first show that they’d come to and I’d done like 100 shows before that. When they came, they were like, ‘Oh, shit. This is a reality. We don’t like it, but we get it and you got our support.’
It seems like getting to this point came fairly easy.
Balt: We don’t see [obstacles] as roadblocks. They’re opportunities that we learn from. We believe in it and we believe that we’re going to connect with enough people.
KO: One thing great about the Internet, it’s an equalizer. It’s not about everybody having to fuck with your shit. If our music doesn’t resonate with you, then it’s not for you but there’s a group of people that it is for and that’s who we’re talking to.
I can tell you guys listen to a variety of hip-hop.
Balt: When I’m in the club and they drop some trap shit… It’s not even about the music. It’s the same reason people pray in groups. Anytime you get 300 people moving to some trap shit and you get all that energy, that critical mass, that happens, some 2 Chainz happens, Chief Keef happens. I love that shit.
That “Kill a Top Dawg Nigga for entertainment” line was dope.
KO: I wrote that the same week that the “Control” verse came out. I knew I wasn’t going to do a “Control” response. There’s not a rapper alive that I’m scared of. That’s just me saying, ‘I’m here.’
Balt: It wasn’t disrespectful. It was a way of capitalizing off of the battle rapping that they reignited, and throwing it back in their faces. I think if anything they’d appreciate it. There’s no malicious intent behind it at all.
Talk about how you hooked up with Method Man and Prodigy. Were you in the studio with them?
KO: For Prodigy, no. But, for Meth, yes.
What’s Meth like?
Balt: What’s funny is that KO came over later because I had to do Meth’s stuff first. He said he’s going to show up at 9:30pm so I’m thinking, ‘It’s Meth. It’s going to be midnight.’ He shows up at 9:00pm. He’s completely prepared. I’m like a little kid seeing Bugs Bunny and Micky Mouse. He walks into my studio and I give him a hug like, ‘Meth, you my fucking hero.’ He was just so cool, man. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to know where he lived, about his kids and family. We had some greenery and then KO showed up and Meth came over and said, ‘Yo, KO, you’re the man.’ And then he said, ‘Are you humble?’ That was basically his advice. Approach everything with humility. (Says to KO) I think it almost threw you off-guard.
KO: That’s not what I expected to hear. He pulled me in and tapped my chest but I said, ‘If you knew my family, I don’t have any other options but to be that.’ That’s my reality. Humility is just ingrained in me. That’s a core principle. I told him about my father being a preacher and I wasn’t allowed to listen to secular music. But Biggie is my favorite rapper and “The What” is my all-time favorite Biggie record. That’s the only record where I feel that someone [like Meth] has gotten with Biggie so I told Meth that I used to sneak in the back of the church with my headphones. While my pastor’s preaching, I’d be listening to “The What.” He really influenced me as an MC. His “Triumph” verse is one of my all-time favorite verses.
How’d you link with Fatlip?
KO: I was leaving this club called Embassy. It was like 2:00am and this dude bumps me. So I look at him with the screwface and it’s Fatlip. I’m like, ‘Yo, are you Fatlip?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah.’ I was like, ‘Yo, I got this project that I’m working on and I know people tell you this shit all the time but it’s really real, it’s boom bap, and it’s West Coast and we need you.’ He gave me his number. I thought he was going to be bullshitting but I texted him the next day and he was on it. His verse is nasty.
What are you trying to accomplish musically?
KO: Tech is everything to me. It’s going to be the new purveyors of content and control distribution methods. They control how we adjust content now. I really want to be that label that disrupts the way that major labels and artists see how content is put out because there’s so many things at our fingertips.
Balt: This isn’t some shit that I’m just trying haphazardly. We’re trying to be Def Jam, Geffen. Everything starts with a dream and the guys who make it are the guys that hold on a little bit longer than the others. This isn’t something that we turn on and off. This is Purple House Music.
What do you want to accomplish with LGNDRY?
KO: I’ve been grounded for years because I used to listen to hip-hop in the back of the church. I’ve gotten lashes for hip-hop. Basically, LGNDRY is me inspiring everyone to be legendary.