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Hip-Hop Collective Family Not a Group Lives Up to Its Name

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Half of Family Not a Group pose for a photo at a performance in Portland.
Half of Family Not a Group pose for a photo at a performance in Portland.  (Via Baghead)

You can’t stop artists from coming together. Hit ’em with a global pandemic, gas prices that are through the roof, housing costs through the stratosphere and a long list of music venues that have closed down—whatever. Artists are going to be artists. They’re going to come together to create, and I’m all here for it.

In San Francisco, there’s a very large and extremely talented faction of lyricists, singers, DJs and musicians who are coming together, creating moments and memories, and having fun while doing so.

On Wednesday Night the 17-member collective known as Family Not A Group is set to hit the stage, collectively.

The night Family Not a Group came together in New York.
The night Family Not a Group came together in New York. (Via Baghead)

They’re scheduled to perform at The Chapel, and the March 9 show will be the ensemble’s first major performance in their hometown of San Francisco. The show will be headlined by two artists who aren’t officially in the collective, but they’re “family friends”—singer Astu and lyricists-slash-vocalist Jada Imani. They’ll be flanked by performances from Baghead, Afterthought and Ozer, who are just three of the 17-member conglomerate.

Along with Baghead, Afterthought and Ozer, there’s ASH, Serg2x, Mike Evans Jr., Jenset, Maya Canales, Grand-O, Cynny, Professa Gabel, AP, Kaly Jay, DJSAY, JessTarantino, SundaY and EaSWay.

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The majority of the camp is from the City, with some folks hailing from other areas of the Bay, but the team’s origin story starts at a show in the Big Apple.

“When we went to New York, we performed at East Berlin,” Ozer tells me during a phone call. The crew did a show called “The Frisco Invasion” at the intimate, popular venue in The East Village. A couple things went wrong. Notably, the computer died before the show started and required someone to make an hour-long trek to get a replacement. But the show was good.

“I can’t remember if it was the venue manager or the sound engineer, but they said we killed it,” Ozer reflects. “The next day we talked amongst ourselves and said we’ve got something special here… and that’s how Family Not a Group was born.”

Family Not a Group members pose for a photo while rocking a show in San Francisco last year.
Family Not a Group members pose for a photo while rocking a show in San Francisco last year. (Via Baghead)

Before that show, the nucleus had been forming. The individual artists would constantly support one another, showing up to performances and appearing on each other’s projects.

On Ozer’s latest album, Lost In Translation, which dropped in July of last year, there are appearances from crew members Kaly Jay, EaSWay, Professa Gabel and more.

The project is a lyrical exploration into some of the darker moments in Ozer’s life, and how he and his loved ones have persevered. He speaks on an incident that led to his father’s incarceration, and references his mother’s attempt at taking her own life.

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On the track “Purposeful,” the rapper from Bayview recites, “Shit, I got some skeleton in my footlocker / eye open, I know God not the only one watchin’. / Under fire, smoke in the air, we went through madness / hands full, it’s gettin’ hard to carry the baggage.”

At the end of a track with Lex Culture, “All Falls Down,” Ozer shares an intimate voice note. “I recorded that the night my grandfather died,” Ozer tells me “That takes me back to that night—it was a real moment for me.”

He plays with the concept of devils and angels in the song “D & A.” The track is a bit of a double-entendre, referring to humans’ genetic code and how we’re composed of both good and evil.

The etymology of the name “Ozer,” also has two paths: one is a biblical reference and the other is slang for moving drugs.

As a teenager he sat in a barbershop when one of his father’s friends walked in, asking if he was “Little O?” After confirming that he is indeed his father’s son, the man donned the name “Little Ozer” on him. Little Ozer went back to his father, telling him that he planned on taking his title, “He was like, ‘You know what that means?'”

His father explained that they called him Ozer because he used to push a lot of ounces. Then “Little Ozer” did more research on the name, and found that it also means “God’s Helper” in Hebrew.

“It has a bad meaning and a good meaning, which represents human life in general,” Ozer tells me in the same deep-raspy voice he uses to deliver his lyrics.
Ozer rocks the mic with his shirt off.
Ozer rocks the mic with his shirt off. (Ken IV)

Destined for this path, Ozer’s grandmother told him he’d be a preacher, but he said it was something he couldn’t foresee. Now as an MC he says he’s reaching people, and he’s looking to keep spreading the word this Wednesday.

The goal of Family Not a Group’s live shows is to “provide a memorable experience to everybody who comes to the show,” Ozer says. “It’s called ‘a family service,’ so it’s going to make you feel like family, and you’ll have a deeper connection to each artist that you see.”
The lineup is full of talented artists I’ve been following. Last year I did a podcast interview with Baghead, who along with Cereal For The Kids, published a film and audio project called “Dedicated To Those Who.” Jada Imani was the subject of an interview from January of last year. I’ve hosted separate events where both Astu and Afterthought (and the band he’s a part of, The Top Chefs) have performed.
I’ve also seen performances by a few of the other members of Family Not a Group, but I’ve yet to see Ozer. Before I got off the phone, I let him know that we’ll cross paths in due time. But what I didn’t explicitly tell him is that his words have already reached me—without having seen him in person yet.
Family Not a Group presents “A Family Service” at The Chapel in San Francisco on March 9, with performances by Ozer, Astu, Jada Imani and Afterthought. 

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