OG Vern emerges from the dark with celebratory new album

Andy Downing
OG Vern

Even when OG Vern writes out his verses longhand in a notebook, he has to transfer them into his phone before recording. This is because when the rapper tracks his vocals, he always does so alone in the dark, which makes reading his words off of anything other than a screen an impossibility.

“That way I can mess up as many times as I want to without feeling self-conscious, and I don’t need to worry about anybody else,” said Vern, whose new album, Natural Selection, premiered on streaming services today (Friday, Sept. 18). “I feel comfortable in the studio with other people, but there’s something about being alone. You’re going to get your true self.”

The process of creatingNatural Selection started similarly in the dark, with Vern recording and setting aside a series of more depressive, introspective tracks in favor of more upbeat cuts, determined to get listeners up and moving in what has been a decidedly downcast year.

“We’ve been stuck at home … and I wanted to make something people could dance to while they’re working from home,” said the rapper, who started work on the album in May 2019, scrapping two earlier versions of it before hitting one that captured the feeling he envisioned. “I can be sitting in the house all day, but we turn onNatural Selection and, boom, it’s gonna fix the whole thing. I’m bobbing my head, dancing around. … My daughter’s there dancing to it, too. That’s how we go.”

“Feedback” is typical of this head-nodding approach, Vern lacing his words atop a soul-tinged, vaguely retro beat that conjures the feel of a spring breeze passing through an open window. “Get Yo Manz” is darker but no less uptempo, building on a sparse, bass-heavy beat that leaves ample space for the rapper’s increasingly polished flow.

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Lyrically, Vern tends to keep it surface level throughoutNatural Selection, holding his guard up like a pro fighter. At the same time, the rapper said he hasn’t abandoned the more revealing discarded tunes, which are steeped in heartbreak and depression and will likely surface on another project down the line. Indeed, Vern described writing and recording those songs as essential to his new album, serving as a pre-cleansing, of sorts, and allowing him to approach the more carefree tunes that followed absent those emotional anchors. The tracks also moved him further along in what he termed an ongoing process of self-discovery.

“Music being an expression for me, I have to talk about when I’m happy, when I’m sad. And it may not ever come out or get out to anybody, but just the fact I let that go … that alone will make me feel good and get me out of a funk,” Vern said. “As I was going and making this album, I was also in the process of learning about myself in real life. … I learned that I’m a lot more emotional than I like to think. And I learned that a lot of times I try to [project] like I’m not sad, and even when I am sad it’s like I don’t want to put that energy out there, because I am a happy person. Through this process I learned it was OK to express myself like that. … I don’t want to be corny, but it was an awakening-type thing.”