Rapper Greg Owens is ready to accept what he can’t control

The producer and MC said his new two-song mixtape is a precursor to more music to come

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Greg Owens

In the past, rapper and producer Greg Owens has been prone to overthinking things, sitting on tracks while he devised the perfect means by which to make his music public. 

“As an artist, you’ll have songs where you just don’t know what to do with them at a particular time,” Owens said recently by phone. “It’s one of those things where we as creators, we can question things, question songs, question if people are going to like it, how you can market it. You worry about what project can go here. And then, if you’re collaborating with other artists, you worry about how that artist is going to feel. A lot can go into it.”

But for a pair of new songs that surfaced last week — “Manifesting Our Future” and “Everything” — Owens opted to let go of this long-entrenched desire to control every aspect of a release, content in a growing understanding that so much about the business is entirely out of his control.

And yet, somehow, the two tracks, which were recorded around 2018, sound perfectly suited to this particular moment in time, hitting like celebratory beams of sunshine at the tail end of a long, dark year. Further befitting the moment, both songs rely heavily on collaboration (Zac Fresh and NASAGOLD turn up on “Manifesting,” TrigNO, Tobilla and more on “Everything”), as if acknowledging a slow return to semi-normalcy following a 13-month stretch where social distancing and stay at home orders have forced a solitary existence on many.

“A lot of times, artists and producers, we record songs and we don’t know what we’re making, or what the significance of it might be. You’re just in the studio vibing out,” said Owens, who views these tracks as the precursor to a busy year of putting out new music. “But ‘Manifesting Our Future’ is about being thankful … and ‘Everything’ is about love, and I think those are subjects people need to hear about now. … Those songs mean more to me now than they did back then.”

Owens traced this sense of gratitude to entering into the final stages of a pandemic that had long left him feeling cut off from his usual in-person collaborative outlets. In those more solitary moments, the musician reconnected with the drums, an instrument he started playing around the age of 2 or 3 (he recalled his mom telling stories about him keeping time in the womb). This also allowed him to digitally scratch the collaborative itch, since he could log into the website Fiverr and post drum tracks, making them available to a range of potential musical conspirators around the globe.

“I’m a producer, songwriter and musician, so I can do a lot of things on my own, but I find when I collaborate with other artists, especially the great ones, they can hear things that I can’t, and [the song] is even better for it,” said Owens, who traced this egoless approach to his beat-keeper background. “Being a drummer, I’ve learned that every musician has a part to play, and everybody’s part has to serve a purpose. I can’t just be banging on the drums super loud, soloing through the entire song. I have to be in that pocket and serve the song. Same with the bass and the keys. And that’s how I approach making music as an artist and producer: What role do I need to serve on this particular project?”

Owens, who received much of his early exposure to music via the church, started producing tracks around age 12 after discovering Kanye West, recording early songs on a simple tape recorder. Eventually, he obtained computer software that allowed him to more easily create his own beats, though it took a bit longer to begin to find his own voice as an artist.

“When I first started, I was talking about guns and sex and all of that, and I was cussing a lot. … And clearly I’m not that type of dude. I’ve never pulled the trigger, nothing like that,” said Owens, who recalled a conversation with his father during which his dad told him it was OK to be himself in the music. “After a while, I put more of myself into it and started to figure out who I am as an artist. And that’s what I’ve been doing the last 15 years. … I’ve always felt if I keep pushing and keep working on my craft, ultimately I’ll get where I’m supposed to, and that’s been my motivation for real, for real.”