Last year, while DJing anonymously in the clubs of OC, Josh One was suddenly famous. But not here. His moody hip-hop track "Contemplation" was steadily climbing dance charts all over Europe. The phone line to his Long Beach digs was busy with calls from UK and German music journalists, who told him he had finally gained entry into the Big-Time DJ Club, and who peppered him with inane questions like, "Josh, how does it feel to be so big?"
"I hate it!" was his pat answer.
His dyspeptic take on success was natural. First, Josh One (born Josh Noteboom) hadn't seen a dime in royalties. Second, absolutely no one stateside showed any interest in his hit. Blame that on the American mainstream's lack of love for electronic music. Double blame it on the record's ill-fated release date here: Sept. 11, 2001.
That alone should have buried memory of the song. But there was more bad juju. The higher "Contemplation" climbed the charts in Europe, the more diluted it got. Nokia posted the song on its website as a downloadable ring tone. It appeared on dozens of house compilations throughout Europe, each more generic and cheesy than the last.
Even worse, no one could figure out who the real Josh One was. His magazine interviews were juxtaposed with random photos of other DJs named Josh. Some Euro mags credited house DJ Josh Wink for "Contemplation." Still others praised DJ Spooky—born Josh Davis—for the track. Josh One's anonymity hit its bleakest nadir at the 2002 Winter Music Conference in Miami, when Josh One tried to introduce himself to a DJ who was spinning "Contemplation." "I'm Josh One, that's my music you're playing," he told the DJ, who replied with, "Dude, you are so not Josh One!"
Smirk all you want, laughing boy, but Josh One eventually got some justice. On later DJing trips to London and Berlin, he'd get mobbed by fans. Better still, he started getting quarterly royalty checks and snagged a record deal with LA label My Utopia, which allowed him to quit his day job drawing sketches for a mechanical engineering firm.
That gave him the time to release an EP, Grey Skies, in July. On it, Josh One composes the songs and provides the beats while his live band—staffed with such OC musicians as guitarist Patrick Bailey and DJ/conga player Cocoe—give the tunes a warmth and unpredictability that's more like jazz, soul and funk than hip-hop.
Bailey sets the tone of the lead track, "Risin'," with a mysterious, dubby, jazz-funk feel, that could double for the soundtrack of a seedy John Cassavetes movie were it not for the conscious rhymes of MC Aloe Blacc. The title track has the suspense of a classic cloak-and-dagger movie, featuring more of Bailey's mysterious guitar riffs mixed in with the jazzy alto flutes of Tim Orindgeff, the drumming of Sublime associate Marshall Goodman and the Fender Rhodes work of Diego Carlin (who co-hosts Diggin' Deeper night at Costa Mesa's Memphis restaurant, where Josh One puts in regular appearances). MC Mikah9 of pioneering LA hip-hop crew Freestyle Fellowship sings playfully on "Afterhours," which turns into something of a Prohibition-era jazz party with the strutting bassline of Corey McCormick and muted trumpet of Printz Board.
Grey Skies paves the way for his full-length, Narrow Path, scheduled to drop by early 2004. It's an album Josh One says is centered around life choices. "If I grew up in Huntington Beach with other white kids, maybe I'd be into punk rock. Maybe I'd be a lead singer for a wannabe ska band," he says.
Instead, he grew up in multi-culti Garden Grove. The kids on his street were Korean, Vietnamese, Irish and Mexican. Josh's next-door neighbors were a Ugandan family who got him into hip-hop and breakdancing. A torn tendon in his arm at age 16 derailed his aspirations for a pro baseball career and gave him the excuse he needed to hurl himself full-on into music.
He became a roadie for his DJ pal Cocoe, ushering him to gigs all over OC. Whenever Cocoe took a break from the turntables at a house party or club, Josh One would sneak up to the wheels of steel and spin. He eventually bought his own gear and produced his own music. He helped create hip-hop theme nights in local clubs.