Influence, popularity, and innovation are all central factors that spur the conversation of “mainstream” versus “underground” in music. It is with these metrics that fans deem their favorite artist an “underground legend” or a full-blown “star”, using popular perception and relative terms to grade an artist’s status of fame in a given ecosystem of music.
But sometimes this metric just doesn’t fit.
In the age of the internet, where social media paves unique pathways for artists of every imaginable kind, the barrier between the mainstream and the underground has become increasingly blurred. Notably, increased visibility of niche scenes is now allowing mainstream acts to dip their hands into the underground, utilizing the boundary-pushing, non-linear styles of smaller artists to predict innovative pushes in sound.
This collaboration, or occasional lack thereof, can be demonstrated in a number of ways, sometimes crediting the smaller acts that influenced a mainstream shift and sometimes not.
Here enters “I’m Upset” by Drake: a single released for his Scorpion album that arrived right in the midst of a hallmark rap beef against Pusha T, but even more importantly, a single that exemplifies this blurring line between underground and above.
I can recall driving home from my shift at Panera Bread, walking in the door, sitting down on the couch, and clicking play on the newest from Drake — a severely-anticipated release as fans waited for the lastest, provocative lyrical updates on his battle with King Push. However, my attention was soon drawn from the beef as the words of a familiar beat tag, “I’m working on dying”, arrived from the horizon of the song’s opening notes.
I rewound back to the beginning.
Immediately after my double take, I clicked on the Twitter app to confirm my discovery of a Working On Dying placement, and sure enough, it was verified — Oogie Mane was behind the boards on a Drake single.
While my Panera Bread shift left me less than enthused (thanks for asking), a sense of pride soon washed over me. I couldn’t have been more removed from participating, in any way, shape, or form in the creation of this song, and yet I felt pure triumph in knowing that Mane was having the moment he had deserved for so long.
This is where the power of blurring lines between underground and mainstream come into play. “Underground” is a term tied to a connotation of artist-to-fan intimacy, while “mainstream” indicates a level of separation between the audience and the main act. In the case of Oogie Mane, this underground network of support allowed for a sense of connection to the victory of such an omnipresent, trendsetting producer, and no matter the degree of detachment between Mane and his fans, it felt personal for everyone “involved” — even if that involvement simply meant exhausting obscure SoundCloud links from Oogie Mane and the Working On Dying camp over the years.
That said, as the months went by following this momentous occasion, success continued to role in for Mane and his unscathed, Working On Dying work ethic. Evidence of collaborations with Toro y Moi, Lil Uzi Vert, and more were greeted by social media with ample anticipation, all leading up to yet another huge moment for Mane as he garnered a production placement on “WRLD On Drugs” — one of the standout songs on Future and Juice WRLD’s blockbuster joint album.
While these Drake and Future placements reign as a few of the biggest moments in Mane’s rapidly-growing career, it’s important not to ignore the influence that the Working On Dying producer has had on underground music, specifically in his home city of Philadelphia, long before they ever came to fruition.
The story rings much deeper than these two placements — from Matt Ox to tread music to Black Kray to Goth Money Records to Philly’s Five Finger Posse and everyone in between, Oogie Mane’s impact has been crossed over a wide range of artists and styles, all of which signify an uncompromising tint of individuality that makes Oogie Mane so important in the first place.
With this interview, the goal is to shine a light on the importance of the Oogie Mane’s of the music world — or, in other words, those that blur this line between the mainstream and the underground and continue to push far beyond the ceilings set by the undertones of such terms. By trusting in the calculated art of creative vision, Oogie Mane and the Working On Dying crew of F1lthy, Forza, Brandon Finessin, and The Loosie Man are making timeless music, causing critical shifts in the power of influence while weaving their names into musical conversations of underground and mainstream alike.
No matter how far they go, one constant remains: Working On Dying will always do it all on their own terms, bounded only by ceilings of their own creation.
Learn all about Oogie Mane and his future ambitions, background in Philly, production resume, and more by reading our full conversation below.
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This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Especially in recent years, the line between the “underground” and the mainstream has become increasingly blurred. How does it feel to be in such a rapidly-changing industry?
It’s crazy — shit has changed so fast. It’s exciting but mind-blowing at the same time. It almost feels like a lottery draft — getting drafted into the NFL. Big leagues type shit.
In the same light, it’s getting to the point where the mainstream can’t ignore the voice of the underground. A good example of this is the new Future and Juice WRLD collab album. You produced “WRLD On Drugs” on that project — how did that come together?
It came together because I have a homie close to Future named Spike Jordan, who shoots videos for Future. My manager, Ness, plugged it up — he knows the guy because he’s from Philly and shit. We sent him a beat pack and he fucked with them jawns. And then we found out that Future got on like 6 or 7 of my beats in the same day. At the time, I was already in the studio with a big artist — I can’t mention who because I signed full disclosure — but I was leaving that session and they told me to come to the studio because Future wanted to meet me. So I went and met him and he played me all the songs. After that, I go back home to Philly and I hear that Future wants to put two of the songs on his album. Next thing you know, he gave Juice WRLD one of the records, and it ended up on WRLD ON DRUGS. Future said he’s saving the other record for his solo album.
What did that placement mean for you both in terms of your own career and in terms of this merging between the underground and the mainstream?
Moments like that feel good. It’s still crazy, but now I’m getting used to it and figuring things out. I’m starting to learn how things work, too. I was in the studio with Uzi 6 months prior to this, so that really hipped me to a lot of things and helped me focus and get prepared for everything that’s about to happen. Future explained a lot of shit to me, too — he helped me and introduced me to a lot of people.
Speaking of your work with Lil Uzi Vert, he’s also from Philly — how did you meet him? Is Philly a tight-knit city like that?
Yeah, Philly is pretty small; you know everyone around that’s popping and everything. But me and Uzi met each other in high school when we wasn’t even popping yet. We went to the same high school. I went to Northeast High for my whole four years, while he went there for two years and then transferred to another school. I met him my tenth-grade year — he was two grades higher than me. We met in high school because we both dressed different and had our own, different ways plus mutual friends and everything.
Then, a year after he left my school, he found out I was making music — he hit me up and was like “yo, meet me at the Burger King after school”. So we met up and talked and he was explaining his whole plan, like “I’m about to get this thing going and start rapping, so send me beats”. We were texting back and forth and he told me he was about to get a record to a big DJ in Philly named DJ Diamond Kuts — he had the plug to that already. After that, he had records with Don Cannon and shit, and the next thing you know, he just blew up.
We stopped talking for a couple years because he got so big — he was still fucking with me on occasion, though — he would FaceTime me every now and then. Uzi was real genuine, you know? But then he just got too big and I was letting him do his thing. Later on, me and Matt [Ox] had that big “Overwhelming” record. We ended up going to Day N Night festival in 2017, the last festival that Lil Peep was at. Matt performed and we stayed the whole day because we knew Uzi was performing and wanted to see him. One of our friends from Philly was there and he was like “just stay with us — we gon get y’all to Uzi’s trailer because he wants to see y’all”. We met up with Uzi that day and ever since then, we’ve been texting. After that festival and after his tour, he came back to Philly to go to the studio. Since then, nonstop, just constantly, he’s been working on music, so we’ve been in the studio a lot.
One of your first major placements was on Drake’s “I’m Upset”. Millions of streams later, what did that moment mean to you? How did you get that placement in the first place?
The “Overwhelming” video dropped and it was going viral everywhere. It had been out for like a month or two at this point, and OVO OB [OBrien] followed me and then DMed me. He hit me up like “Yo, the boy wants beats.” I’m like “What? The boy? You talking about Drake?”. He said yeah, so I’m like “What the fuck? This don’t feel real”. So I gave him my number — I was working at Urban Outfitters at the time. He was texting me and then after I got off work, we got on FaceTime and he was like “The kid Matt Ox sent me unreleased songs that go crazy — Drake fucks with his shit, he wants beats.”
I sent him a pack of beats — like 6 beats. The first pack I ever sent had “I’m Upset” in it. I constantly sent him beats for months, just to get something going and hopefully get another record. After a few weeks, [OB] was like “Yo, the boy got a hit song, he can’t wait to show you”. A few more months go by of me constantly sending them beats and talking to them. Next thing you know, Drake follows me. He DMed me like “Yo, we gotta hit the studio — I can’t wait to show you what I got. Here’s my number”. So I started texting Drake, we’re talking about the song, and I’m just hyped about it. After that, his engineer, Noel [Cadastre] hits me up for the stems and 40 calls me on the phone the day before it drops to ask me about the Working on Dying tag. I originally had my old tag on “I’m Upset” because I made the beat like three years ago. They took that tag off but kept the Working on Dying tag on it. Next thing you know, they told me it was ready to go and it dropped.
After you first started talking to Drake, did you go back to Urban Outfitters the next day?
I probably worked for like another week or two. Then I went to LA with Matt Ox for an Illroots interview and after that, I never went back to work.
Matt Ox got his first huge look with the viral video for “Overwhelming” — a song that you produced. A lot of people saw him as a meme, but with his new album, it’s clear that he can’t be ignored. OX surprised a lot of people. How did your work with Matt come together?
Before “Overwhelming”, we had been working with Matt [Ox] for a year straight. Forza found him on Twitter and was like “yo, look at this little kid on Twitter rapping — he go hard”. Me and F1lthy definitely saw the potential, so we reached out to Matt Ox through Twitter. Little did we know, our homie went to school with Matt Ox’s mom — they were tight and they knew each other for a minute, so it was easy to get in the studio with him because she trusted us. We hit him up like “Yo come to our studio, we got beats for you. We gonna make you hot. Just trust us and give us time.” He came to the studio and we recorded him for free and gave him beats. You gotta put work, effort, and time into everything you do and anything’s possible. Next thing you know, he goes viral and ends up dropping an album.
How does it feel to see Matt Ox’s success even when people tried to discount him as a meme?
It’s refreshing and relieving that people can finally hear what [Matt Ox] has been working so hard and long for, because even back then, he knew he was hot. He didn’t get mad when people called him a meme — he was just waiting and getting ready to show the people what he’s really made of. I feel like this is just the start, though, honestly. He has so much more unreleased shit on the way. Matt gets better by the day, like it’s crazy — most of the songs on the album are pretty new, actually. He just keeps improving.
Do you see a lot of intersection between the Philly and Pittsburgh music scenes? Would you say there’s a strong influence in Philly from Pittsburgh acts?
Yeah, in a way, because I was hella inspired by Mac Miller back in the day. I used to listen to his music a lot back in middle school and high school — that was the shit that influenced me and made me want to produce. I loved that cheery, happy feeling that the music at the time was giving you. I also fuck with Wiz [Khalifa] a lot.
How important has Philly been in your development as a producer?
It’s been everything — it’s made me who I am. It shows me that you don’t have to travel or do anything extra to get noticed. I didn’t show my face for years on the internet and it didn’t even matter. Only the music matters.
Work ethic is another thing that I’ve learned a lot from Philly. I don’t really do nothing at all in Philly — every day I’m just in the studio while I’m there. The studio is the workplace for us.
Even though it goes fairly unappreciated, Black Kray has been an incredibly influential figure in music in recent years. Explain his role in the rise and development of “tread music”, which started with WOD.
Our work with Black Kray originally happened because we had linked up with SnobMobb when they were in Philly for a show and got stuck there. We met up with LA Goony and BootyChaaain and started making music with them, which eventually turned into us getting introduced to Black Kray. We were working with Bootychaaain a lot, going to her crib to cook up all the time. We started making tread stuff down there with F1lthy, too. Lowkey, Bootychaaain actually helped us come up with the name for tread.
We was just making that fast-paced, keep-it-moving style — treadmill type shit. Kray, BootyChaaain, and everyone else helped create that sound. We would just make hard ass beats and they would go crazy on the drums. That was the sound for a second.
When you hear the influence of tread in other people’s beats, how do you feel?
We hear the tread influence a lot. We used to be hella tight about stuff like that. We would @ people on Twitter and call people out, but now, it’s like — we get inspired from other people, so we can’t get mad when other people get inspired by us. We know we create our shit different from other people and we know our sound is different from other people. They know that, too. They know our sound from theirs so it’s not a problem because they can’t really copy what’s in our brains. We’re always one step ahead.
What is your goal with Working On Dying? What are your aspirations for the future?
I want to expand as much as we can in the music industry, for sure, but I also want to expand into movies and TV. I was originally introduced to making music from my brother, F1LTHY. We would play video games and that’s where we would get our inspiration — from Super Nintendo games like Donkey Kong and their soundtracks. That’s how I first learned how to produce, so to be in a video game or movie working on music is one of the big goals.
Lastly, what is one piece of advice you would give to up-and-coming producers?
Don’t be afraid to send emails out. That’s how it all started for me — that’s how I got my first real buzz on SoundCloud — from sending beats to Chris Travis over and over, flooding his email with 6 or 7 beats until he responded. That’s what got my name out there, just sending emails out. Don’t be afraid to work to get things going and always be open to working with people.