It's a sweltering day in Portland, and Tony, the self-appointed "King of Planet Dookion," is gracing Katie O'Brien's on Northeast Sandy Boulevard with his royal presence. As he dunks a grilled cheese sandwich into a bowl of tomato soup, the tall, dreadlocked MC and multi-instrumentalist explains how someone so regal ended up in our humble town.
"The airwaves on Earth were hurting, and the people of our planet sent our top specialists to bring the airwaves back to conscious music," he says, a cheeky grin stretching across his face. "We landed in Portland, Oregon—which has now become Poohland, Oregon."
In reality, Ozier grew up splitting time between Texas and Michigan, and moved to Portland in 2009 after trying his hand in L.A. and Atlanta. But his sound—which he's dubbed "doo-doo funk"—does come off like something from another world. A mixture of '70s psychedelic funk with hip-hop swing and D'Angelo-esque soul, the definition of "doo doo" is limited only by the imagination of its creator. And after witnessing one of Ozier's monthly Dookie Jams at Dante's with his Doo-Doo Funk All-Stars, it seems positively boundless.
Despite his confidence, Ozier, who releases his third solo album, 36 Flavas, this month, got a late start in the music game. Though his grandfather was a gospel singer who toured the country, and he played on the drum line in high school, Ozier focused on music only after dropping out of Western Michigan University. Ozier says he "just wasn't ready" for the four-year college experience, and found himself living back at home with his father, wondering what to do with his life. "It just came to me, clear as day," he says. "Go learn to play that piano at your dad's house." After many hours spent practicing chords, a friend showed him how to make beats. "When that happened, it was over," Ozier says. "I knew what I was going to do."
Ozier pursued a degree in studio engineering, and immediately moved to L.A. to shop his music. "I would present my music as R&B, and labels would tell me it was 'too neo-soul,'" he says. "So then I would submit to a neo-soul label, and they would tell me it was 'too hip-hop.'
"The one thing they all told me," he adds, "was that it was funky."
And so was birthed doo-doo funk—"the stankiest thing you can think of." It's a malleable sound. On 36 Flavas, crisp, radio-ready production masks out-there concepts, to the point that it's easy to forget you're listening to a concept album by imaginary funk heroes from outer space. Onstage at Dante's, where Ozier leads his revolving cast of All-Stars, the sound is even more diverse: You're just as likely to hear a soulful solo from horn player Farnell Newton as a 16-bar verse from Slimkid3 of the Pharcyde.
âI really still donât know what to call it,â Ozier says, laughing. âIâve just tried to keep it drippy.â
SEE IT: Tony Ozier plays Dante's, 350 W Burnside St., with Farnell Newton and the Chicharones and host Devin the Dude, on Wednesday, June 10. 9 pm. $12. 21+.