For years, Santa Barbara has been relatively quiet on the hip-hop front, but one group is working to change that — and succeeding. Meet OWL Entertainment, the growing label founded by rapper Adam “Savv” Melvin that has quickly become one of the 805’s most exciting sets of musical artists. An acronym for Obviously We’re Lyrical, OWL has a style that’s powerful and inspirational, a force of good nature representing S.B.’s until-now underground hip-hop scene.
Few area artists of any genre have sparked the same kind of buzz as OWL has in the last few years. Savv’s video for “Trippin’ (Remix),” featuring OWL co-owner Nessie G and fellow OWL entertainer TZ (aka Sean Toedter), garnered more than 20,000 views on YouTube in less than a week of its 2017 release. “We used what Santa Barbara had to offer and made something crazy. I’m proud of it,” said TZ.
The trio’s flow pulls you in, with Savv’s welcoming and easy intensity, Nessie’s smooth confidence, and TZ’s laid-back jollity. “We’re trying to bring back that old West Coast sound,” Savv said, pointing to artists such as Eazy-E as sonic inspiration. Featuring beats by Skinny (otherwise known as Mario Rivera) and production from Hidden City Studios’ Elliott Lanam, their sound is as homegrown as one can get. In coming months, TZ will drop his Mixtape Militia, chock-full of 805 collaborators, while Nessie G will release her album 5150, with plenty more visuals in the pipeline.
Savv cites his crew’s diversity as one of its greatest strengths. “We’re kind of hitting them from everywhere — different races, different looks, and the female aspect of it — that brings something to the table that you don’t really see much,” he said. “We are all about unity, and music brings people together,” Nessie G added. The group, TZ said, aims to “deliver a beautiful, complicated art, while being true to ourselves, each other, and where we all came from.”
Not ones to idle on beachy fantasies, OWL’s performers confront the heavier lyrical truths of hard work and hard knocks. In their words and ways, the OWL team speaks to the strain of broken homes, addiction, and discrimination — and how to rise above it.
Savv grew up under his grandmother’s care in Fountain Valley, California, having never known his biological father, before moving to Santa Barbara as a teen, where he found his free-styling voice at parties. “I was real wild,” Savv admitted. His wild ways soon landed him in jail, prison, and the arms of addiction; but as he honed his lyrical gifts within the cell, he saw a light. “People were like, ‘You should get serious so you’re not just here entertaining inmates.’ I had a dream, so I said, ‘Okay, cool. I’m going to chase it.’” The vision of OWL Entertainment — performers, producers, and clothing line — was born. Freed from the weight of earlier shadows, Savv now offers listeners uplift through his story. “I was in jails and prisons and detoxes, and look at me now: I got the videos; I’m on Pandora; my album is worldwide,” he said. His music is for the kids in “boys’ camps and psych wards: This is where I came from, I’ve been in your seat before, and I know the road it takes you.”
Nessie G, too, finds release and redemption in her music: “I am honest and open about my addiction … as well as my mental health,” she said. “A lot of people won’t admit to their diseases and are scared to talk about things. I have accepted my diagnosis and just want to be real. People who do relate really appreciate my music and respect my courage to rap the things I do.”
Now clean, the two OWL co-owners devote most of their time off the mic to their own children, hoping to show by example a life of empowerment and creativity. Family above all is their mission statement: treating one another as family, and forging family through their art. “I know how it is to feel alone, so if I can give [listeners] a little bit of hope, to me, that’s enough,” Savv said. “It’s important for people to know [that] no matter where you’re at in your life, as bad as it seems, there’s always a way out.”