Traff The Wiz
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Traff The Wiz

Missoula, Montana, United States

Missoula, Montana, United States
Band Hip Hop




"Hip Hop Anonymous: Who is Traff The Wiz?"

Hip-Hop Anonymous: Who is Traff the Wiz?
Posted: Friday, September 27, 2013 12:08 am

Whiz kid
Traff the Whiz hosts an open mic night at the Broadway Bar in Missoula Thursday evening. Traff won best Hip Hop at this year's Zoo Music Awards.
The core of Missoula’s musical landscape is choked with acoustic guitars, lengthy jam medleys and laptop sampling programs. While certain sounds regularly plant dozens of bouncing carabiner keychains in front of stages, a closer look reveals that other styles of music exist in some corners.
Missoula really offers the eclectic listener a healthy variety, including an emerging hip-hop scene. Somewhere in the mix sits Traff the Wiz, a regular dude with a positive outlook and a knack for big words. No gangster rhetoric or painfully slow verses. Traff’s music is more likely to make you think than spark a party.
“I just try to stay with classic hip-hop and always try to keep it easy to listen to,” he said. “I don’t really know what it is I guess. It’s just my style — something I have no control over.”
The 27-year-old Traff, also known as Brian O’Neill, started rapping with his friends at 14. With the absence of big-name shows or a large music scene in his small hometown of Troy, O’Neill said he grew up with hip-hop through his album collection.
It’s heard in his music. The focus is on lyrics and wordplay, constructed efficiently but not intended to be simple. He blasts through long strings of words in his verses with an emphasis on rhyme, reminiscent of the mainstays in sub-mainstream hip-hop. Think Slug from Atmosphere without the self-deprecation.
Since moving to Missoula five years ago, O’Neill has built up a network of associates in a hip-hop community that is contained but growing. He hooked up with area rapper Tonsofun to create the promotional outfit Zoo Effort.
He also worked with the Codependents and producer Shadow Deveraux to start RezErected Records. The label involves Tonsofun and several other artists to form a regional hip-hop collective. O’Neill said that by pooling resources, the regional scene as a whole is seeing a bit more success.
“It’s building every year, I’ve noticed,” he said. “It started with just a few emcees and a couple hip-hop bands, and now there’s tons of emcees and DJs coming out of the woodworks.”
O’Neill’s third album as Traff the Wiz is titled “These Things Take Time” and was released in August. The production is polished, with layered music tracks and well-mixed vocals — qualities not always found in independent hip-hop releases.
He worked with producer and Secret Powers keyboardist Shmed Maynes to make what O’Neill called his most meaningful work to date. The effort is a musical portrait of his last five years in Missoula. That’s how long it has been in the works.
The hackneyed idea that most musicians claim multiple influences is proved true on the album, for good or ill. Multiple tracks on “These Things Take Time” are full-on rock songs, a blend that rarely hits with hip-hop fans. That was an angle that O’Neill and Maynes consciously pursued.
“Each beat that we used for each track, we’d be like, ‘OK, let’s make it a rock song,’ but it’d be a hip-hop song because I’d rap over it. And the next one, we’d be like, ‘let’s make it a pop song, or a jazz song,’” he said.
The stories in the album are true, he said, including one line that goes, “used to booze a lot on my high school rooftop.” O’Neill said he and his friends would sneak up to the top of Troy High School and drink beers.
That sort of imagery is reflective of Traff the musician. His presentation isn’t wrapped in layers of gimmicks or bravado. With a patient demeanor and glazed eyes, O’Neill won’t stand out in a crowd of Missoula residents, but he’s set on raising the profile of Missoula hip-hop.
“I want to hold down Montana for as long as I can,” he said. “There’s still work to be done in the scene for the state, to let the other 49 states know that we’re actually making hip-hop here.” - Kaimin, University of Montana Press

"Traffic alert: Local emcee raps a map of Missoula"

The 26-year-old Troy native released his second solo album, Traffghanistan, on July 4 in his hometown, and he's already run out of the 100 copies from the first pressing. He knows where his base is: "This album is for Troy," he says over a beer at Mackenzie River Pizza. "It's a very personal album and all those people know what I'm talking about."

Traffghanistan starts off with an instrumental intro from DJ Brand One and a minute later dives right into Traff's fast and smart rhymes, which sound like Wu-Tang Clan meets Talib Kweli in Montana for a freestyle session. It makes sense, since that's the kind of music he grew up on. The whole album manages to come off like a freestyle. Unlike many rappers, he's able to write both narratives and catchy choruses very well. Mouthfuls like "Handle all the mechanisms technically eclectic / Forces imitate electric hectic situations, correct it" on "BOBM" never fail to amaze with their lyrical trickery.

But he's got the skill to get in your head with choruses that don't overcrowd the album."Facility" nails it with "Any spills, overfills, fires or damage to this facility / Will be your responsibility." And then comes the Missoula drop: "From the one-way streets to the weird whereabouts." Think of Traff as Atmosphere rapping about Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, with a producer comparable in style to Ant of the early '00s.

"Hey!" is the best track on the album. It's easy to listen to, with a high piano and classic trap loop courtesy of producer Twice Daily, a fellow Troy native now working out of Portland, Ore. To boot, it's mastered and engineered so professionally you forget this is a totally homegrown effort.

"I just stay positive and try to find the smartest equation I can," Traff says.

Only track 11, "Witches Brew," sounds out of place. The beats are a little too in-your-face and even Traff gets a little abrasive. But the last track, "All I Heard..hh" brings him right back to the smart rhymes and concludes in a classic fashion: with shout-outs and a solid close.

When you hear all the names that went into the making of this album—Shadow Devereaux, Codependents and Rude to name a few—it's clear this effort is not just Brian O'Neill's. Traff the Wiz is one artist in constant collaboration; he knows he wouldn't be doing this without a lot of help.

"When I started here, I played whenever and wherever I could," he says. "I talked to whoever I needed to and just tried to build and build."

It's been five years since he relocated to Missoula. He says the scene is way bigger now than it was. From the start, it's been a group effort. His first show here was opening for the Inhumans, who took Traff camping and made him freestyle for four hours before they relented and gave him the slot. From there, he met Missoula mic-smith Tonsofun and the ball just kept rolling. They formed Zoo Effort DJ Brand One in early 2011. They toured all over the Northwest this year to get the name out and get the Missoula scene on the map, with Tonsofun being crucial in getting shows and making a strong network.

"Tonsofun is the mastermind behind that whole project," he says. "By him making all those moves, it really puts me out there and helps me out a whole lot."

If you've been wondering about the name, here's the story. Originally it was Traffic, but there was some confusion with that band from the '70s, Traffic. He added on "The Wizard" and the shortened version, Traff the Wiz, was born. As for the album: "My first album was Revenge of the Spliff, so we were going to call this one The Hempfire Strikes Match," he says. "We were like, 'Nah, Traffghanistan sounds better.' We had to get off the Star Wars thing."

Traff the Wiz and the rest of Zoo Effort open for Lyrics Born on Friday, July 27, at the Palace at 10 PM. $14/$12 advance.
- Missoula Independent

"THS grad and hip-hop artist Traff will perform on Friday"

Eclectic hip-hop artist and 2004 Troy High School graduate Brian O’Neill, 26, aka Traff the Wiz, will perform as “Zoo Effort” on Friday, Dec. 23, at the Home Bar in Troy.

Traff lives in Missoula, Mont., where he works at a group home for persons recovering from traumatic-brain injuries. In his spare time, Traff operates his own production company, Spare House Entertainment.

He creates beats for MCs (musical coordinators). In hip-hop, it is very different from the MCs, commonly seen at performances, whom act as announcers. MCs generally create beats and lyrics, facilitating stylistic elements in the hip-hop culture.

Traff has been recording, writing raps and poems for more than 14 years. His family has supported his music career from the beginning.

“My family has always given me the freedom in my music,” Traff said. “My Mom loves it now, she is really in to hip-hop.”

Traff’s main project is his group, “Traffic Jam,” although he plays with “Zoo Effort,” as well. Zoo Effort recently played with the rapper “Abstract Rude.” “Abstract Rude” told the group to keep their schedule open in the future, hinting of future plans. “Zoo Effort” was asked to join him later in Spokane for a show, afterward the two groups decided to tour together in January.

“We will travel to Los Angeles in January and begin touring Jan. 4,” Traff said.

The group will tour for three weeks, performing in multiple venues — from LA and Reno, Nev., to Bozeman, Mont., and Boise, Idaho.

Traff and his group had to contribute to the tour — most groups must invest in their own musical careers in the beginning — until a band or group is signed to a contract, the finances for stardom and band promotion is the responsibility of the band or group members.

“Huge opportunity working with ‘Abstract Rude,’” Traff said. “Really, glad we are going to get the chance to tour with him.”

Traff pressed his first compact disc (CD) in 2010. However, he is developing and recording three more CDs. The CDs will be released sometime in 2012, one of the albums is a solo CD he has been putting together for more than four years.

The Home Bar will act as a venue for “Traffic Jam” on Dec. 23. The only member from the group missing is their drummer, who lives in New York and will be returning home for the holidays. Fill-in drummer, friend Angelo Chiaverini, will play with the group.

Chiaverini, Traff and band member Jed Nussbaum are from Troy. Leesus Mickelson, of Libby, also will perform at the Home Bar as well with the trio.

Opening for the band is Blue Grass performer Josh Clinger. Traffic Jam will accompany Clinger during some of his performance and later Clinger will return the favor when Traffic Jam performs.

“Traffic Jam” is a multifaceted musical talent that embraces various genres of music. A mixture of blue grass, hip-hop, rock and rap will entertain the fans, while newbie listeners encounter a new experience.

Clinger will begin playing his blue-grass music around 9:30 p.m. and “Traffic Jam” will perform around 11 p.m. There is no cover charge for the event.

“I just want everyone in Troy to know how much I love Troy,” Traff said. “I also want them to know how much I appreciate the town.”

“It’s my favorite place ever.”
- The Western News

"Rapping it how he sees it - Missoula MC Traff the Wiz fills lyrics with references to life in Big Sky Country"

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In the video for his song, "Tellin' Me I'm Crazy," Missoula rapper Brian O'Neill - known on local stages as Traff the Wiz - wanders the streets and surrounding hills of this town he calls home, spitting tongue-twisting rhymes with a soft-pitch delivery.

"I keep it real for the people in the streets and I / Keep it real for the reason that defeats me and I / Wish I had a rabbit in a hat / So I could switch the planet back to a time when it was flat," he grooves in the song's chorus, adding finally, "But I can't."

Maybe he can't reverse time, but O'Neill, a 24-year-old native of Troy, nimbly flips the formula that has tripped up many MCs from MT. Throughout his debut, self-released and mostly self-produced album, "Revenge of the Spliff," O'Neill calls out to the people and places he knows as the music flows around him.

It all rolls along mercifully free of the gangsta posturing and hater-bashing (not to mention the canned beats and cheesy synthesizers) that have typified many Montana-made rap albums over the years.

"To me, rap should be a representation of where you come from," said O'Neill in an interview earlier this week. "Lots of MCs around here are talking about things that they don't do in their daily lives, and it just doesn't make a lot of sense to me."

That's not to say that O'Neill doesn't occasionally drift toward puffery. On the album's fourth track, "Perseus," a sparse keyboard riff blooms into a pseudo-orchestral groove that tumbles forward as he rhymes about heroism in a world of limp ramen and bad rap.

But just when it seems that O'Neill is about to take himself too seriously, he swaps out punches for punchlines:

"Spawned by my mom at St. John's hospital / Giving birth to me was almost impossible / An eight pound eight ounce big-headed obstacle / ‘We need to do an MC section' said the doctor."

Whatever the message of his individual songs, Montana is always there as the backdrop, namedropped here and there alongside references to camping, W.R. Grace, and other familiar signposts of this place.

"I'm trying to make hip-hop that's relatable to people in Montana, and keep a positive message there," said O'Neill. "I want Montana to be recognized in the hip-hop genre for what it is, rather than for music that sounds like it's from someplace else."

Since releasing his debut last January (and actually dating back before that), O'Neill has been working on a second record with local producer and keyboardist Shmed Maynes. Featuring a cast of live instrumentalists, the new tracks fall even closer in line with O'Neill's ultimate musical aims, he said.

"I feel like live hip-hop with a band is much more interesting than just an MC with pre-recorded tracks," he said. "I think that will really bring the whole thing together."

As he continues to work on the new album, O'Neill will detour to the stage next Monday, Dec. 20, for a gig at the Palace Lounge alongside fellow locals Encrypted & UA. The show is free.
- Missoulian


Still working on that hot first release.



Traff the Wiz is a Missoula, Montana rapper who hit the local hip hop scene in 2006, and quickly became a driving force in local hip hop. He has toured extensively in the past year, to include tours with Abstract Rude on the Cali Love Tour in January 2012, with Myka 9 on the Humboldt Fire Tour in April of 2012, and was recently an opener, with his band Zoo Effort, for Warren G, in Moscow, Idaho and for Lyrics Born, in Missoula, Montana. Traff the Wiz released his second solo album, "Traffghanistan", on July 4, 2012, and has released two videos of singles from that album. Negative Gold was released on November 1, 2012 and Hey was released on December 5, 2012. In March of 2013, Traff won the Zoo Music Awards Best Artist/ Hip-Hop/Spoken Word.

In August of 2013, he released These Things Take Time, a collaborative album between Traff The Wiz and producer Shmed Maynes, which was in production for 5 years.  It has been well received.  He has opened for many more top acts to include, Blueprint, Dizzy Wright, Nappy Roots, and an upcoming show with Blackalicious.

Band Members