A man wearing a backpack walks up to the stage where a DJ sets up a turntable. He sets his backpack down, takes a swig from his water bottle, and checks the microphone once, twice, three times. When the lights dim, he is no longer “the guy with the backpack” to the audience. He is Marcey Yates (Op2mus).
Yates, 28, was born and attended school in Omaha. He studied at University of Nebraska-Omaha for four years but found himself often escaping class to make music. “I tried the music program at UNO, but it wasn’t as advanced in mixing and recording music.” So he headed to Arizona, where he attended the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences for two years. There, Yates learned studio engineering, sound production, recording, and more. But when he finished, he realized his true passion was making music, not just producing it.
That’s why he returned to the Omaha music scene in 2011. Compared to the music on the West Coast, Yates saw progression in Omaha, and that was a huge draw. “I would rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond,” he says. “I wanted to bring something to the table and represent hip hop here.”
Yates started performing under the stage name “Op2mus” when he was in college. The name, he says, came from one of his three kids. “My son likes to play Transformers. So we’d be playing, and he’d call me Optimus [Prime].” The name just seemed to fit since Yates longed to transform hip hop music.
Over the last few years, however, he’s been trying to wean himself off the moniker. That’s when he adopted the name “Marcey Yates,” which, by the way, is not his real name. If you try to ask him what his real name is, he’ll just smile and shake his head. “I wanna brand myself as Marcey Yates. That’s how people know me.”
The backpack, on the other hand, has remained his thing. He wears it everywhere. He even wore it when he performed on KMTV’s “The Morning Blend.” In it, he carries whatever he needs—laptop, notes, music. But above all, the backpack reflects his transformative journey as a student of life, he says.
“He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.” —Rick Carson
It’s that journey that permeates his latest album, The MisEducated Scholar, according to Theardis Jay. “It’s about his story through school, through going to Arizona, through it all.” The graphic designer has seen a good deal of Yates’ story, helping to brand his albums since 2009. “I try to just help him any way I can. I remember I went over to his apartment for the first time, and I saw his studio in his basement that he put together himself. No one taught him that or showed him that.”
Today, Yates produces, writes, and performs hip hop. His most recent work includes writing and producing The MisEducated Scholar, and producing the hip hop album Eat, Drink & Be Merry for Blk Diamond out of California. Currently, he’s working on producing several new records for other artists and writing new songs for upcoming albums of his own.
“I don’t write songs for other [artists],” he explains. “Sometimes, I’ll ghostwrite if I’m in a studio session and an artist needs help. Otherwise, I write for myself.”
Listening to Yates’ music, you can hear various hip hop and rap influences. Kanye West is one that comes to mind. But Yates has taken those influences and breathed some fresh air into them. And “fresh” is exactly how he describes his music. “The genre’s so muddy,” he explains. “I feel like hip hop has been saturated with a certain sound. So when I write, I write against it.”
“Vinyl hip hop that’s smooth and soulful” is what Yates wants his music to sound like. The track “Soda N Cream” off of The MisEducated Scholar is the perfect example of this sound, as Yates raps over a doo-wop mix in the background.
Even more interesting is that he wants to get away from the whole “gangster” feel of the genre. “I wanna use the platform for something good. If you’re speaking in this outlet, don’t waste it with feeding listeners garbage. Feed them positive things that make them think, you know?”
“The thing about Marcey Yates is he’s one of the only people out there making real hip hop but also party music.” Rick Carson, owner of Make Believe Studios, pauses before going into detail about the artist whose records he mixes. “A lot of people get into hip hop to just talk [crap] on each other. I’ve never seen that from him.”
Yates respects rappers who don’t need to cuss to sell records. “If you do it, it’s gotta have meaning. Don’t just do it to do it. Like I only have four songs where I cuss, and I dropped a full-length record with 19 tracks. You gotta step up your game by stepping up the substance.”
“He grinds,” Carson emphasizes. “He’s out there, he’s talking to people, he’s working. That’s what’s really special about Marcey Yates. He understands that, to get it, it takes work, not the easy decisions with the hard consequences.”
You can find Yates performing all over Omaha. Barley Street Tavern in Benson, The Slowdown in NoDo, and House of Loom in the Old Market are some of his frequent stages. He has done a few showcases and business openings as well. Lately, he’s performed with bands instead of other hip hop artists, which he says he likes because he can introduce his music to a completely different crowd. “I’m just trying to market myself a lot,” he says.
“He put together a plan, and he’s stuck with it,” Jay adds. “There’s a system to it. It’s an exciting time to see what happens when you work so hard.”
A tour in the Midwest is Yates’ five-year goal. A Grammy® is the big game for him though. “I want this. I’m not just doing music to say I’m doing it.”