From Major Label to Indie Artist: JohnOllie Keeps Grinding

Growing up in Harlem, New York

Hip Hop Artist JohnOllie Nelson, aka ‘John O,’ was born and raised in Harlem, New York. New York is the City that never sleeps so Harlem was always awake. There was always something to do or go. “Growing up in Harlem was fun. It was a time that was care free, I didn’t have a lot of responsibilities as a kid” Ollie said. “I remember the summers in Harlem being some of the greatest times. I couldn’t wait for summer so we can go and play in the streets and turn on the fire hydrants and all kinds of craziness that we would do” he said. “As a young kid in the inner city, the first thing that I gravitated towards was The Sugar Hill Gang because that was the first record on wax that we heard. That was the one thing that opened my eyes to Hip Hop” he said. Other records by the Cold Crush, Treacherous Three, the Funky 4, John wanted to do what they were doing. “Sugar Hill was the first, but what made me want to do Hip Hop was those who came after; The Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. What really solidified it for me was the next era with RUN-DMC and of course LL Cool J, who was my idol and still is to this day who really made me feel that I could do this.”

Breaking In As An Artist

York Records is where John got his first start. Dr. York had a label out in Flatbush, Brooklyn and used to promote concerts tours in the schools with artists like 4 by 4 and Petite, who would go on to be Ex-Girlfriend. John met a guy named Chunky who was actually the brother of Stevie D and TCD from the Force M.D.’s. Chunky was bringing the groups to the schools. John met him at Stevenson High School. “When he came to the school a friend of mine named Melvin, who used to do the beat box a lot, was like Yo you gotta rap for this dude” Ollie said. I rapped for him, he gave me his number and told me to come to Brooklyn. They had a group on the label called Just Us and they were looking to replace a member. “I got into that group called ‘Just Us’ and that’s how my first professional situation started” Ollie said. Dr. York released the Just Us single called “Who Dressed the Best.” John then went on to join a group called Image and did a couple of shows but nothing really materialized.

John O
Signing with Mercury/Polygram Records

Leaving York Records, John ventured on. In 1991, he met a guy named Eddie Arroyo who worked at City Sounds Record Pool. He was a very popular house dee jay in New York who was doing a lot of remixes for artists. “Eddie was the one who got me my deal at Polygram” Ollie said. “He always believed in me and he would always take me with him and put me on his remixes he did.” One of those records caught the ear of Bruce Carbone, who was the A&R at Polygram Records. Before you knew it, John had signed a single deal with Mercury/Polygram Records with an option to do a second single. John released his first single and video “The Underground” under the alias Jay Bum. The video was filmed at The Dome in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem. In addition, Jay Bum was featured on a number of Hip Hop and R&B Artists remixes.

The 1st 12 inch single by JohnOllie under the name Jay Bum in 1991

Back in 1991 when John was on Polygram, Priest Forever had his own deal with a group called Buffalo Soldiers with Luke Records. They had both gotten record deals around the same time. “Both of us being from Harlem, not living far from each other, it was kinda destined for us to run into each other” Ollie said. “We had a friend who was that catalyst of putting Priest and I together, my boy Shawn. I met Shawn at the Skate Key Roller Rink in the Bronx and we became instant friends” he said. Shawn knew Priest was spitting bars and he suggested that two link up. John hooked up with Priest originally to record a freestyle tape. The first image of THA GECKO BROTHAS actually appeared in Jay Bum’s Video for “The Underground.” Both John and Priest were both in the video, which was filmed in Harlem, and that would mark the first visual of them together. After being released from Polygram, John knew mixtapes were hot. He wanted to do mixtape. He hooked up with Priest and did the first John O Mixtape. “Priest helped with the beats and helped me put it together” Ollie said. Their first song that they did together was “Tha Letter.”

Priest Forever & John O: THA GECKO BROTHAS

Priest was in the process of doing a project with his crew the Big East and was about to start a group called The Diaz Brothers. Unfortunately some personal issues took place with a member causing the group to disband, leaving Priest by himself. “I came to him (Priest) to do my second mixtape, and Priest said why don’t you and I do a whole project” Ollie said. John was reluctant at first. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t really for it because I had been in a group with Just Us and then with Image, and their were always creative differences when I’m with other people. When I’m by myself, I can just do my own thing. He talked me into it and we’ll just do this one project” Ollie said. Priest came up with the name THA GECKO BROTHAS from the George Clooney movie. Their first album was called “From Dusk til Dawn.” To date, their have been four Gecko Brothas albums. The other three were called “Take Cover,” “It Takes a Nation to Hold us Back” and “Harlem to Houston.” Their first single from “Dusk Til Dawn” was a pounding track called “New York Minute” and THA GECKO BROTHAS received rave reviews from the Hip Hop Community. “It was getting a lot of underground buzz” Ollie said. Some years later, French Montana put out a song called “New York Minute” using the same sample as THA GECKO BROTHAS. “Everybody samples. It’s one thing to have the same sample, but to actually have the same title as an artist and the same sample seems to be a bit sketchy. That’s just my opinion” Ollie said. “He could of called it any other thing he wanted. Knowing that there was another group who had the song sample and the name, why wouldn’t he just change it something else” Ollie said. This caused a riff between Tha Gecko Brothas and Montana. To this day, THA GECKO BROTHAS never miss an opportunity to take shots at Frenchy, on records or in interviews.


In between GECKO albums, John constantly records for his solo career. He is also active on You Tube with his popular segment “Dear John.” “I do a lot of big things on there. I’m just now starting to incorporate things with my son as well. Some years ago, I did a spoof on “Making the Band” with my brother Affion Crockett” Ollie said. Michael Bivins saw the clip and liked what he saw. He reached out to John. “It blew up, it caught on like wildfire” Ollie said. “That’s how I became cool with Michael Bivins. To this day, he has been a big supporter of me and my projects” he said. His “Dear John” segment has people sending in video clips of them asking John Questions, which is answers in his own way, good or bad, funny or serious. His current album is called “Patricia’s Son” and is named after his mother. John has just released two videos from his “Top Five” Collection. “I’ve looked at people who have inspired me. The past couple of years, whether its Basketball or music, someone is always posting their Top Five of whatever it is that they like” Ollie said. “I decided to do a top five different from others, I took my favorite cats who I love the most, to redo their songs in my style and post them” he said. John’s Top Five consisted of LL Cool J, Rakim, Kane, Kool G Rap and KRS-One. He filmed videos for his remake to Big Daddy Kane’s “Warm It Up” and Kool G Rap’s “Men at Work.” “They inspired me in my career and I feel like this is paying homage to them” Ollie said.

Men at Work (Kool G Rap) JOHN O TRIBUTE
Warm it Up Kane (Big Daddy Kane) JOHN O TRIBUTE

John has had the pleasure and opportunity to tour around the world and see places that most people don’t. Recently, John toured with Cameo. “As a young kid growing up in Harlem, I’ve don’t a lot of talent shows and performed in the park in front of a hundred people. In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be doing shows at this capacity, but I always thought I would be doing it at this capacity if that makes any sense” Ollie said. So what is it like to perform in front of large crowds? “It’s indescribable. For a kid growing up watching his idols like RUN-DMC, LL Cool J, Whodini; I was like I wanna do that. Even R&B acts. New Edition was really a major part of me seeing five kids who looked exactly like me up on stage with thousands of fans” Ollie said. “To be on the same stage as them and doing it in front of the thousands and thousands of fans is incredible. Every show is a journey for me. I always thought I could do it” he said. John thanks Cameo for having the trust and faith in THA GECKO BROTHAS to bring them on the road in front of their fanbase. From a Major Label Artist to Independent Artist, John wouldn’t change a thing. He enjoys making music that he loves for people that enjoy real music. His latest single, “Old Thing Back” was released on August 7, 2020, and is available on all digital outlets. Listen, Download and Stream ‘Old Thing Back’

John O and Priest performing as THA GECKO BROTHAS opening up for CAMEO
The New Single “Old Thing Back” by JOHN O. Released on August 7, 2020

Download “Old Thing Back” by JOHN O, Released on 8/7/20


Twitter @JustJohnOllie

Instagram @JohnOllie

Facebook @JohnOllie

YouTube @ItsYaBoyJohnO

IMDB Biography

John O Music John Ollie Bandcamp


Displaying the Everyday Lifestyle of an Independent Artist

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