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Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts: Oz the Originator Steps Into the Spotlight

Oz’s music is a hit with fans of the Netflix animated series but little is known about the man behind the voice, Andra Gunter. The multi-talented artist lets us in on his history and process.

Photo: Andra Gunter/DreamWorks

When Kipo and the Age of the Wonderbeasts was released in January 2020, many viewers quickly became fans of not only the show but the music contained within, particularly that of in-show producer Oz the Originator. The tracks of Oz were especially loved because they brought main character Benson and his crush Troy together, a rare example of queer characters in kids animation. The two bonded over their favorite old world MC, with Benson in possession of several of his albums.

Only small snippets of the songs were heard in the series but it was enough to make the audience seek out the voice behind the songs. What they found was the multi talented Andra Gunter, a rapper, music producer, writer, and skate boarder who called the response from fans “unbelievable.”

In a previous interview with Den of Geek, Kipo creator Rad Sechrist sang Gunter’s praises, particularly for his scriptwriting. Co-showruner Bill Wolkoff echoed that sentiment, adding, “Andra is this amazing talent. Keep your eye out for him. He’s a great writer and great musician.”

But you don’t go from relative obscurity to being on a show and getting the praise of showrunners just like that. I was interested in learning not just about Gunter’s work on Kipo but everything that got him to that point as well. From his 2009 start in making music to his influences and even how his ADHD affects his work, Gunter let me into his thought process and how all that (and skateboarding) lead him to working on Kipo. We also discussed the Oz the Originator character, his new ‘Brave War’ album, and his screenplay work.  

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Gunter had a lot to say and I was delighted to sit back and listen as he shared both his and Oz the Orginator’s story, the two of which are more connected than you might realize.

DEN OF GEEK: Tell me a little of your story. I mean, this is a huge question, but how did you get to where you are today in terms of music?

ANDRA GUNTER: Well, definitely started music after seeing my brother make music. I always rapped and made music. I have heard numerous stories from my family of me trying to make music on radios and tape decks and stuff like that. But me remembering that I really wanted to do this, it was probably 2009.

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What sort of music were you making then? Is it similar to what you’re doing now? What were some of your first big compositions then?

Well, at first, I was just starting off just probably a newb at it. Obviously, that’s how it starts off for everybody; you’re not that good at it. Eventually over time I started just concentrating on it every day by myself. I made my first real song, probably, 2010. I was making just pretty much all types of music, just anything that I could find the beat to and I could rhyme to it, I was pretty much doing it. I just wanted to make music, that was just the point, like, “Yo, whatever they got on the internet, whatever I can learn, then I’m going to do.” 

What sort of things were you putting in your lyrics at the time? Was it just anything goes, or was there any specific themes that were coming out?

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Well, I mean, 2010 was a really funny era for music. I feel like that time was Wiz Khalifa and Joey Badass, and that was the beginning of Tyler, the Creator. So it was a really expressive form at that time. Anything went. If you knew who Tyler, the Creator was in 2010, man, you knew what the rules were in rapping at that time. 

There’s a long span of time between 2010 and now, how did your music evolve over that time? Obviously, it got better, as it does for any creative person, right? But what sort of things did you find yourself zeroing in on, a style that you liked or different themes that you wanted to use?

Well, I can say, in 2011 I was introduced to this type of music called jerk music. It was this really crazed dance called jerking in the black community, and I feel like all over the world. It was everywhere you could possibly think people wanted to dance. I got into making that music for my brother and his little cousin, and that music opened up my ear to just kind of everything, because at that time it was almost like dubstep music or like rave music in a different sense. Definitely doesn’t sound the same. It has the same point of sampling a lot of music, ranging from Anita Baker all the way down to System of a Down.

Samples were everywhere at that time, because it was a lot of new producers just going on the internet, finding something and trying to create their own sound. So that’s what gave me my style of just being all over the board and not really staying in one box. Even though jerk music was definitely one box, I feel like everybody that was doing jerk music had a range of a lot of different things.

And in that, did you find yourself sampling other people, and if so, what kind of samples were you using, or was it just anything goes?

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Yeah, pretty much anything went. I mean, in those early days, I wasn’t really sampling because I was still really new to producing. So I didn’t really understand that part of it yet, but once I got a hang of it and I understood, then I was sampling like crazy. I definitely range all over the board too. The first thing I’ve ever sampled was a Earth, Wind & Fire song. Nowadays it’s more of listening to really weird that I’ve been finding through playlists and things like that. All the way from alternative, to deep soul, to punk rock, I sample everything now. 

This is the music nerd question, what programs do you use to make your music?

Oh, yes. My favorite question of all. My first time ever using a program was FL Studio. It was FL Studio 9. My brother threw the USB at me, and was like, “Download this on the computer and learn how to use it.” After that, and he introduced me to that program, I never really turned back or tried to really go into a new program.  I do know how to use programs because, I mean, they’re all kind of the same, but if I had to choose a program to use, it’s definitely FL Studio.

How did you eventually end up working on Kipo? 

I want to say 2014 or ’15, I met Rad Sechrist, the creator of Kipo, through skateboarding. All my life I’ve been skateboarding, and at one point I got really good. I had a group of friends, and one of my friends in that group by the name of Isaiah, he was like, ” Yo, I got this friend. He works in animation, and he does this and he does that.” And mind you, Isaiah’s sort of that friend that you just don’t believe. You’re looking at him like, “Dude, what the fuck are you talking about? Who is this guy?” So this dude pulls up, and we’re 17, 18 years old at this time. It’s Isaiah’s 16th or 17th birthday, and this old white dude pulls up. I’m like, “Who’s this guy?”

So didn’t pay too much attention to Rad at first, but I guess from my personality and the way I talked to people that day, he just hit me up one day, was like, “Yo, I was really fucking with you, just your vibe in the car. So come through and check out some of the stuff I’m doing.” And I was like, “All right.” And then that’s when I believed that he was an animator and storyboard artist, because he brought me to one of his offices where he was working on this movie about a dragon, and it was fucking crazy. I’m in this place and I’m watching him draw on a Cintiq for the first time with all this crazy artwork on the wall, and I’m just amazed.

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At this time, there was a company he was running, it was a skateboard company called Plastic Walrus. He was like, “Yeah, I want you to ride for my company and stuff like that,” and I’m like, “Bro, I will do anything you want me to do. Look at the office here.” At that point I just started hanging out with Rad a little bit more. I was going out to Silver Lake, because I live in Watts, California. I was going all the way out to Silver Lake, catching three trains just to go meet up with him and get boards and stuff.

Then, eventually, I checked into college, Los Angeles Trade Tech College. And then that’s when I got into pretty much being a writer because at first I was really uncertain on what I wanted to do, in general. But I got into writing, I got in this English class in college and started writing. I was writing these poems and writing these short stories for class and sending them around, and Brad’s like, “Yo, you’re a writer, dude. You should try to write.” I was like, “I don’t really want to write. I got this music for you though,” and I sent him a whole bunch of music. And then that’s how I got considered for Kipo, him pretty much introducing writing to me and me telling him, “I am already a writer. I write music,” and then sending him my music.

I spoke with Rad before this interview and he mentioned that originally he was just hoping you’d temp on the tracks but then the higher ups at DreamWorks loved it so much they put it into the show. When did you find out about that?

That shit just happened random, dude. Obviously, you don’t know what’s really going on in the office. You just send in an email and you hope for an email back. I sent maybe 30 songs and there was a whole bunch of different years I did these songs. One era it’s from 2012 to 2014, and the others continue to 2015 to now. I wasn’t sure they were even going to consider it. So I’m texting Rad, and I’m like, “Dude, I need to find something else to do.” At this time, I didn’t have a job. I had just checked into college. They weren’t trying to give me financial aid. So I was like, “I need something to do, dude, to get money.” He’s like, “Dude, I got you. I know they have something for you. You can be a writer if you start writing.”

He’s telling me all the things I need in order to get a writing job over at DreamWorks, and I’m not listening to that. I’m just like, “Dude, just send them my music, just please, that’s what I do. There’s nothing else I can do but make music.” So after a hop, skip, and a shove I get an email from the music department over at DreamWorks, and then they tell me they’re considering a couple of songs. I’m pretty sure that shit just happened random. Rad probably was in their ear so much that they’re like, “All right, we’re just going to hit this kid up.”

So was it just that they took what you had existing, or did they ask you to adapt it to fit the show more?

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(Of the) 30 songs I sent in maybe two of them were considered. In episode ten when Benson finds Troy, that part where the tape deck falls out of his backpack, that song is an original song I did probably when I first met Rad. It was before he even knew I did music. That song was definitely not altered to fit the show.

There’s another episode where (the characters are) eating breakfast. That song is also an original song that I made in my room, and they didn’t make me alter it, they didn’t make me re-edit it or anything. It was perfect enough to just go inside the show.

I know you were listed as vocal contributor on the credits, did you end up recording more music specifically for the show?

Rad was hitting me up like, “Yeah, dude. They’re loving the shit you sent, and we’re pushing towards putting that in the show, for sure.” He was telling me every step of the way about my original songs. He’s like, “But there’s more.” I was like, “What’s more?” And he’s like, “Well, they’re trying to record original songs because the Kipo script is pretty much musically based. It’s almost like a musical.” So he’s like, “I got this guy that we’re hiring, his name’s Daniel Rojas.” He gives me the whole rundown on this dude, and I’m already kind of fan crazed, because he brings up Hans Zimmer. He told me Daniel used to work with Hans Zimmerman, and I’m like, “Dude, what the… Do you know who Hans Zimmerman is in the music world?” You know what I mean? So instantly, right there, I’m like, “Yo, set me up with this guy. I got to see who this is.” So we set up a meeting with Daniel, and I go to his studio. 

You know how Jonah Hill looks like he’s fricking 21, but he’s almost 40 years old? That’s what Daniel looked like. He’s this really young looking older dude. So already I was really intrigued by this guy. I’m like, “Yo, you look like a baby man.” He’s like, “Yeah, we get real cool. We chop it up. I got a couple of songs that I produced for the show, and I want you to rap over these beats.” So that’s when we got to the point where they were trying to get me to make songs for the show.

When you were rapping over it, did they give you lyrics, or were they just like, “Just freestyle over it.”

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Oh, no. If they would’ve gave me the verse, I don’t think I would’ve got credit. So, (I) definitely wrote the verses. I was so excited, I wrote those verses in like five minutes.

Oh, wow. Did they give you any directives about what they needed to be about, or was it just like, “go for it”?

At first it was like, “Go for it so we can get a feel,” but once I started showing them and rapping it out loud, Rad’s like, “There’s certain things you can’t say in the song.” During the song they were telling me what I could say and what I couldn’t say, and what I could make it about and what I couldn’t make it about. They didn’t coach me through it. They let me do my thing, but, ultimately, told me there was an outline of what I needed to be talking about.

I was comparing the songs from Kipo to the ones on your recent Brave War album. The Kipo songs feel a little bit lighter. Your own music feels heavier. Can you talk a little bit more about those differences?

I definitely had to tone it down a bit for the DreamWorks songs. Obviously, DreamWorks is not going to let me go talk about what’s going on in my mental health. Kipo a kids’ show. The songs I had originally made; I was younger and my head space was in a way different space from what I’m making now.

Talk to me about the Oz the Originator character that your songs are attributed to in the show. Did they give you an outline of who he was?

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His story and his outlook of who he is, (his) songs are supposed to speak for him. Those songs are pretty much saying exactly what he’s going through in those times of whatever he’s going through in his miscellaneous life. Oz is like Tyler, the Creator in an alternative universe. That’s the way I would like to see it. 

So then, let’s talk about your album ‘The Brave War.’ You’ve said it’s an introduction to who Oz the Originator is. Tell me a little bit about the kind of songs that you want to have under that name, especially, because I know that you changed your name from what you originally had, right?

I’m Andra, at the end of the day, I’m Andra Gunter, but I definitely have different characters I portray, like Oz the Originator and Tim Lynch and that’s probably it right now. I’ve portrayed so many characters over the years, but those are the two main ones right now that are for sure people.

What would you say is the difference between the Lynch character and then Oz the Originator, in regards to the sound or how you’re going through the music? What are the differences?

Tim Lynch just doesn’t give a fuck about anything. That guy is more of the hard core hijinks that we all love and miss from the early ’90s. I feel like that’s what Tim Lynch is all about, just the hijinks era, and just being free and being able to express yourself the way you want to express yourself. I

Oz is, I want to say, the 2.0 version of Lynch. He’s what Lynch was supposed to be. They’re brothers. Oz and Tim Lynch are brothers, because The Brave War comes from a script, my first script I ever wrote, and technically, The Brave War album that I dropped is the soundtrack to the script. So Tim Lynch and Oz are definitely brothers, and Oz is supposed to be carrying the torch for Tim Lynch, because Tim Lynch is a era that rose and died recently. I let go of trying to pursue the Tim Lynch name early 2020, just because I wanted to concentrate more on writing and stuff. I’ve been Tim Lynch since 2009, dude. So, I was ready to give him his proper burial.

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What made you want to switch? 

Well, I write screenplays. Right now I’m working on a feature film, but Oz was just… He was just a really cool idea, at the time, and he developed into what he is now. I don’t really think Oz was supposed to go this far, but obviously some things you just can’t stop. The Oz the Originator character is a really dope character, in my opinion. He’s one of the tightest people I’ve ever seen on the mic. The way I see it is, it’s real, but it’s not. Oz is an illusion.

In terms of ‘The Brave War’ album, I love that you said that it was the soundtrack for a script you wrote. Tell me more about either the making of the album or the feeling behind it. What are you trying to put out to the world with that album?

I just wanted you to see the brave war that you would have to go through, inside of yourself. That whole album is pretty much me going through the brave war. As of a year and a half ago, I lost my mom due to cancer, stage four liver cancer. My whole life, obviously, did a complete 360. So what Oz is, is like my afterbirth after my mom passed. Tim Lynch is when my mom’s around, and then Oz is after, to express the original feelings.

Oz is an expressor. That’s what that whole album is about. It’s about expression, me getting people to understand what my mental health state is, and what Oz is going through. The script is definitely based on my life, but it’s not. It’s obviously altered. It’s pretty much me going through my emotions as I get through my life in the script. So it’s just the emotions of the script, just everything you could possibly feel as a skateboarder, as an up-and-coming rapper, skater that just lost a parent and has to be on their own now.

Going forward career-wise are you more focused music, the writing, or skating? Is it all three?

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Well, I don’t really want to compare myself to nobody, but I’m going to be one of those guys who does it all. I definitely am inspired and look up to Donald Glover, who is also Childish Gambino. He writes movies, he writes TV shows, he acts in TV shows, he makes music, he’s one of the greatest artists on the planet. So pretty much just the Donald Glover outlook. It’s a little bit of everything.

Is there anything else that you are working on right now that you can talk about, or the stuff that you want to be writing? What’s the big writing stuff for you?

I can say I am going to be dropping some new music on SoundCloud when July comes and the summer starts. Obviously, everyone needs some new tunes to cook some barbecue to. So I’m definitely going to be dropping some new songs as Tim Lynch and some new Andra Gunter songs. I kind of want to retire Oz, but I won’t say I retire him yet. We’re going to throw Oz in the air and say, “We don’t know what’s going to happen with him right now,” but there’s definitely going to be new music.

You said you had retired Lynch before. Are you going to bring him back in now?

Well, the idea of Lynch is that he went off to the Navy. Now he’s coming back, and Oz is… he’s taking a hiatus right now. We have some legal issues going on with the album, so we’re trying to settle those out right now.

What’s the reaction you’ve gotten from Kipo fans? What’s it been like to get that attention?

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Oh, man. I’ve been making music for a long time, like I keep saying. This year alone has showed me that there are people who actually like me. As a artist, you go through the motions of everything, who likes me, this and that, and you don’t really know where you are until people tell you in music. For a long time didn’t know my musical worth and where it was going to go. I did know that I was definitely going to have my song in a TV show, just because of personal reasons. I have an uncle, by the way, who was in Afro Samurai. He did the same thing I’m doing, he did a couple of original songs for the show.

I already had a outlook of what I wanted to do in my life, so when this came about, I definitely took the opportunity and I ran with it. The response of all the people showing me love is just… it’s kind of unbelievable. I have actual fans now and people who ask me questions and people who want to actually know what’s up with me, which is a new feeling. This definitely doesn’t feel like it did before, so it’s pretty crazy.

What’s it like knowing that your music is the favorite of a fictional cartoon character that unites this fictional cartoon boy with another boy?

I think that’s just dope, dude. This is some of the craziest things to be involved with. I told a lot of people that this is making history. This show is doing so many things that have never been done in the history of animation. When I found out Benson liked Oz the Originator, I was pretty ecstatic. I was like, “Yo, that kind of changes my life, in a way, because now I have to live up to Benson’s expectations. What are his expectations now?”

What other messages do you have for the people out there? 

I am an advocate of kids with ADHD. So, for anyone who’s out there questioning their worth or not knowing how they’re going to get through the mental breakdowns we go through every 20 minutes, I want them to know that our minds are important. Our fast-paced moving minds are very important. We’re important. That’s what I just want to say. 

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Can you talk a little more about working with ADHD when you’re writing scripts or music?

Working with ADHD definitely is a fucking uphill battle, dude. I struggle, still, every day with a lot of things but I feel like it helps me. My uphill battle is a fun uphill battle. It’s not completely just digging into the dirt. I get to go here and get to go there because my mind has this thing where it hyper-focuses on certain things I want to do. I think working with ADHD is a good thing and a bad thing, all at the same time. I feel like my mind is a couple steps ahead of a lot of people’s at some times, because I’m hyperly thinking at all times. I feel like my ADHD has gotten me to where I am today.

If wasn’t for that, I don’t think I would be in the show. I don’t think I would be able to write a script. There’s a lot of things I don’t think I would be able to do had I not had ADHD, but I’m not going to glorify it. So, it’s a good and bad thing.

Any other messages you want to throw out there?

Yeah. Go check out my music, please.

You can check out Gunter’s music and all his other work here.

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