If Oak Lonetree was at some point one of the stranger monikers to emerge from the third-or-so generation of New England rap artists, it’s since come to fit the Waltham native born Peter Smerals quite perfectly. A tireless professional rap hobbyist who has side hustles on Instagram posing with the region’s last remaining payphones and streaming from Masstacular construction sites at his day job, he truly does stand alone creatively, even as he frequently collaborates with the likes of Dese as the Dunnas, and with his longtime band Primary Others. Now sober and distinctive as always, Oak recently had an impressive run on a Food Network competition show, which begged for a few questions in its own right. We also asked the rapper-chef about his outstanding new project that was produced by Boston hip-hop legend Insight, Skulloton, plus a bunch of other stuff.
Did you ever stop making music? Was there ever a year that you didn’t put out at least one album?
There was a little bit of a lull. I didn’t put anything out in 2013 or 2014, and then I came back and did one with the Dunnas in 2015, a Primary Others album in 2016, then a solo Oak album in 2017. And 2018 was another behind-the-scenes year. Even if something wasn’t coming out, I was trying to put something together.
So how many projects deep are you at this point?
Skulloton is my 12th solo album, and then if you add Dunnas, Primary Others, and MyMansNThem albums, I’m over 20.
Is Skulloton a solo album? Or an Oak and Insight album?
It’s mostly Insight giving me a batch of beats, and me taking those beats home. Basically he’s the producer and I’m the MC. He rhymes on three songs on the album, but it’s not really a joint album as far as the rapping.
I’m guessing that you are a major Insight fan from way back like a lot of other hip-hop geeks around here. How did the two of you hook up to make this happen?
I remember when I started working with the Yukonn MC, back when we were on Record Company Records, and he did a single with Insight called “Lethal Weapon” or something, and of course I am a huge fan of [Insight’s classic solo album] The Blast Radius and of his production for Virtuoso and Mr. Lif. He was just blessing all sorts of Boston tracks that I grew up listening to. If you looked up who made a beat, he made a lot of them.
I was with him recently in the studio, and there’s this song called “Ol’ Crew” by Mr. Lif, and I was talking to him about it and asked if he made the beat, and he was like, “Yeah, I think I made it.”
I didn’t even know Insight back then, I just knew of him. After [the 2017 solo album] Bully Mammoth, which was produced by Billy Blaze, who did all the Dunnas albums, he moved back home to Connecticut so I was without a headquarters.
Really? With all of the music you put out, I always assumed that you had your own home studio all of these years.
No. Only one album was done at my house, and that was Dutch Burner. I’ve always been a go-to-the-studio guy. But Yukonn had reconnected with Insight all these years later, I think he was doing some work for him at his house, and he kind of linked us together, long story short. Everything just kind of flowed from there.
And you also have a new album with Egadz, who has produced a ton of your stuff over the years. What’s up with that? It was kind of surprising to see you coming out with two albums after a year of having kids, a full-time construction job, and a string of appearances on national television.
Me and King Author did that as a surprise album. When I got sober at the beginning of 2015, I had no job and no money or anything. I’d go to the studio, and me and King were going to do a song in the studio, and we came across an Egadz beat. I think Egadz was still out in Cali, and he wasn’t too active, so we decided to do a song on one of his beats to send it to him and maybe inspire him. And then King was like, “How many more beats do you have in the stash? Let’s do a whole project.” We ended up recording like 14 songs to all Egadz beats and surprising him a year later at the studio.
Did you think your writing game was going to be impacted by not drinking or drugging and being at home with the kids, as opposed to always at the bar and the studio? You seem to have an endless font of rhymes, inspiration, and topics.
It was a little tricky at the beginning, especially because my whole persona was around partying and drinking, so I had a bit of an identity crisis when I first got sober. Who am I? What do I write about? So I took a bunch of beats home, and I was still reaching out to producers. I remember I got laid off during my second winter sober, and I started forcing myself to write at home and go up to the studio. I had always been the guy who goes to the studio with a 30-pack and party favors, so the process changed a little bit. But once I started making new songs, around 2016, I realized that I didn’t need anything other than to sit down and write.
Okay, well I obviously have to ask how the hell you wound up on Worst Cooks in America on the Food Network. Talk about completely random.
A woman reached out to me from Los Angeles. She had come across my Instagram page with the pay phones and the construction videos.
Did she know that you’re a rapper?
She kind of put it all together. She was like, I know this is really random, but you’re like a Boston Greek dad rapper and construction worker and I can totally get you on a show. I didn’t know there was a market for that, but I’m your guy. We ended up talking, she asked if I could cook, I said “Not really,” and she said, “Well, what about this show?” The rest is history. Then I did a video and sent it in. I guess they just needed a Boston dad rapper guy.
Has it inspired you at all?
Most of the followers I gained from being on that show are stay-at-home moms, so it’s a different demographic. I didn’t know what to expect when the show aired, but I never thought that it was going to take my rap career to a whole new level. It didn’t.
It was a great experience, though, watching Bobby Flay make guacamole right in front of you. It was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.