It was news no parent should have to receive.
Michael Martinez, better known as Seattle hip-hop luminary Onry Ozzborn, was touring Europe around Thanksgiving last year. His daughter, Violet Ofelia Martinez, and her mother and stepfather were visiting her brother in Arizona where he attends school. While “horse-playing around,” Violet’s brother noticed a lump on her neck. Though it wasn’t causing her pain, they took 10-year-old Violet to the emergency room to have it checked out. The doctor figured she had an allergic reaction of some kind — come back in if it doesn’t go away.
When it didn’t go away, a few more trips to the doctor’s office back in Seattle, and eventually a biopsy, revealed the unthinkable.
“It just hits me in waves,” Martinez says by phone from Seattle Children’s Hospital. “I’ll just be sitting there like, ‘Whoa, this is really happening.’ It’s pure shock and anger. A lot of anger. Not just because it’s my daughter, but kids in general, I don’t understand why any of them have to go through anything like this. … I’m 42 years old and she’s already gone through more in a week than I have in my entire life.”
Despite having just released an album — last fall’s alt-rap jewel “Nervous Hvnd” — Martinez, one half of Seattle hip-hop stalwarts Grayskul, cleared his calendar for the next year and moved within a few minutes’ drive from Violet’s mom’s place in Kenmore. After a “frustrating” three-week waiting period to determine the best course of action, Violet began her four-to-five-month treatment plan, consisting of several rounds of chemotherapy, not to mention another set of medications to counter the side effects.
Overall, Violet’s treatment has been going well and the doctors are optimistic. On the day we spoke, she was getting ready to come home for three weeks before her next round of chemotherapy. But between the twice daily hospital trips, dietary restrictions and a “tornado” of related needs, Martinez says it’s been a “complete life change” — one not without financial impact. At the behest of his friend and Fake Four Inc. label boss Ceschi Ramos, a GoFundMe campaign was set up last month to help Violet and her family, quickly surpassing its initial goal and raising more than $64,000.
“When it happened in less than two days, it just blew me away,” Martinez says of that groundswell of support from friends and fans, built up over a long career. “I felt like my entire career had been dedicated to that moment.”
The campaign also included a new song, “V Girl,” from Martinez’s Dark Time Sunshine duo with producer Zavala dedicated to his daughter. Featuring Violet’s favorite singer Reva Devito, the uplifting track is equal parts catharsis and rallying anthem.
As friends like Neumos owner Steven Severin kept reaching out, a benefit show thrown in association with DistroKid quickly materialized at the Capitol Hill club. The March 26 bash in Violet’s honor features performances from Ozzborn, fellow Seattle rap fixture Grieves, Kimya Dawson, Iska Dhaaf, Sapient and more. Depending on how she’s feeling that night, Violet may take the stage with her dad, just as she did last month when Martinez played an informally announced set at the Crocodile when Minneapolis alt-rap vet P.O.S came to town.
Though Martinez had already canceled his upcoming commitments, Violet — who can be heard throughout Martinez’s latest album — wanted to perform with her father again and he agreed to do the show. During the recording of “Nervous Hvnd,” Martinez would listen to rough mixes in the car while driving with his daughter. “She’s in the back seat just going off,” Martinez recalls. “She knew every single word to everything. That was the first time she ever did that with any of my music.”
Before finishing the album, Martinez invited Violet to record a series of vocal parts that made the final cut. At the Crocodile, she joined him on stage for the last 20 minutes of his set as they played the new songs together. It wound up being one of Violet’s last outings before beginning treatment.
“It was amazing,” Martinez says. “I was choked up, because I’m like, I don’t even want to be on this stage. I want to be alone and just away from everything, and she’s about to go fight this. She walks out there like nothing’s happening, full-blown ‘let’s do this.’ ”
For Martinez, the shock of the diagnosis still hasn’t worn off. These days his mood is usually dictated by his daughter’s, whether she’s upbeat or distressed thinking about her friends playing softball and going to school like usual. Through what’s been a trying period “on a spiritual level,” Martinez has found strength in Violet, the resilient girl who has, at times, been the one consoling others.
“She’s the strongest person in this family,” Martinez says. “It’s just mind-blowing how she goes about things. We’ve always known she was really strong. She’s got an old soul and this is just a testament to what we’ve always thought about her.”
Violet Ofelia Martinez — A Night to Help Onry Ozzborn’s Daughter Fight Cancer, featuring Onry Ozzborn, J. Ohm, Grieves, Iska Dhaaf, Kimya Dawson, Deep Creep, Ceschi Ramos, Katie Kate, Sapient, DJ Deena B. 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 26; Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; $25-$30, 206-709-9442, neumos.com.