There’s Hip-Hop, and then there’s Rap. There are emcees and there are rappers. If you don’t know what the difference is, first of all shame on you, and secondly, get to know Oddisee. Immediately. Hip-hop is a way of life, it’s a culture and a knowledge, and you’re not just in it to make a quick buck. You live it. Oddisee gets this, he gets this very well, something he showed so colourfully on his perceptive 2012 debut People Hear What They Wanna See. Since then, he’s hardly been sitting on his hands.
In 2013 he released The Beauty In All, an instrumental album of not just beats, but breath-taking compositions, swiftly followed by Tangible Dream, a commentary on hopes, dreams and aspirations. He still wasn’t resting on his laurels though. His group Diamond District, with fellow Washington emcees yU and Uptown XO, followed up their instant-classic debut In The Ruff with second album March on Washington in 2014, a project once again full of wisdom and spirit. Now, Oddisee’s back to fight The Good Fight on his sophomore release, and he’s doing it marching to his own beat, as he always has.
“I got a purpose and a plan and it’s working”. That’s how Oddisee starts second-last track “What They’ll Say” on The Good Fight, but it may as well act as the subtitle for the album. His purpose? To tell stories using his natural talents as a lyricist and producer. His plan? To deliver those stories with complete freedom and with his artistic integrity in one piece. How? Well, that’s revealed a little bit more with every track, but it’s made most glaringly clear in the touching and honest “Belong To The World”, in which he puts it plainly and simply: “never wanted to be the type that they were used to”.
Thank God. If he were the type that we were used to, Oddisee would either be a tattoo-covered, blinged-out, thick-skulled rapper or a skimpily dressed, auto-tuned, manufactured popstar. Sadly, those extremes are what dominate the saturated airwaves these days and there are far and few others between. He makes another fierce claim of independence in the pragmatic “Book Covers“, that he’d “rather be real not knowing” than “being fake in the mix”. Maybe we should just take our lead from him, and shut the outside world out and join him in “the underground survivin’ with that other sound” (“Want Something Done“). That other sound, so bright, so intellectual, so warm, and most importantly, so real.
On the boom-bap wah funk of “A List of Withouts”, he reels off defect after defect that he’s seeing all around him in his peers, beginning with “you ain’t got the skills for this”, or “the real”, “the smarts”, “the art” and “the heart for this”. They’re all things that Oddisee has in abundance, and they’re the tools he uses to forge his own path, and walking that path has led him to make “well over a hundred stacks” (“Flight Delays“) while keeping his soul intact. He might be on to something here. It’s a best of both worlds kind of situation isn’t it?
There’s a recording of someone describing Oddisee as “smart” after the closing track finishes. That’s fitting. The anonymous speaker adds that Oddisee wants you to “use your brain for more than a hat-rack” when you listen to him. That’s even more fitting. Oddisee’s just plain old smart. What other producer do you know writes a track in 5/4 time and then makes flowing over it sound effortless (“Counter-Clockwise”)? He’s probably too smart for his own good. It’s what might prevent a snake of 0’s from appearing in his bank account. But that doesn’t matter to Oddisee. He lives hip-hop, remember. He values his art form, and the need to express himself in his own way, above everything else. A true musician, and not producer, but composer. He’s adopted the philosophy “overnight: nothing worth it would grow”. Long may we witness this growth.
Oddisee’s The Good Fight is out now via Mello Music Group, purchase it here.
Words by Oli Kuscher