Oddisee’s 15 Essential Songs

kenn starr asheru a talib kweli if walk the walk 12 400x400 Oddisees 15 Essential Songs

Kenn Starr f/ Asheru and Talib Kweli “If” (2004)

Album: Starr Status (released in 2006)
Label: Halftooth

Oddisee: “Kenn Starr is part of the Low Budget Crew. I guess you can say he’s one of the original members. It was me and Sean Born, who taught me how to make beats. We used to work on beats in the basement of his house. And he had found this MC from Fort Washington, Maryland from this crew called The Cut Throats. And he had singled him out as a guy he wanted to work with.

“Kenn was eons ahead of us lyrically. He was our Canibus at the time. He was a battle MC, that’s what he came up on. And he was the first MC that me and Sean really got behind and produced. Then we met up with Kev [Brown], who was already working with Cy Young, and we kind of all just converged [to form Low Budget].

“Anytime I got an opportunity, I extended it to the rest of the fam. That’s always been the kind of person I am, and that’s how we always were [with each other]. I was in A Touch Of Jazz [studios with Jazzy Jeff] because Kev got a phone call to work [there] and he brought us up. So when I got a call to work with Halftooth Records, an indie label in New York that had just started up, they initially wanted me to contribute a couple of tracks to a compilation they were doing called You Don’t Know The Half.

“I played them literally 53 beats, and like 16 songs, and after they heard all of that, they wanted me to get way more involved. [So from there], I started to ask if I could bring in more MCs to help out the compilation. And I brought in Little Brother, J-Live, Kev [Brown], Grap Luva, and most importantly, Kenn Starr. We put ‘If’ on that compilation, and from that song, and a couple of other tracks we played them, they wanted to sign Kenn to the label as well.

“I’ll keep it one hundred, [Talib Kweli] was paid to get on that song. It was a collaboration where the label wanted a big name to make people pay attention to us. He was a hired gun. And the atmosphere in the studio session was very much treated that way. [Laughs.] The session was supposed be at our studio in [Brooklyn], and at the last minute, we get a call from [Talib’s manager] Corey Smyth saying, ‘We can’t make it to your studio, you gotta come to ours.’ So we had to go to The Cutting Room in [Manhattan].

“We walked in, and weren’t even greeted for quite some time. [Laughs.] Eventually, we got the session started, but it wasn’t warm. It wasn’t that day where you’re like, ‘I’m meeting someone whose footsteps I want to walk in to.’ It was very much in and out, keeping it professional. It was a great opportunity for us to work with him, but we were very disappointed by our interaction, because that was one of our first interactions with a bigger artist in the game in our career. But I guess it wasn’t the same for him. We were just another artist trying to use his name to get pull, so we were treated as such.

“This is actually the first time I’ve ever talked about this. But it’s all good. I’ve met him several times since, and it’s all love. One of the last times I met him, he literally came up to me, without even saying hello, and was like, ‘Yo, I recorded to one of your joints,’ and stuck the headphones on my head for me to listen to it. It was actually this joint I did for Outasight, I forget the name of the song he did to it. But he didn’t know Outasight already used it, and had recorded to it also. But it’s all good. I took that as [a sign that] we were cool.

“By the time the Halftooth compilation was finished, I got executive producer credits on it. I kind of A&R’d that whole record, selecting who goes on what [out of the songs they didn’t already have artists lined up for]. And I’ve always been a fan of [DC based rapper Asheru], I think he’s got one of the illest voices in hip-hop.

“And I thought it was a good look, since he had just done the song ‘Mood Swing’ with Raheem DeVaughn and Talib, so that this track wasn’t completely manufactured. I knew Ash, Ash knew Talib, Ash knew Kenn, we both knew Kenn, so for me it made the track feel more organic. And it was still more about the DMV artists being the focal point, since I was the producer, and two of the MCs were from the same area. Now it felt like more of a collaboration [with Talib]. I just felt like [Asheru’s involvement with the song] would really give it that stamp.”