In the last few years, the Washington D.C. area has officially cemented itself on the hip-hop map. There has been an underground rap scene brewing in and around the Chocolate City for quite some time, but with the national success of artists like Wale, the rest of the country has started to take more serious notice. And one of the artists that is starting to obtain the exposure he so rightfully deserves is producer/MC Oddisee.
Oddisee, a founding member of the Low Budget Crew, and primary supporter and component of the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) movement, got his first major album credit on Jazzy Jeff’s The Magnificent in 2002, rapping and producing on “Musik Lounge.” From there, his career began to bubble, as he toured across the country and overseas, and recorded with popular artists in and out of the D.C. area, including Talib Kweli and Little Brother.
As the strength of the blogosphere took underground hip-hop to new levels in the late 2000s, Oddisee took advantage, releasing a slew of mostly instrumental compilations online, such as his Odd Seasons series and Rock Creek Park, and rap projects in collaboration with other DMV affiliates, most notably as one-third of rap group Diamond District (he produced and rapped on their entire debut LP In The Ruff), and with fellow Maryland hip-hop head and Hot 97 underground aficionado Peter Rosenberg on A Rosenberg Oddisee.
In 2012, Oddisee is rapidly gaining notoriety. His proper solo debut LP People Hear What They See, which is out today on Mello Music, has been met with a plethora of positive press. And his lead-up free EP Odd Renditions, which dropped last month, was praised with equal amounts of accolades, especially with the success of his Marvin Gaye “Ain’t That Peculiar (Remix)” video, which currently has accumulated close to 150,000 YouTube views. It’s long overdue, but Oddisee is finally being recognized as one of the premier underground hip-hop producers on the mic in the industry.
To ensure that new fans of Oddisee are up to speed on the wealth of gems he has in his catalog, we got on Skype a few days ago with him while he was out in London to have him tell us the stories behind his 15 most essential songs. And he kicked the truth on how Talib Kweli was paid to rap on one of his early tracks, how his transition into making beats from the ASR-X to the computer upset some hip-hop purists, the reasoning behind the birth of the DMV movement, and how most of the songs on his new solo album are four years old.
As told to Daniel Isenberg @StanIpcus
Kenn Starr f/ Asheru and Talib Kweli “If” (2004)
Album: Starr Status (released in 2006)
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.”
Buckshot f/ Oddisee “Where I Be At” (2008)
Album: A Rosenberg Oddisee
Oddisee: “That whole project was done in one day. Peter man, god bless him, for better for worse, he’s down! [Laughs.] He hit me up like, ‘Yo, come through. I’m gonna make a whole bunch of phone calls, and whoever comes through, we’ll tell them to do a joint on the spot. You play them tracks, and we’ll make it happen.’ And I was like, ‘Wow, you seriously want to do this?’
“So I came up to New York, and the studio was somewhere in Chinatown. Dan Green was there, who manages a bunch of artists, and Statik Selektah was our engineer. I didn’t even know Statik back then when he did it. When he introduced himself, I wasn’t really familiar with his work. And Peter was basically on some rolodex shit, thumbing through the phone and hitting people up. And they came on through.
“Most of them had to go in the other room to write, and then come in and record. It was crazy. At one point, we had Fizzy Womack [aka Fame of M.O.P.], Nikki Jean, Skyzoo, Buckshot, Torae, and Saigon, all in there at the same time. Daytona was in there earlier, before everyone came through. But we were all in there, cracking jokes, laughing. You know that Sesame Street video to ‘Ante Up,’ the Bert and Ernie joint? I was watching that with Fizzy Womack in there [when it first dropped]. [Laughs.] It was great. That’s definitely in my top 10 hip-hop moments.
“Buckshot is kind of a quiet individual. You can tell that he really feels music. The track came on, and he started bobbing his head. Next thing you know, he pulled out this long string of tobacco. I guess he rolls his own blunts, he doesn’t buy the papers or whatever. He went to work on a joint, and was writing the song, and came back and just blessed it. [The project] was very much like that. It was like a factory of creativity.
“I was a Black Moon fan coming up, but not as much as people would think. I was more so Wu-Tang versus Boot Camp Click. But I definitely had a few [artists] from Boot Camp that I was a fan of, and Black Moon was one of them.
“I can’t remember who couldn’t come through, to be honest, but I do remember that Peter pitched the idea to FADER to do a second A Rosenberg Oddisee project the following year. And they gave it the okay, and were going to get Rick Ross and a couple of other people. But then they pulled the plug on the idea last minute. But I definitely remember that, because I really wanted to work with Ross. I think [my beats would sound right with him]. I really need to make that happen, and find somebody that can hook me up with him.”
Freeway “As I Ever Been” (2008)
Oddisee: “That was actually supposed to be on the second A Rosenberg Oddisee joint. And when the plug got pulled, Freeway went ahead and used it for the Month of Madness thing he was doing online. There are a couple other songs we’re sitting on that never came out from that, [including] a Royce da 5’9’’ joint I did.
“Basically, Freeway had an interview with Peter on Hot 97, and we couldn’t get the track done there, so I went down to Philly to get the track done. It was a great opportunity for me to work with Freeway, because he was down to do it not just because Peter asked him to, but because he was genuinely feeling the track. We recorded it in Steve McKie’s studio, who’s an amazing musician from Philly who also produces for Bilal. A lot of Philly royalty comes through there, and my man Hezekiah was there, who is on the hook. I have a long history in Philly, since the Touch of Jazz days with Jazzy Jeff. I love Philly, always have.
“Freeway’s also a huge, huge influence on my rhyme style. I really was paying attention to how his rhymes would jump bars and would come back to it, so that the rhyme wasn’t always at the end of the bar in the next sentence. Like, he could rhyme something in the first bar, and then he might not come back to it until the sixth bar. It was the rhythm that tied the rhyme together. I remember when Freeway first came out, people would be like, ‘He’s not even rhyming!’ But I realize now that they weren’t listening.
“I’ve refined that a bit more, and added a lot more rhythm to it so that you can tell where the rhyme is coming. But I’m not the only student of that. I’ve heard Drake do it, and tons of artists do it, where they say a line, and don’t come back to it until the third or fourth bar. I think Freeway [deserves the credit for that]. Nobody made a style out of it. It might have unintentionally dropped in throughout the 90’s here and there, but nobody said, ‘This is a style.’ It was [unpredictable, unlike a Jadakiss or Fabolous rhyme pattern]. It blew me away.”
Little Brother f/ Oddisee “Delusional” (2008)
Album: …And Justus For All
Label: Hall Of Justus
Oddisee: “That song was done in Melbourne, Australia. I applied for the Red Bull Music Academy, and got in as a participant. And it was a crazy time, because most of the lecturers and people that were there to assist us in the studio were my peers, like Phonte [of Little Brother]. So we ended up cutting a lot of tracks. I did a lot of my record Traveling Man there, which was inspired by places I had been. It was music I had made to capture those cities I had traveled to.
“Me and Phonte, we cut maybe six songs in three days. ‘Delusional’ was one of them, and ‘All Because She’s Gone’ was another that ended up on the Red Bull Various Assets compilation, and ‘The Perch’ produced by Flying Lotus. There were a couple others.
“With ‘Delusional,’ with the time difference, we hit [Big] Pooh up on the phone, and sent him the track, and he sent his verse back. It really came from those conversations me and ‘Te had down there. I’ll never forget those conversations, being so far away with someone that you consider a peer, but you still look up to at the same time, and be able to talk to man to man. And that’s Phonte singing on the hook, which does [have a Mr. Porter influence on it].”
Diamond District “I Mean Business” (2009)
Album: In The Ruff
Label: Mello Music Group
Oddisee: “Our point with that album was, ‘If D.C. had a Golden Era hip-hop album, what would it sound like?’ We didn’t have one, you know, that quintessential record that gave us all the references to our blocks and buildings and slang. When Low Budget first came into the fold, a lot of us were still trying to put on New York accents. I know Kev wasn’t, but I was. There was a lot of Dun lingo at that point still. Nobody wanted to hear what we sounded like. [Laughs.]
“Diamond District was supposed to be the middle finger to that, like, ‘Alright. We accept and acknowledge where hip-hop comes from, and it has influenced us. But just like the Geto Boys in the Fifth Ward, and [artists from] South Central, we’re gonna put our own stamp on it.’ And we never did that in D.C., up until recently, when the DMV movement gave us an identity.
“So for ‘I Mean Business,’ I intentionally sampled Gang Starr [‘Mass Appeal’] in the hook to pay homage and say, ‘We understand the origins, and this is embedded in boom bap, grimy, east coast hip-hop.’ However, if you listen to that tom [drum] that constantly swings over and over, and the swing of the drums, that’s a Go-Go influence. East coast producers back in the day didn’t use rolatons and toms that repeated throughout the whole loop. There might have done a fill every eight bars, maybe. It wasn’t embedded in the loop, though. And that was me saying, ‘This is our fingerprint. This is our stain on it.’
“DJ Premier rated [the Diamond District album] in his Top 10 albums of the year [for 2009]. Beatminerz hit me up about it, De La [Soul] hit me up. De La’s gonna be on the next Diamond District album. It’s called March On Washington, I’m working on it now.”
Diamond District “Streets Won’t Let Me Chill” (2009)
Album: In The Ruff
Label: Mello Music Group
Oddisee: “Back to us putting our stamp. That vocal sample on the hook is from [popular Go-Go group] Backyard Band’s frontman. I was listening to a clip on YouTube of Smoke, the conga player. And the frontman was hyping up the conga player, and somewhere right in the middle, he was like, ‘The streets won’t let me chill!’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that’s it.’ If you listen to that sample, there’s a crazy, rapid sound in the back. And that’s a conga. So again, it’s that whole, east coast vibe, but come down 95 South a bit more.
“That song really sums up what we were trying to do with Diamond District. We were trying to represent the D.C./Maryland/Virginia area from three different perspectives, to make sure everyone knows that we’re all the same, and really stamp that identity. I come from P.G. County, and I lived in a house with my mother and my step-father, and I went to a school that was pretty rough, but still decent. And X.O. is born and bred in the city, and has had a relatively hard life. And yU is the reason why the term DMV exists, because he was born in D.C., moved to Maryland, then he lived in Virginia for some time, and had some really good, and really bad times in his life. [He represents] that wealthiest block in America, but also that largest economic gap in the country. That extreme between rich and poor.
“The opportunity for African-Americans to become affluent, and become entrepreneurs, is where I come into the picture. The stark reality of a lot of those economic differences are [talked about on the album.] X.O. talks about it from within, whereas I talk about it from a removed perspective, with the privilege to talk about it. A lot of times, when you have the opportunity to discuss ideas, or social behavior, it’s a privilege, because you’re removed from it. And yU talks about it from being around it. I was outside of it, X.O. was in it, and yU was around it, and that’s Diamond District. And all of us have different [local] fans that gravitate to each of us, because one of us tells their story.”
Homeboy Sandman “The Warm Up” (2009)
Album: Odd Winter
Oddisee: “Rosenberg hooked me up with him for this, but I had already known Homeboy before that, and we had already been fans of each other and wanted to work together. So we were definitely both excited to finally do so. So he came in the studio, wrote the joint right on the spot, and we recorded it.
“To this day, Peter’s mad at me about how I hijacked songs from that A Rosenberg Oddisee project with The FADER [when the plug was pulled on it] and used them for different things. He still wanted to do it, but I was like, ‘I think it’s passed the expiration date.’ The only track that still hasn’t seen the light of day is that Royce Da 5’9’ track, which also has Daytona on it, and Kid Vicious, Royce’s little brother. I think Peter would kill me if I leaked that. [Laughs.]
“That sample is from a jazz record, but I can’t remember which one. I’m the worst with that. A lot of times I don’t remember what I sampled. Actually, not too far after that, I started writing down [what samples I used on a record] in the session so I can pull it up [if I need to]. I’ll never remember it off hand.
“Honestly, it saddens a lot of hip-hop purists when they discover this, but I’m not really a digger. I don’t use an MPC, I make beats on a laptop. I go to record stores when I can, or when I need to. A lot of times, I exchange things for a lot of record collector’s hard drives. Like, I’ll give my drums to my man in exchange for everything he’s ripped from his library onto MP3. I’m sitting on a record store in my hard drive right now, where I can go through records I’ve never heard.
“I had a beat machine, and was into vinyl, when I came into it. But to evolve, I left the beat machine behind. I stopped using the ASR-X, and left digging behind, because of the weight of the records and the machine, and I wanted to be as light as possible. That’s back to my Sudanese, nomadic roots.
“Now, I got my M-box mini, my headphones, my external hard drive full of at least 100 gigs worth of songs to sample in Pro Tools, so anywhere I’m at, I can pull up to a desk, and create a record. I couldn’t do that [with my old set-up]. In my downtime, when I’m back in D.C. or New York, I’ll go out and buy records, and rip them to MP3 or .WAV, so I’ll have something to sample.
“I construct beats in Pro Tools. I make beats in Pro Tools. I chop and slice, I click and drag. It’s the exact same way as making it in a beat machine, you know, a beat machine is a computer too. I always say, ‘It’s the difference between doing a math problem on a calculator, and doing it in your head. It’s good to know both.’ With [constructing beats in Pro Tools], you’re doing a lot of the beat making in your head, because you don’t have pads to do trial and error to test things out. I’m playing it in my head, then placing [the sounds on the Pro Tools grid]. Like, as I’m playing it, I’m going, ‘I need to put a snare here, a hi-hat here, the kick double-up here. Ok perfect, that’s exactly what I was thinking.’
“I started doing that when I was at the Red Bull Music Academy in Australia. I knew when I got accepted that they weren’t going to have an ASR, so I brought mine with me. And this Irish dude Daniel, shout out to him he changed me life, tripped over my scuzzy drive and broke it. So I couldn’t save beats from my ASR to zips anymore. So I was like, ‘What am I going to do? I’m down here for two weeks and I can’t even save a track.’ So then I started [recording directly from my ASR into Pro Tools], and I was like, ‘This is amazing.’
“Then, I got hooked up with a lot of electronic and drum and bass producers down there, and I was like, ‘Yo, how do you get your drums to all that crazy shit, with fills and loops going all over the place?’ And they were like, ‘We program them on computers.’ So I was like, ‘Yo, show me how to do that.’ There’s a track I did in Melbourne called “Chocolate City Dreaming,’ which was the first track I did where I programmed the drums on the computer. It was the realest my drums ever sounded. And then from that day, people always ask me, ‘Are your drums real, or are they sampled? Because I can’t tell the difference.’
“A lot of times, [producers] don’t believe me [when I tell them that’s how I make beats]. A lot of times, they no longer like my music. This promoter in Milan who booked me, who was a huge fan of mine, asked me if I was going to pull out the MPC on stage. When I told him I didn’t use an MPC, and made beats on the computer, he said, ‘That’s impossible. You can’t do that on a computer.’ It took us about 45 minutes before he accepted the fact that I didn’t use an MPC and that all the things he loved about my music were made on a computer. He was one of those people who said, ‘Computer producers are wack.’ After that settled in, he didn’t talk to me for the rest of the night. He talked to everyone else, but he didn’t fuck with me no more.”
Oddisee “I’m From P.G.” (2010)
Album: Odd Spring
Oddisee: “I’m like 60 percent business, 40 percent art. And most artists are like 99 percent art. So when I’m creating music, I’m conscious of the fact that it needs to have something that makes people want to listen to it in the first place. It’s not enough for it to just be good. There’s plenty of good music out there. So, I realized that people like themes, and people like to collect things, so if you gave them a record that was themed that they could have an emotional connection to, and it was a series that was going to come out, it would entice them to collect all of them. And not even necessarily in order, that’s the beautiful thing about Odd Seasons. I started in summer, and ended in spring, but it might have took them until spring to come out for people to go back and listen to fall and summer. And each track was picked, because it felt like one of those seasons.
“On the artist side, I was frustrated around that time from chasing down placements that I wasn’t getting for different reasons, and artists coming to me saying, ‘You know that beat you made for ‘such and such,’ I want something like that.’ I started seeing certain words pop up to define my sound, and I wasn’t happy with that. I wanted to display my versatility, but if I left it up to a lot of the rappers that were on my track, they weren’t allowing me to grow. Traveling Man and Odd Seasons were made for me to display different types of beats that rappers wouldn’t normally buy from me. I felt like the world wouldn’t know what I was capable of doing if I left it up to MCs. They wouldn’t pick those.
“Fast forward, and now Odd Seasons is probably the most bootlegged joint I’ve ever done, as far as rappers taking beats from it and doing songs to them. And I appreciate that, because I don’t know how I would’ve got those beats out, like, ‘Yo, you can actually rap on this.’ People weren’t having it before that.
“I wanted to mix in [songs on each of the Odd Seasons that had me rhyming on it, or other rappers featured on it] just to please my different facets of listeners. ‘I’m From P.G.’ was during a time where the DMV movement was starting to almost make a lot of people bitter. And there were a lot of separatists who were like, ‘I don’t want to be united. I’m from here, you’re from there.’
“I’m not going to get the Wale flack of, ‘You’re not really from D.C.’ I’m proud of where I’m from. My mother’s from Washington D.C., I was born in Washington D.C. My Dad came to this country and moved to Washington D.C., and he got a better opportunity, and moved me out to P.G., and moved me out there, like most black people do. When they get a little money, they move from D.C. out to P.G. County. And my roots are still embedded in the city. But this is where I’m from, and I’m proud of it. Whether you like it or not, you’ve gotta accept it.
“The song put a lot of people on to the area, and surprisingly, a lot of people do know about Prince George’s County, especially a lot of African-Americans who go to college. So many black students get exported across the country to go to HBCs and other colleges. And it was great, because being from P.G. and Montgomery County was the last thing that needed to be shedded. It was like, ‘Okay, we’re not from New York. Now, we’re not from D.C., we’re from Maryland. Be okay with that. Don’t be ashamed of that.’
“I’d say P.G. has contributed more well known rappers to the DMV movement than any other part of the area. And let that catch flack, I’m sure it will. Lyriciss, Proverb, Kev Brown, Kenn Starr, Sean Born, myself, Wale. Wale’s from Largo, same [place I’m from]. He’s got [a similar story], where his original house was in D.C., and he’s got family in D.C., but [lived in P.G.]
“Our complication came when if you were anywhere else in the country and you said you were from Maryland, they would say, ‘Oh, Baltimore?’ And that’s where the whole movement came from. I don’t know anything about Baltimore, it’s 45 minutes away. D.C. is 15 [minutes down the road]. They listen to Baltimore Club. I listen to Go-Go. I come from a completely different culture. The only thing we have in common is the same state.
“So basically any county in Maryland or Virginia that touches or borders D.C. is DMV. And that’s expanding, with more people moving out to Howard County in Maryland or down to like Woodbridge, Virginia. But that’s basically how you can sum up DMV.
“‘I’m From P.G.’ got picked up by NPR, and they did a whole story on me about gentrification and how the suburbs are becoming more dangerous than the cities because of that. They picked me up, and I drove them around P.G. County and my old neighborhood. NPR’s been a huge advocate of my music for quite some time. They play a lot of my stuff in the background, when they do the stock market report and stuff like that. They stay using my music.”
Oddisee “Skipping Rocks” (2011)
Album: Rock Creek Park
Label: Mello Music Group
Oddisee: “Rock Creek Park is a really famous park in [the center of] Washington D.C. It was designed by the same people who designed Central Park. Of course, The Blackbyrds immortalized the park with the song ‘Rock Creek Park.’ And a lot of babies were conceived in Rock Creek Park at night.
“For me, when my parents first got divorced, I lived right off East-West Highway and Grubb Road, not too far from Rosenberg’s family’s house. We didn’t know each other back then, of course. But that’s where I went to elementary school. So I spent a lot of time riding my bike in the park as a child. My mother would pick me up on weekends, and she would take me to all the free shit in D.C. because she didn’t have a lot of money, like to museums, and she would take me riding through the park.
“One of the things we used to do was go to Parkway Deli in Silver Spring, right at the end of Rock Creek Park, and we would buy reubens and cream sodas and go eat in the park, and I would skip rocks across the creek after lunch.
“That park’s a special place for men, from [hanging out] with my mother, to taking dates to the park, to wanting driving through to avoid 16th Street to get in the city and taking the park because it was less hot [for my friends who wanted to smoke weed], to it being a way to cut through the city fast, to it being a sanctuary and a place to ride my bike and exercise by myself and clear my head. The park has grown with me. Just a couple days ago I did a 24 mile trek on my bike through the park.
“I think, a place like that, everyone’s listening to music when they’re riding through it, in their headphones, or on the radio at the cookouts. Whether we knew it or not, we were constantly providing that park with theme music. So I wanted to give it official theme music.”
Oddisee “Hustle Off” (2012)
Label: Mello Music Group
Oddisee: “There are a couple different compilations Mello Music was producing, and we did something with Muve Music, which is a company that works with Cricket mobile phones. Cricket really got behind us, and Muve Music is a technology they have which allows people to purchase music directly to their mobile phones without the use of a computer. And I was really attracted to that idea, because I read a statistic some time ago that said something like 50 percent of African-American homes were without the internet.
“When I looked out at my crowds and saw majority white people, I never took that as a sign that black people didn’t like my music. It was a privilege to know who I was, because as an underground artist, you have to seek into hip-hop, it’s not spoon fed to you. To have that privilege to seek music, you’ve got to have a computer, and you’ve got to have the internet. And you’ve got to have time to sit and sift through blogs to find music. And that’s a privilege a lot of working class people and minorities have. So when Cricket, which is the phone company for the hood, told me, ‘We’re providing a platform for people to listen to your music and download it straight to their phone without the use of the internet or having to connect their phone to a computer source,’ I was like, ‘Alright, I can finally reach a demographic I’ve been wanting to reach.’ And it worked. So I had to give up a few songs I had in the stash for that compilation, but I was glad to, because I really liked what [Cricket’s] message was about.
“Specifically, about the song, I’m doing my best to put tangible reality back into hip-hop, because I’m tired of people being sold achievable dreams. One of the things that a lot of current artists want to tell you is, ‘No days off.’ You know, ‘I’m grinding.’ ‘YOLO, you only live once.’ It’s this whole rapid race, like, ‘I don’t ever stop. I’m gonna keep going until I die.’ And I think that’s nonsense. Everybody needs to turn their hustle off every once in a while and chill the fuck out, and actually appreciate something.
“They sell people this dream that they’re never stopping, but in reality, they’re at strip clubs, or [vacationing] on islands. If you listen to them, they’ll tell you, ‘I never stop.’ I think there is importance to rejuvenating yourself to even do anything worthwhile. You need to appreciate that downtime too.
“That’s my whole steez. Tangible reality. You can still actually champion reality. Like, real reality. That shit is still cool. [Laughs.]”
Oddisee f/ Bon Iver “Paralyzed” (2012)
Album: Odd Renditions
Oddisee: “My brain is kind of constantly making remixes in my head. I can’t ever cut it off. So when I hear something that’s in pitch, almost instantly I can flashback in my head and pick out all the songs that are in tune with that song. So I chopped up [Aretha Franklin’s] ‘Say A Little Prayer,’ and as soon as I did, I was like, ‘Oh shit, that’s in tune with ‘re: Stacks’ by Bon Iver.’ I’ve always had the ability to do that. I can’t read music, but I think I have perfect pitch. I’m not sure. I don’t want to make that claim. That’s a big claim. I just remember pitches and melody. Once I hear it, I’ll forever remember what key it’s in.
“So I went and got the Bon Iver joint, and was like, ‘This is just guitar. So I can essentially put another beat underneath it, and it won’t clash.’ So I put them on top of each other, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s crazy.’
“I constantly want to break down borders that people put up. A lot of the Pitchfork listeners of music may not listen to a rapper like me, because I don’t have on white jeans, and I’m not trying to do something trendy. I just make the music that I feel. And a lot of times, that’s not catchy enough. And now I’m back to the 60 percent business, 40 percent art. I knew that if I put Bon Iver on a track, a different type of listener would want to listen. And it worked.
“And it came from a natural place. I listen to all of that. I wish a lot of the underground hip-hop fans wouldn’t be so disappointed when I tell them, ‘Yes, I’m listening to Drake, [Rick] Ross, Feist, Bon Iver.’ I really am. There are a lot of narrow minded listeners in the world, who all think they are the aficionados on what good music is supposed to be. And I’m not one of them. I feel like I can genuinely appreciate good music in any form.
“My mother didn’t really play a lot of music that you would think a black woman from D.C. would play. She was a huge Carly Simon fan. She was a huge Kenny Rogers fan. She was playing stuff like that to me growing up.”
Marvin Gaye f/ Oddisee “Ain’t That Peculiar (Remix) (2012)”
Album: Odd Renditions
Oddisee:“That was both [business and art]. The 40 percent art was that I had just traded some of my drums for 250 Motown acapellas with this dude in Rotterdam. I had been sitting on that Marvin Gaye remix for two years. I knew I had my solo album coming out, and I wanted to acquire a large amount of emails to include in my email blast. I wanted some new blood in my newsletter, and I wanted to get a lot of attention. So I always put something for free out before I put out a record I want people to buy.
“The Marvin Gaye one was like, ‘This is what I can do, just in case you want to put me in a box. Here’s another box to put me in.’ I always say that people are going to put you in boxes. Just put me in as many boxes as possible. Put me in the danceable box, put me in the electronic box, put me in the indie box, put me in the hip-hop box.
“The Marvin Gaye joint is the first video I’ve ever done that got over 100,000 views on YouTube. It had 100,000 in one day on World Star. It’s the first track I’ve ever done that hit World Star. So everything worked according to plan for me.”
Oddisee “Man I Used To Be” (2012)
Album: Odd Renditions
Oddisee: “My favorite song on Odd Renditions is ‘Man I Used To Be.’ It’s such a personal song to me, the lyrics. That K-Os track, I didn’t just rap over the beat. That’s him doing an acoustic skit, and I built the entire beat around him just playing the guitar and singing. I felt like that one definitely went unchecked, as far as favorites from Odd Renditions.
If you listen to ‘Man I Used to Be’ on Joyful Rebellion, it’s a disco track, and at the end of it, he starts strumming the guitar, and he sings those lyrics. And I time stretched it to put in on beat, and built the beat around it. The syncopation of the drums is really off kilter, but I still found a pocket of the beat to rhyme in. I don’t think people understood what went into making that track. That’s the most advanced song on there.
“That EP went underappreciated for the things I wanted it to be appreciated for. It’s definitely doing its thing and blowing up, and people are loving it, and it’s getting mainstream radio play in London right now, but people didn’t peep what I did on Odd Renditions.”
Oddisee “That Real” (2012)
Album: People Hear What They See
Label: Mello Music Group
Oddisee: “Most of the tracks on People Hear What They See are four years old. It’s not that I’ve been working on my album for four years. It’s quite the opposite. I haven’t been consciously working on my album. I never consciously worked on People Hear What They See. Because I was more so known as a producer, I was consciously working on beats for compilations and other people’s albums. And every once in awhile, I would make a beat that would strike a chord with me, and I’d sit it aside, and say, ‘That’s for People Hear What They See,’ and put it in a folder, up until I had enough tracks to say, ‘You know what? This is a whole album’s worth.’
“More importantly, when I listened to all the tracks back, they stood the test of time. A lot of tracks I had, I erased or deleted out of that folder, because they didn’t fit. So what I was left with was the sum of tracks that I had put aside for the last four years that had stood the test of time. I love reading how people are saying I’m pushing boundaries, and doing something new, and I guess it is still new. But for me, People Hear What They See is a four year old project.
“That video I did [a few years ago when I’m performing ‘That Real’] was done in Rosenberg’s kitchen, when he lived on 33rd and 10th I think. I was at his crib, and I think [DJ Quartermaine] came up with me that day. Peter was hardcore on the Flipcam back them. I hadn’t recorded it yet, [but I had the beat and the lyrics and the scratch ideas]. I didn’t want to record a single track for the album until I wrote the whole album, because I wanted to record it as if I was it was one song, for continuity. I didn’t record [any vocals] until this year.
“That little video [Rosenberg did of ‘That Real’] taught me a large lesson. Peter was instrumental in me no longer holding on to music, and not necessarily having a plan, and just putting shit out. I didn’t do that until A Rosenberg Oddisee. And then, Peter was like, ‘I’m gonna cut this camera on, and you’re just gonna do it.’ I would’ve normally come up with a million excuses like, ‘It’s not done. It’s not ready.’ And he really helped me like, ‘Yo, you just gotta put some shit out there.’ And I stay listening to that advice, and keep putting shit out.
“Anyway, I did the vocals, and [Quartermaine] came through and did the cuts on it, and it was finally a real boy. It wasn’t Pinocchio anymore. It was real. [Laughs.]”
Oddisee “You Know Who You Are” (2012)
Album: People Hear What They See
Label: Mello Music Group
Oddisee: “On that song, the first verse is about the people against you, ‘You don’t have to say their name, you know who you are.’ The second verse is the people that are there for you, ‘You don’t have to say their name, you know who you are.’ And the last verse is, ‘No matter what people tell you or try to convince you what you are, you yourself know what you are.’
“My man Trek Life called me the other day, and was like, ‘Yo, you’re one of my closest friends, so I know what all these lyrics are about. But with ‘You Know Who You Are,’ who are you talking about on the first verse?’ And I had to explain to him that on the first and second verse, I’m not talking about anyone specific. They’re the sum of several different people, and I’m talking about them as if they’re one person.
“Musically, earlier this year, I went to the Berklee College Of Music and got brass and strings done on the whole record. I was really influenced by listening to Feist, and using these big band types of dynamics and sounds in my music. On that one, the tubas and the strings and the horns, they really paint such a melodic picture. And my man Ralph Real is playing a synth on the chorus, but he came up in the church playing music, so they’re like church chords. And then the drums, I’ve got a beat break, but I’ve also got this electronic, syncopated clap.
“So when you listen to the song, it’s the live instrumentation element that comes from my influence, the church and soulful chord progressions that come from my mother’s side of the family, and the syncopation and the claps is like the Sudanese side of me and the way the East Africans play drums. And the lyrics are the sums of tons of different people in my life, and I look at myself on the last verse. It’s all of my musical and personal influences in one song. It may not be one of the bigger songs on the record, but it’s an important song for that reason.”