I’m still recovering from a concert high I experienced April 29. I saw one of my favorite emcees live and finessed an interview with him.
Oddisee is an artist in his prime. A native of Washington, he is an exemplar of hip-hop culture. I don’t mean what one hears on the radio, which usually gives me a headache. Obnoxious rappers using the same flow over predictable beats is not what I prefer. I’m talking about authentic hip hop that’s innovative, personal and socially conscious.
Oddisee is cohesive and his rhymes are well-written. He’s been in the game since 1999 but not in the mainstream. He comes from the underground, but I think he’s worthy competition for the best in his class like J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Joey Badass.
I saw Oddisee perform at Club Dada, a small but intimate venue with crisp acoustics. The opening act was his band Good Company with singer Oliver St. Louis. They performed a combination of rock ‘n’ roll and funk. I thought it was great that his opening act was a different genre than his own because listening to one genre for three hours can get repetitive. I don’t usually do that when I listen from my own library.
Oddisee’s latest album, “The Iceberg,” came out last February. I would argue that it’s his best work yet. My favorite song from it is “Built by Pictures” which he performed at the concert. With a combination of vibrant horns and keyboards, it’s a song about becoming successful even when you don’t have the upper hand. In the chorus he says “I was given tools meant for building, but no instructions for the wielding.” In the final verse, he credits his perseverance as an African American.
He said, “Why do my people spend more and have less than no seat to eat the meal that I'm responsible for cheffin’. Imagining the window was just a mirror reflection, I turned the sideline into a seat at the concession.”
One of Oddisee’s most original songs is “That’s Love” from his 2015 album “The Good Fight.” The song was great live. After every bar, the audience yelled “that’s love” back and forth with Oddisee. The song has a bouncy upbeat rhythm with a “go-go,” funk-style beat.
The first verse of the chorus says, “Pay attention to the folks, who're fanning the flames. They're the ones who matter most. In the gravity game when stakes weigh you down, they stay around and pick up pieces, and you off the ground. That's love.” Then a trumpet graces the chorus.
After the show I asked for a quick interview. I had seen on Instagram that Oddisee recently performed in small towns in Eastern Europe and found that strange. Do they even know what hip-hop is over there?
“You would be surprised through the internet how normalized and accessible popular music has become,” said Oddisee. “What’s popular in New York can now be popular in Slovenia or Bulgaria. If they have the means to bring me, they bring me. I literally go where I’m booked.”
I was curious if he inherited his go-go musical influence from his parents.
“My father listened to Sudanese music. My mother listened to soul, gospel, R&B and it’s the streets where I grew up listening to ‘go-go,’” he said. “‘Go-go’ is the music of youth where I come from.”
He was headed to Austin the next day but I had to ask if he was enjoying Texas so far to which he answered, “So far, so good.”
It was a great opportunity to have a conversation with an artist I truly admire. Whether Oddisee beaks into the mainstream or not won’t matter to me. I’ll be looking forward to new work from hip-hop’s underdog.