It’s not always easy coming to grips with the tip of your iceberg. Our bleak and beautiful complexities are what make us human, after all.
Some days, it’s as simple as knowing that you’re unavailable for anyone’s bullshit. Other days, fully formed major keys might tumble out of your head and unlock all of life’s many secrets. And some days, the walls stare you down as you strive to figure out how to spend the next second before it passes you by.
Oddisee is an acclaimed rapper/producer who’s always faced the joys, stresses and facts of life on his own direct terms, first through the boom-bap revivalism of Mental Liberation and Diamond District (his group with yU and Uptown XO) before scrapping the MPC and composing the beats himself along with his live band Good Company.
Older friends of mine had turned me onto Diamond District’s In The Ruff on general principle, but it took the combination of Odd’s worldly bars and the mix of samples and live instrumentation found on 2012’s People Hear What They See for the D.C. stalwart to click with me. Gossamer soul loops on “That Real” lived next to punchy horns and keys on the anti-capitalist “American Greed”—just the way I liked it.
Calling the DMV-hailing musician a stalwart might be an understatement since he’s released at least one rap album and one instrumental project a year consistently since 2009, and it’s left him thriving in the independent scene while waiting to burst through the mainstream glass ceiling. That struggle to be heard—as a Black/Sudanese man still being harassed by customs, as an intelligent 30-something on the verge of self-sustained happiness—is just one facet of Oddisee’s latest project The Iceberg.
Three Standout Songs:
“You Grew Up”
Keyboard synth stabs mixed with a funky minor bass line is the foundation for the album's fifth track. Oddisee’s interaction with a white friend who blames Odd’s immigrant father for the loss of jobs before becoming a cop and killing an unarmed Black man in his car, and an acquaintance who turns to ISIS after being ridiculed for his beliefs can be traced back to one point: simply growing up.
The track is a foreboding groove filled with vivid snapshots that hit close to home. “While I was tryna keep my Nikes clean / He was tryna scuff his Chucks up” describes half of my friendships growing up and stings in an age where your former best friend’s racist leanings are just a Facebook status update away.
“Want To Be”
By far, the sunniest song on the entire album—at least as far as the beat is concerned—“Want To Be” is basically a roller disco jam about being an introvert. The guitar lick alone would make Nile Rodgers proud.
Odd just wants to tour, earn some money, and exist “with a name that don’t make you think of C4.” This is the peppier spiritual cousin to “No Reservations” from last year’s AlWasta EP that will have crowds jumping up and down all throughout his tour.
On the album's penultimate track, Oddisee charts his struggles as an artist (including a pull quote about stolen flows), his transition from a womanizer to a married man, and how the dark clouds are just what comes before the rain that will help his seeds grow.
The record is made to be slightly melancholic; the twang of a looped guitar chord with drums and eerie vocal coos is both humbling and expansive.
The second verse ends with Odd happy that he can leave his phone face-up in his relationship, and one of his band members butts in on the hook to hilariously warn listeners that that might not be for everybody.
Keep tabs on your tabs, people.
Odd has always loved to ground his albums in a theme: TheOdd Seasons compilation provided a soundtrack for each of the four seasons, Mental Liberation sought to make boom bap cool again, the lush instrumentals of Rock Creek Park were an ode to bike rides through dewy DMV forests and AlWasta being made in a week was a testament to the power of the plug.
Critical thinking, Oddisee posits, is the thread that will connect us all and is the driving force behind all 12 tracks on The Iceberg.
While the word “prolific” is tossed around a lot these days, especially since artists like Curren$y make pumping out a project per month look easy, Oddisee is able to deftly weave life's lessons and his scars into his music all while putting out projects like clockwork.
Even if there are a few throwaway songs on The Iceberg, I’m grateful for Oddisee's latest layer.
By CineMasai. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Mello Music Group