How Oddisee's “Controversial” Music Got Him Uninvited From Obama's Farewell Party

A man from D.C. speaking up against hate and injustice? Seems pretty American to me.

Last year around this time, DC native and longtime Booth favorite Oddisee released a seven-song EP titled AlWasta, which is Arabic for “the plug.”

A devout Muslim, Oddisee has included religion in his music in a way that seeks to provide a foothold for understanding and dialogue to normalize a belief system that’s been horrendously misrepresented in the West.

Alwasta is one of Oddisee’s strongest releases, particularly because of the fifth track on the EP, a song called “Lifting Shadows.” A summation of Oddisee’s anti-islamophobic efforts, “Lifting Shadows” is one of the most important hip-hop records of the last decade, even if it doesn't receive its due renown.

The track is both a razor-sharp indictment of America’s political climate (which hadn’t even reached Trump proportions of fuckery at that time) and a sobering reminder of the “phobia” aspect of America’s disdain for practitioners of Islam.

It’s also very possibly the reason that Oddisee was barred from performing at Barack Obama’s farewell party in January.

In a recent interview with Noisey, Oddisee revealed that he was originally slated to perform alongside Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole at the White House celebration, but was pulled from the bill at the last minute by White House officials that claimed his music was “too controversial," and believed that it was one song in particular that prompted their unease. 

Here are the lyrics from the hook on "Lifting Shadows," for reference:

"Man I swear I think my phone tapped / Man I swear they watching all my moves / Since 9/11 it ain’t too clear just who the target is / I love my country, hate its politics / Can’t just let me be / Can’t just let me live / Regardless my belief I thought the fathers wrote it clear / But darkness all I see / And darkness all I hear / I’m trying to lift the shadow but the cloud ain’t got no give"



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I can easily envision a middle-aged White House official skimming through Oddisee’s music, hearing the first few lines of this hook and immediately losing their shit. It hints at the extreme overreaching into civil liberties by the NSA, a blanket policy of caution against all Muslims in the wake of 9/11, and a very clear disdain for the politics at play in America—not exactly a catchy, carefree track.

However, “Lifting Shadows” is patriotism in full effect, and barring contributors because of governmental criticism is something I expect from Captain Baby Hands, but not Obama’s administration. Not to mention the fact that the other three emcees on the bill have all shared very similar sentiments about the government in their music, in what one could argue is a more extreme manner.

By the same criteria, Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly alone should’ve barred him from performing, and you don’t have to dig too deep into either Chance or Cole’s discography to find anti-establishment lyrics.

Oddisee’s voice is extremely valuable in this country, much in the same way as Brother Ali’s: these are talented, caring artists who happen to subscribe to a belief system that’s been unfairly painted in this country by the actions of extremists, and the fear of those that don’t fully understand a religion other than their own.

To erase that voice from a representation of a culture that Obama has expressed great love for was a mistake and a moment of blind hypocrisy.

Instead of being silenced, Oddisee should be praised for reminding us what patriotism truly means. 

"Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else." - President Theodore Roosevelt


By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Mello Music Group



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