Oddisee Talks Crowdsourcing Inspiration and Baltimore Politics
Published May 07, 2015Oddisee has been steadily putting out a variety of different projects for several years, displaying an admirable level of versatility on instrumental mixtapes and projects both solo and collaborative as a producer and an MC. But when it came to making his latest album The Good Fight (out now on Mello Music Group), he found that the different facets of his artistry had created different audiences for his music, something Oddisee noticed at his live shows.
"Many of my records are the culmination of observation," he tells Exclaim! from Los Angeles, fresh off completing a video for the single "Belong to the World." "And I observed when I did countless amount of shows that the lyrics that I could see people mouthing were the ones of really deep substance, that were thought-provoking, that they could connect with."
But the shows also brought out people who favoured Oddisee's production work.
"And for a while, I was like, it didn't make sense," he says. "I'm on stage as a lyricist. Can I get paid to just press play on [instrumental album] Rock Creek Park? I stopped taking offence to it with the understanding that was just the music that they connected with. So when I started to create the soundscape for The Good Fight, my listeners, my fans are telling me they want a soulful, jazz funky experimental form of music with lyrics packed with substance and content. And I put it together and that how The Good Fight started to emerge."
Indeed, Oddisee's lyrics are particularly introspective and inward-looking than on some of his recent projects (Tangible Dream, The Beauty in All), including the more politically oriented Diamond District project March on Washington, of which he comprises one-third, along with fellow members X.O. and Y.U.
While the Diamond District project favoured a boom-bap retro hip-hop sound, The Good Fight lavishly incorporates live instrumentation and includes an appearance from guitarist Gary Clark Jr. Conceptually, Oddisee is cognizant of bringing his own topical approaches to independent hip-hop.
"I think people love to associate independent hip-hop with struggle, because so many independent hip-hop artists have run that into the ground, this struggle that they go through. And [The Good Fight] touches on it, but the main objective of this record is not about a struggling artist in the underground. It is about the things in life that are worth fighting for. The things that you don't mind fighting for. The things that are so good that it doesn't feel like you're fighting. It just feels like something you must do. And the songs when you listen to them like 'Counter-Clockwise' or 'A List of Withouts' or 'That's Love,' they are about the things that you have to fight for. 'Counter-Clockwise' is about people who you're there for who are against you, because you're there for them. 'That's Love' explains the different concepts of what love is and no matter what you try to do you can't escape it, so you embrace it and you fight for it. It's a recurring theme of things that you fight for because you see the necessity in them."
While the album is largely introspective, Oddisee has clearly still been keeping his eyes on things happening in the world, particularly in Baltimore. Maryland was where Oddisee lived before moving to New York a few years ago, but he stresses the geographical irregularities of the DMV region mean he is definitely not an expert on what the city is currently going through. However, he does see the events as an opportunity to bridge those divides.
"Everyone's asking me, but you have to understand the DMV is a very funny place, where Baltimore is almost an hour away from where I live," says Oddisee. "And the District of Columbia is 15 minutes from where I live. And my family is born and bred in the District of Columbia. And I can count on all of my fingers the times I've been to Baltimore. So I don't want anyone to think I'm some aficionado to speak on it simply because I'm from Maryland. Maryland is one of the smallest states in the United States. We have two area codes — 301 is the people of the DC metropolitan area, 410 is for the rest of the state. There are parts of the state that are two to three hours away from Baltimore and they share an area code.
"Those lines were drawn a long time ago, but it leads back to something interesting — the distance between economic and social environments. And that is something that Baltimore and DC metropolitan areas can relate to. Where I'm from [Prince George's County, MD] is the richest concentration of African Americans in the country, but it's also home to one of the largest economic gaps between rich and poor. Those economic gaps and that concentration of wealth led us to have this inferior-superior complex for Baltimore County, because the residents of Baltimore County were not as affluent as the black residents of Prince George's County, so there's this 'We don't mess with you guys and you don't mess with us' [attitude]. To have that in our own community, then for that same community to be attacked by something on the outside, I feel is one of those things to bring us together in a cause and to realize we have more in common than we think and that we should rally together and fight for a cause."
Oddisee will be touring Canada in May, and you can see those upcoming shows below.
05/12 Toronto, ON - The Rivoli
05/14 Ottawa, ON - The Ritual
05/15 Quebec City - Le Cercle