A conversation with Oddisee

By Jeff Simpson 

June 26, 2014

A product of the DMV area (D.C., Maryland,Virginia) the wordsmith is equal parts engineer crafting complex rhymes atop borderless rhythms. In a state of perennial flux, Oddisee grinds away the hours breathing life into timeless tracks. A zen state of mind and the master of his own universe, Oddisee’s music is pressing beyond the boundaries defining hip hop and is a direct reflection of himself.

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Photo by Radiator PR

In cyclical form, as the artist forges ahead exploring foreign territory to himself subsequently his music grows but with more ebb and flow. Capturing his travels, emotions, and state of mind the musician is both teacher and pupil with refreshing wisdom reaching beyond the production boards.

We at CLTure had the opportunity to Skype with world traveled Oddisee, it went a little something like this…


CLTure: Your style has evolved greatly since you first released 101 in 2008. What have your travels beyond PG (Prince George) county taught you?

Oddisee: My travels have taught me…I know we touched on it yesterday, but I’ll get more in detail. One time I was doing a show in London and I had to take a cab to Heathrow airport and the cab driver was from Turkey, and he started talking to me about travel. Asking me where I’m from and where were all the places I’d been. And he said to me, ‘The world is a big place and when you travel you realize how small it is.’ That’s something I definitely learned, is that in general people are way more similar than they tend to think they are.

C: That’s deep. Thank you for that.

C: Having traveled extensively throughout Europe and the world for the Beauty In All and Tangible Dream tour. Do you struggle to relate to the person or philosophies nurtured by the DMV?

O: No, I don’t think so. That’s something that’s innately in me. That’s where I was raised and that’s where my formative years were spent. So I don’t think I would struggle to relate to them in any way. That’s what comes with me everywhere I go. If anything I’d have a problem relating to people elsewhere.


C: Dig that. Speaking of the DMV, can you tell us about the upcoming Diamond District project, March On Washington, with group members X.O. and Yu?

O: The project should be released in the first week of September, it’s our sophomore album and we set out to kind of rekindle the flame from the first record and innovate and try something new. So we’re looking forward to seeing how it will be received by our fans because we know that a lot of people will definitely be disappointed that it’s not a carbon copy of the first record, but we know that a lot of people will also appreciate the fact that we’re continuing to push ourselves to try and make new music.

C: Most definitely. Who are some other artists you’d like to work with?

O: I’d love to work with Drake, Kanye…Chance the Rapper, Kendrick Lamar…those are a few artists I’d really like to work with.

C: Any mixtapes that stuck out from any of those artists or any artists in particular from last year?

O: I don’t get a chance to seek out a lot of music myself. The majority of what I do come across is given to me by friends and people who insist that I check something out. When I hear a song here or there, I’ll check out a few more songs online and it starts to give me an impression, an idea of the artists that I like. So, I can’t actually remember any of the names of the mixtapes I heard last year but I know those were some of the artists I have been checking for for some time and I’m a big fan of.

C: About your Odd seasons (Spring, Winter, Autumn, Summer) mixtape series, what inspired, or what was the concept behind that idea?

O: I’m a big fan of theme records. I think theme records really inspire people to take an interest in a project versus it being music that was just put into the atmosphere. So I was looking for something to theme the record around and I love to theme my music around emotions and how our environment plays a part in our society. I’m not the first artist to do that. (Antonio) Vivaldi has done that as well…but I wanted to challenge myself to try and interpret a temperature, a climate and a mood all at the same time.


C: That’s dope. Speaking of themed albums and how they inspire people, what are five tracks you wish you could have produced or that inspired you?

O: Marvin Gaye, Here, My Dear; Kendrick Lamar, Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe; Feist, The Bad In Each Other; Drake, Furthest Thing; Sly and The Family Stone, Wishful Thinking

C: Oddisee, you have roots in Sudan, your father being from Omdurman, and in 2010 you produced “Vote” with fellow Sudanese American artist Alsarah for the presidential elections; the first multi-candidate democratic election since 1985. If you wouldn’t mind sharing, how was that experience between your father or family (members)?

O: To be honest, people in my family aren’t very political. They kind of mind their own, take care of their own, so to speak. Politics in Sudan is almost a joke, when you have military regime that’s been in power for more than two decades…people kind of lose sight of expectations of change after awhile. Sudanese culture is a culture very much based on apathy. So it’s no surprise when these “democratic” elections take place, yet the same dictator who seized power so many years ago is still president and he’s wanted for war crimes by the ICC (International Criminal Court). So politics isn’t something anyone in my family gets excited to participate in.

C: Understandable. How would you describe the culture of Sudan in comparison to the US?

O: Sudanese culture, like so many other cultures, is really strong in hospitality and family unity. Family is extremely important in Sudanese culture. I’m as close with cousins as people in the West would be with siblings. There really isn’t even a word for cousin in Arabic, so you grow up with your cousins as if they’re your brothers and sisters. I think that’s a true testament to the closeness of the family and the sacrifices you’re willing to make for one another, that’s something that is very much Sudanese.

C: Dig, and thank you for opening up and sharing that information about your family.

Oddisee, last year you participated in the Red Bull Prodigy project and had the opportunity to collaborate with singer Estere in Auckland, NZ about the halfway mark of your world tour. How was the experience?

O: Working with Estere was great. She’s a sweetheart. It was a collaboration that came about by my favorite clothing brand, they’re out of Auckland. A gentleman who worked at the brand had a mutual contact at Red Bull who inquired him about contacting me. That’s what brought me down to New Zealand to work with Estere. It was a good mix between mentor and prodigy. I really wanted to give her the freedom to create what she wanted, but basically kind of polish it and give her some techniques that could advance her own style. And she was very warm and receptive to taking feedback and criticism. We ended up making about five tracks in the time I was out there and I think we released three so far.


C: You’re known for a rigorous work ethic and ingenuity in crafting your tour schedules, producing collaborations with local artists in cities around the world. To what do you attribute your business savvy?

O: My business savvy definitely comes from my father, he’s a businessman himself and I learned a lot from him…mistakes and achievements. He definitely gave me a sense of how to work for myself and understanding that anything you ask someone else to do, you should know how to do yourself. First, so that they respect you, and two so that they don’t rip you off. So that’s definitely something that’s played a part in my business sense and I definitely attribute fear as well. A fear of normalcy. A fear of working for someone else. A fear of not doing what I love for a living keeps me constantly working.

C: Definitely advice to hold onto and very insightful. Working in the studio for such long hours and touring heavily has to work up an appetite. Working in the studio for such long hours and touring heavily works up an appetite. What is your diet like and how do you maintain that level of energy?

O: My diet’s terrible.

O: Nah, it’s not that bad but I pretty much eat the same things. I wake every morning and have some sort of cereal, yogurt, fruit or coffee usually in the morning. Lunch is pretty even, it involves some sort of sandwich, more fruit, nuts, those types of things. Dinner, anything goes. I eat whatever I want for dinner. I probably should switch that around and eat whatever I want for lunch and then eat better later at night, but I haven’t gotten to that step yet.

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C: That’s what’s up. It’s all a process.

C: If you weren’t making music, what would you want to do or what do you think you’d be doing?

O: If I wasn’t making music I’d probably be working with my father in some shape or form. He moved back to Sudan nine years ago now, and he’s supposed to be retired but he’s very much not. I think I probably would have invested in something back in Sudan. There’s always opportunities there if you know how to look for them.

C: The Washington Redskins play in Landover, Maryland in PG county, and recently the United States Patent Office voted to cancel six of their trademarks due to the name being disparaging to Native Americans. Recently Virginia legislators have proposed a Redskins Pride Caucus. What is your take on the controversy?

O: Although I do disagree with the name and find it inappropriate, I am a person who’s always objective and I always look at both sides of argument just for the sake of a debate. I think that’s what a democracy is, that’s what America’s based on, that anyone can make an argument and a claim for what they believe in and whoever makes the best argument wins. So even though I do find it inappropriate, you wouldn’t want to hear a team called the Washington Yellows and the mascot be Asian or the Washington Blacks and the mascot be black.

So clearly the Washington Redskins is a derogatory name for a team, however people use color to define humanity when we’re talking about unity all the time. We’ll say black, brown, yellow, white and red come together and we’re all one. When it’s time to discuss unity people will colors to represent all and it’s not seen as derogatory or racist, but when it’s pertaining to a team, it is. I definitely see an argument to that because you have team like the Minnesota Vikings.

No one has a problem with Minnesota calling their team the Vikings even though historically they were were rapists, plunderers, looters, robbers, thieves. They were definitely intelligent warriors who conquered a lot of different peoples but at what cost? So if you call your team the Vikings, are you choosing to champion all the positive attributes of a viking because that’s a great name for a team and ignoring the fact that a lot of civilizations were burned to the ground by them. Where does the line stop? And that’s an issue where people become too politically sensitive and I definitely feel that America as a whole is really politically sensitive.

So even though I disagree with the name, there is an argument to keep it.

C: Wow. Again, really insightful. Thank you for expanding the argument to include the Vikings because that’s an unspoken point of contention.

O: Yea, I mean there’s plenty of names that in any context could be taken the wrong way, so where do you start and where do you stop?

C: The film Slam starring Saul Williams (Winner of Sundance Grand Jury Prize, 1998) was filmed in (Washington) D.C. and is the setting of the story, dealing with the effects of drugs, violence and poverty on the community. Have you ever seen the film? If so, being from the area what would you say to someone who hasn’t seen this film and it’s depiction of our nation’s capital, your hometown?

O: I saw the film so long ago, so I can’t speak on it accurately but kind of remember what it was about.
Based on it [Slam] being about D.C. that’s something I can very much talk about. D.C.’s an interesting place where it’s one of the largest economic gaps between rich and poor, but it’s also home to some of the wealthiest African-Americans in the country as far as the D.C., DMV area.

It’s created a lot of opportunities for people who there otherwise wouldn’t be any, but it’s also created a lot of despair and separation within those communities at the same time. It’s definitely a place where extremities breed extremities and you can see that in D.C. You can see how progress for some people can equate for failures at others.

It’s like a petri dish where you can study social and economic relationships and see how they affect the world. You can see it within the city that’s 10 by 10 miles. The segregation from street to street, one side could be wealthy and the other government owned and they live completely different lives though they live right across the street from each other. Those extremities make for an interesting city and that’s what D.C. is. The neighboring areas have some of the highest STD rates in the country but some of the highest statistics for African Americans graduating from universities at the same time.

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C: Thank you for shedding light on that. To round things out, what would you like to be doing with your music in the next five years?

O: Continuing to make a living from it, that’s my prime objective. It has been for quite some time and I don’t see that changing.

C: Is there anything you’d like to say to the people who are coming to the show at Snug Harbor on this Friday, June 27th?

O: Thank you, for listening to my music and coming to my show. I don’t get to tour the South too much. This is my first time performing in Charlotte and I look forward to it.

C: Thank you so much again. The new album (The Beauty In All) is great, we wish you much continued success on the music and hope you have a great show.

O: Much appreciated. Take care.

C: Peace.

Watch the Official Video “Own Appeal” by Oddisee

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