BrooklynBodega.com’s OVER-THE-HILL GANG salutes: Oddisee
Similar to legendary pro football coach George Allen’s 1970s era guide to greatness, BrooklynBodega.com’s Editorial Chief Marcus Dowling and Music Editor Marcus J. Moore will name the Over-the Hill Gang: overlooked, under-appreciated and still viable talents in rap music who could lead the music industry to increased unit sales and renewed financial equity. There are places in music that will tell you that it’s all about the young, the freshman rhymers whose fresh faces and fresh voices should provide intriguing avenues to success. But we believe that while they are talented, rap is a diluted field these days. The internet and social media have whittled away attention spans and talent pools, leaving us with no other option but this. In finding veteran rhymers who remember the days when it was the content of your rhymes and not the appearance of your Twitter profile verification check that mattered, we’re finding the best equipped performers to guide rap music deep into the 21st century. By providing heroic standards by which young emcees can judge their talent and improve their skill, the Over-the-Hill Gang can leap rap music and hip-hop culture to the championship of dominating pop music with quality material, and beyond.
Hip-hop was built on the not-so-humble brag: whose kicks are fresher, whose chain is the brightest, and whose rhymes are the dopest. It’s a comparative perspective from which our pioneers have come, born out of the ashes of downtrodden circumstances. It’s the reason why KRS-ONE and MC Shan fought over the birthplace of hip-hop, and why RUN-DMC pulled the laces from its Adidas. In its infancy, hip-hop was a carefree genre of flashy excess, its players a petulant collection of misfit toys.
Though who could blame them? Hip-hop came from nothing and quickly became the voice of the inner city, its residents and its foundation wilting under a stifling crack epidemic. But while the music was rife with social commentary–we still see Melle Mel’s broken glass–rappers have grown more insular as the genre has grown more popular. The broken glass gave way to Diddy’s shiny suit. We no longer say “fuck the police” as much as we say “fuck hoes” and sell crack. If nothing else, hip-hop was once far more attainable. Sure, RUN-DMC and LL Cool J had the fresh gear, but the brands were still affordable. How many people do you know with a new pair of Kanye’s?
That makes an artist like Oddisee all the more interesting. In a field where books are judged by their covers, Oddisee doesn’t even resemble an MC. From his wide glasses to his unassuming demeanor, the Sudanese-American native of Washington, DC now residing in Brooklyn, NY looks more academic than b-boy. While other rappers spend time reveling in their accomplishments, Oddisee mentions them with a confident assuredness, shrugging at the accolades as if they’re supposed to happen. If rap was the NBA, Odd’s game would resemble that of Tim Duncan’s: the fundamentally-gifted guy with a laundry list of accolades, quietly getting it done night-in and night-out. While some of his peers crave the spotlight, Odd shies away from it with a yeoman’s approach, letting the work speak for itself.
That’s also worked to his detriment, though. While Odd has made certain strides since the 2012 release of his proper solo debut, People Hear What They See, there’s still a sense that he isn’t on yet. There’s a feeling that he’s still on the cusp of greater shine, and that folks need to catch up, even as his fan base continues to grow. Yet Odd probably wants it that way. He rhymes for nostalgia’s sake, back when Big Wheels ruled the playgrounds and Sunday dinners were a thing. “I do it for the innocence of it still,” Odd reflects on “That Real.” “I mean, innovation’ll get cha recognition/But ‘keep it real’ is really code for the check is missing.” Sadly, he’s right. Though rappers can create something in hopes of standing out, by and large, they aren’t the ones eating.
Make no mistake, Oddisee is eating. Long before he rapped about the struggles of artistic integrity, Odd made a great name as one of D.C.’s best composers, his skills cultivated within Kev Brown’s formidable Low Budget crew. In the early days, Odd’s blend seemed to continue that of J Dilla’s: a mix of prominent drums and obscure soul samples gave his music a smoky, nostalgic feel. Raised in Largo, Md., his cadence carries D.C.’s distinctive drawl, which isn’t quite Southern and not too Northern. Much like his peers Kokayi and Asheru, Oddisee performed hip-hop in a town where go-go was king, where the clatter of congas were far more resonant than the banging of 808s. Perhaps on purpose then, Oddisee built a reputation on his own terms, providing an alternative to the main streams of popularity. That, combined with his wise humility, quickly made him a big fish in a small D.C. pond. There was a magnetic quality to the music. Above all, it was attainable.
Maybe that’s why Odd is still a bit unappreciated. He creates practical music for adults, the likes of which you won’t hear on the radio or see on TV. And while he’s a shrewd businessman, Odd mostly keeps a low profile and won’t provide bulletin board material for gossip blogs. Oddisee makes tremendous music for a tremendous class of everyday people: folks who work hard to pay bills, would much rather hit the Trader Joe’s than the carry-out, and who don’t mind staying home on a Friday night because the clubs aren’t appealing. However, unlike his fan base, it’s not like Odd is as entirely content as his music would lead you to assume. On “Do It All,” for instance: “I’m tryna make the world know me, stack Gs yet be low-key/Get paper with my brothers like the majors, but we so free.” Here’s hoping the world gets hip. Anything less is a damn shame.