Oddisee Explores Winning Independently On His Own Terms

By Jesse Fairfax

With the exception of Wale and DJ Kool, the District of Columbia hasn’t often been widely represented within Hip-Hop. Mostly known for Go-go legends including Chuck Brown and Rare Essence, rap has taken a backseat as DC is a midpoint between New York and Southern metropolis Atlanta. Though he presently represents Brooklyn, producer/emcee Oddisee carries the DMV on his back with global touring experiences that also go reflected in his music.

Consistently dropping a release every year since his 2012 debut People Hear What They See, Oddisee pushes Hip-Hop forward musically while rooted in soul and remaining true to the art of lyricism. Having played a sizable role in Mello Music Group developing into one of the leading underground labels, his independent grind has made him one of the most exciting underrated acts in the game.

With his latest album The Good Fight just released, Oddisee graciously took time on tour to speak about his work ethic, artistic visions, and most of all what it means to stand for something when success doesn’t easily accompany the road less traveled.

You were basically Mello Music Group’s flagship artist. How has it been to watch them grow to become one of Hip Hop’s leading underground labels?

It’s been a really great experience growing with Mello Music. It’s a very unique label and a lot of the accomplishments they’ve achieved are well deserved. It’s a label that really focuses on quality and quantity, which is something that’s very hard to do.

You moved to New York some time ago. What would you say the differences have been for your career compared to living in the DC area?

There’s no difference really. A city is a city for me, there’s just a closer proximity to things that surround my industry from journalists to photographers and graphic designers. They’re in more of an abundance in New York than in DC, it’s a city that attracts creatives. Outside of that, moving to New York hasn’t had a personal impact on me.

Earlier in your career you took business matters into your own hands rather than having someone do the legwork for you. What was behind that decision?

The only reason I took business matters into my own hands earlier in my career was no one would do these things for me and no one was interested. Promoters weren’t interested in booking me, labels weren’t interested in signing me and artists weren’t interested in working with me. So I made my own beats, recorded myself and booked my own tours until people saw the light and started to take an interest.

With Diamond District you, X.O. and yU are three completely different emcees who come together under one vision. What was behind your decision to form the group?

The answer is actually in that question. We wanted to form a group because we were all different coming from the same city and we wanted to reflect all sides of the coin under one roof.

How would you describe the differences in your styles?

That’s very tough to explain, we just reflect different backgrounds. I come from P.G. (Prince George’s) County, X.O. comes from Uptown Washington, DC and yU is that person that binds us together because he’s floated around the entire DC/Maryland/Virginia metropolitan area, which is why we have the term DMV in the first place. We reflect everything that it means to be from the DC area.

You travel the world touring constantly. What have been some of your favorite places to visit and how have these experiences shaped your music?

I couldn’t really pick a favorite place to visit, they all have very unique qualities. I can’t really recall any specific things that have had an impact on me, but being in new environments around new people is enough for me.

You were putting in a lot of work beforehand, but what took so long to drop your formal debut with 2012’s People Hear What They See?

Honestly, I was just very busy making records for other artists and releasing other projects. I never really focused on myself as an emcee, I just worked on the record over time until enough tracks accumulated to be an album, and once it got to that point I decided to release it.

Since then you’ve dropped something every year with you rapping on it. What has inspired you to go so hard?

Seeing that people were interested in hearing me as a lyricist opened up an avenue that I didn’t explore previously. So once that avenue was open, I wanted to continue to use it.

Tangible Dream was a project released as a bonus to the all instrumental The Beauty In All. What was behind the decision to not call it an official album on its own?

I was at a point where I had to go on tour but I didn’t have a new record out and I couldn’t exactly tour with an instrumental record. I had to come up with music to tack on, so that when I went on tour there was something vocally to promote. The instrumental album was the priority, if anyone notices I always release a vocal and an instrumental album once a year. I had to very quickly create Tangible Dream, I think I did so within a month.  

A big theme in your music is standing for something as a man and an artist. How do you manage to cultivate an audience while taking the road less traveled?

I think there’s a lot of people that share the same mindset of going against the grain, doing things for yourself, understanding the bigger picture and finding happiness within their own perspective and not some broad sense. That’s really what I embody as an artist and what my music represents, so I guess people who share that same sentiment gravitate towards that message and that sound.

With each album you’ve displayed growth from being more than just an emcee and a producer, you’re developing into a musician. What was it that made you want to go in new directions with your art?

I couldn’t say there was anything that consciously made me go a certain direction. Music is very organic for lack of a better word, you just evolve over time and if you started at one point hopefully you’re not at that point in years to come, you just naturally advance.

Coming from DC, it’s a live music based city where we prefer live instrumentation over DJs and coming from a generation of samplers and listening to original records that are live instrument based, you start to have an appreciation for it outside of just sampling it. You want to be a part of it, creating your own perspectives and melodies. For the sound of music that I do, it was just a natural progression. There wasn’t anything conscious to it.

A lot of your projects are fully executed visions. If you could do a whole album with anyone who would it be?

Kevin Drew and the other producers of Feist and Broken Social Scene, I would love for them to produce an album for me. They’re truly dynamic, I love their soundscapes and dynamics.

I know The Good Fight just dropped but where do you see yourself headed from here musically?

Everyday I’m being inspired by something else. I’m currently driving from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Denver, Colorado and I’ve never made that drive before. I have no idea what the inspiration from what I look at through the window will bring when I get back to the studio or pull my laptop out to start making beats. I don’t know what’s next, but I’m completely open to evolution and change.

Finally what would you say is the mark you want to leave on the world with your music?

Music that’s just timeless. I just want to leave music that the generations to come can use as a reference to a moment in time and history, reflecting current affairs, society, and life lessons. Anyone who can see themselves within my music, I hope it remains a constant reflection for them.

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