Turning on an Oddisee record is much like stepping out into the street. My first taste of Oddisee’s music came in the form of “Own Appeal”: a sugary guitar loop held up by subtle drums and echoes of CRU vocals. As the beat began to dig inside my head, Amir Mohammed (Oddisee) stepped out his DC apartment and handed me wisdom.
“I never asked to be born, and death’s no question
The sun’s still shining off the same old lessons
Then why does life feel like an educated guess and
My thoughts are like meals I’m a sucker for the seconds”
His voice was passionate yet held back. The way Amir delivers his lyrical content is reminiscent to the the 80’s KRS-One. That is not to say he’s dated, rather he manages to keep a foot in the golden era of hip hop while simultaneously exploring new flows and styles. Oddisee is an exceptional example of an artist showing meaningful growth overtime. Even when looking at his 2011 release Mental Liberation, and then Tangible Dream in 2013, the amount of sonic evolution is stunning. Going from boom bap, Amir has grown a lot as a person, and he lets that show in his music—sometimes quite blatantly, as in his collab track with labelmate ‘Toine.
“I’m in the house more thus I’m out less
I’m less concerned with rocking fits that ain’t out yet
I’m still about fresh
But not my tennis shoes more about my fruit and vegs”
Oddisee, through his music, embodies maturity, owning up to mistakes without donning a know it all attitude. However, he’s not some old head kicking knowledge from a rocking chair. His aesthetic is closer to a man who’s seen the world, watched people go about their lives, and is now sharing a slice of his perception. Which isn’t far from his reality. Amir gets his musical inspiration from the streets.
What I mean by streets isn’t your classic rap-trope-toting MC ‘repping the hood’ or ‘keeping it real’. In fact, on “The Real” Amir ponders if, “keeping it real is really just code for the check is missing.”—because most rappers that carry that banner of ‘being real’ are usually struggle rapping. No, when Oddisee talks about his roots he speaks about his father’s experience as a Sudanese immigrant and how it’s influenced his way of thinking. When Amir refers to ‘the streets’ his approach isn’t as an MC but as a poet and flâneur.
Oddisee writes all of his rhymes while walking the streets of whatever city he’s in. His strategy is to create a beat in the morning and then walk around the city, jotting down rhymes on his phone. In this sense, Amir becomes a flâneur, taking the back seat and allowing the world to continue moving. Observing a phenomenon one is a part of by stepping back is what gives Oddisee—and any flaneur—an unique perspective. As Edmund White points out in The Flaneur: A Stroll Through The Paradoxies of Paris, embarking on aimless journeys often leads to unique discoveries. It opens the individual up to new ideas and experiences which is why Oddisee has matured so much and expanded his musical comfort zone; mixing soul samples with bird chirps. Drawing from this bohemian mind-state, Amir has kept an open mind to his music allowing himself to try out different flows and reel in hegemonic hip hop tropes; more basic rhyme schemes, bland/overdone topics, and a lack of personal awareness.
When one examines the structure of Oddisee’s rhymes it’s interesting to see how they build off a single point. They branch out from a focal point, meaning that in Amir’s case function follows form. The themes he conjures are more often than not something on the street that catches his eye. It’s in this way that Amir lets you tag along and be a flâneur vicariously. When Cesar Graña analyses Bohemia in The Ideological Significance of Bohemian Life, he mentions that often times a bohemian will try and absorb the art they view and merge it with their lives: making their personality an art of it’s one. Oddisee is, in fact, a prism for the art he absorbs. However, Amir doesn’t just sonically reflect what he sees in the streets, he tweaks it and adds his personality. It’s like getting a secondhand novel covered in random notes that may or may be pertinent to the next reader.
Amir begins His track American Greed, “When George Bush took the oil from the soil / I was in front of the counter buying some milk, from the Arabs”—effectively turning his grocery run into a discussion of George Bush’s oil-happy foreign policy. I use the word ‘discussion’ because Amir never preaches to the listener; he is always opening up a conversation. In “American Greed” he doesn’t want the listener to feel hate towards the government, rather reflect on how you’ve been affected by the type of society’s. When I listen to Oddisee I can easily see myself sitting at a street-side cafe with him as he reminisces on the wisdom he’s picked up along his way.
Bohemian adaptation is rare in hip hop, but when it happens, in cases like Oddisee’s, it cultivates a special creative spirit within the artist. A bohemian would always keep an open mind to new experiences and cultures. A flâneur wouldn’t just tolerate, rather take in whatever culture they come across and so Amir’s content is just as such: scaffolded by different time eras and ideologies all interlocking seamlessly.