Being a writer in the age of the internet isn’t easy—especially if you write about hip-hop. Many times you’re forced to write about artists or topics you just don’t connect with for a check. Other times, the pieces you love and dedicated alot of time and research to sit in the drafts just waiting to see the light of day.
With the shutdown of sites like DNAinfo and Gothamist, it reminded me of how those nights you stayed up with anxiety trying to make a deadline, your interviews, your emotions, your work and words can all be erased with just a click. When WatchLOUD shutdown last year, some of my best and most authentic work went with it. WatchLOUD was the first place I was encouraged to write about what I wanted and not clickbait.
Thanks to a few search engines and my former coworker, I was able to retrieve most of the work I thought was lost in the depths of the interwebs. I’ll be sharing some of my favorite WatchLOUD pieces on here weekly.
Thank you for reading.
Originally published on May 20th, 2016.
Rapper and producer Oddisee offers a master class in turning the box you’re placed in into a lucrative comfort zone.
Oddisee is a simple man and a minimalist at heart. The D.C. born and PG bred MC doesn’t listen to any of his own music, keeps no memorabilia, and couldn’t care less about a Grammy nom. His latest instrumental EP, The Odd Tape takes listeners on a sonic journey of his day-to-day life. Though he’s typically stereotyped as a “vegan eating backpack conscious rapper,” Oddisee is the complete opposite. In an interview with WatchLOUD, the MC and producer opened up about his simple lifestyle, how the DMV has influenced his sound, being a gentrifier and more. Check it out below:
WL: First of all, how’s your tour going? You’re in Jacksonville right?
Oddisee: I am in Jacksonville, yeah. So far so good. No complaints, the crowds have been amazing. It’s been a good run thus far. We’re just getting started though. I think today… Today is show number what? Show number 6 out of 29.
WL: How do you handle traveling, everyday?
That’s very funny. I just made an Instagram post about that exact same question. Having a routine is extremely important. I use applications to help me where I wanna eat to get all the comforts of home. Having that routine makes sure that no matter where I am, I always feel like I’m at home.
WL: That’s dope, I was watching a video you did on packing before you went on tour and you’re also really into coffee right?
I am. I am. I bring my own coffee with me and I use like Yelp and Google Maps to find places with good reviews and ratings and figure out where I want to go. No matter where I’m at, I tend to find the things that I like and appreciate. Then I feel more at home no matter where I’m at.
WL: Speaking of home, you’re from Prince George’s County?
Born in D.C. Raised in PG, Lived in D.C. I lived in Northeast and then I moved to New York.
WL: In 2009, you made a song called “Gentrification” about the beginning of gentrification in D.C. I’m not sure if you’ve been to D.C. recently, but it looks completely different from when it did back in 2009/2010. How do you feel about gentrification now?
Um, gentrification is happening all over the country, all over the world. You know, resources are limited. Money is limited. People want to save a dollar and they’ll move anywhere it takes in order to do that. D.C. is a hyper version of gentrification because there’s not even an attempt to integrate or fuse together the past and present. Theres no preservation of the past, whatsoever. And D.C. is morphing itself from being a “typical East coast” city into what feels more and more like a post reconstructed southern or midwestern city. Where there’s practically no one of ones of anything left. It’s more like franchises. Anyone who has an establishment in D.C., their goal is to have at least five of them. So, it’s sucking the unique quality out of D.C. which is really the sad thing.
On the good side of it, there’s a lot of neighborhoods that were deemed unsafe to walk in or live in that are now habitable. But, the people who had to endure those neighborhoods when they were at their worst can no longer even afford to live there. It’s something that’s typical that’s happening across the country. It hits me at home personally because that’s where I’m from. But, it’s something that’s happening everywhere.
WL: But, you personally get it in both places too because Brooklyn is another place that’s getting gentrified as well. So it’s like you’re getting it in D.C. and in Brooklyn at the same time.
Brooklyn is definitely being gentrified. From the time I moved to Bedstuy to now, you definitely see more and more people moving into the neighborhood —who no longer live there because they have to but they live there because they want to. And that’s something that as I’ve gotten older I understand that: true gentrification isn’t about race, it’s about economics and money. It just so happens that a lot of the people who can afford to buy a place are not minorities. It’s not exclusive to them.
Because I had to look at myself and fast forward after writing that song [“Gentrification”] years later and realize that I, too, am a gentrifier. But, there’s differences now that I understand. Me moving into Bedstuy wasn’t because I couldn’t live anyplace else in New York. It was because I wanted more space for my dollar and I got it. And, I don’t eat food at the carryout every night. I don’t shop at a bodega. I do go to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for my meals. I do like coffee from cafes and these are all of the things that you would associate with a gentrifier.
But, the difference for me is: I am friendly with my neighbors, I do speak to them. I’m not trying to shut down their local establishments. More importantly, I moved to Brooklyn, NYC. There’s going to be fights, loud conversations on the street corner, and music playing from cars and apartment windows. That’s what comes with that city. I’m not gonna move in because it’s cheaper because of that environment and then call the police every five minutes for noise ordnance. And then shut down the very thing that adds color to that neighborhood and to that city and change it and make it bland.
And that’s something that I have a fundamental problem with. When people move into the city and they actually change it. The very same reason why they moved away from their quaint little cul-de-sac in the suburbs, they actually change it. And that mom and pop store gets shut down and replaced by a franchise. And the subwoofers get moved out of the venue, and the bar has to shutdown music at 10PM and etc. These are all the same things that you moved there for then you end up destroying it. That’s what I have a problem with.
But nevertheless, I too am a gentrifier.
WL: That’s a great point. A lot of people don’t necessarily think like that. We tend to think that because we’re the same color and move someplace with people who look like us, we’re not a part of the problem.
Aw, you are. [Laughs] If you’re paying the price of a one bedroom to have three roommates, and you’re paying upward of $1000 a month to have roommates, you’re a part of the problem. Because you’re encouraging a system that allows people to pay insane amounts of money just to live somewhere that really is unfit, really needs a renovation. We’re all contributing to that but we think cause we’re the same color that we’re not. But we are, you know?
WL: Yeah, I understand that. I was listening to your song “Strength & Weakness” and I got a few go-go vibes from it, at least in the drums. How has being from the DMV played a part in your music?
The DMV has played a heavy part into my music. From subject matter, being so close to the of politics, to Go-Go music being our local form of music, the swing of my drums and the live percussions like feel of my drums. It all comes from being from the D.C. area.
WL: Is there anybody from the D.C. area that you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to? Like Logic, Goldlink, or Backyard Band even?
[Laughs] Um, that’s a good question.
WL: I noticed that you’ve made multiple attempts to work with Wale. Not only would that be great for the DMV area, but you guys are both great musicians. I was wondering if there is anyone outside of Wale that you would like to work with…
I would love to work with anybody from my hometown. Anybody. Anybody who’s taking music serious, making a name for themselves, and doing great things from my area; I would love to work with anyone. Logic, Wale, Phil-Ade, Raheem DeVaughn, etc. Goldlink, I’d love to work with anybody.
WL: Thats dope. Now in August, Rock Creek Park turns 5. Are you going to do anything special to commemorate the anniversary of that project?
[Laughs] No, not at all. I have no nostalgia in me whatsoever. I put a record out, I barley listen to it after I release it. Unless I gotta practice words for it for a show. I don’t even listen to my own music. I’m not really a nostalgic person. I don’t have my own records on my walls. I don’t even have my own records. I don’t have a single copy of my own collection.
WL: Why is that?
I’m just not a person who lives in the past really. I don’t see anything wrong with those who do. But, I’m just thinking forward all the time. If I collected every record I had, every flyer, and every tour poster, I’d have to get a whole other room to keep all of that stuff in. And for what? I’m the one who made it. It’s all in my head.
WL: Right so once it’s out of your head, it’s…
Yeah, yeah. I don’t have a connection with my music like that. I don’t listen to my music and say “Oh, I was here when I made that.” I don’t give a shit, I just put it out and I make what I make in the moment and I keep it moving.
It’s weird cause people tell me all the time how connected they are to Rock Creek Park and stuff. And I think that’s beautiful, I don’t have that myself. You know? The memories that made me make Rock Creek Park are what I have in my head, not the music. But actually having that cookout in the park with my family or my mother teaching me how to ride my bike for the first time in Rock Creek Park. Or, taking a date and riding through the park, stuff like that. Those memories play in my head constantly. But the music that came from it doesn’t.
WL: That’s a great way to think of it. It’s kinda like a “Out of my head and into the paper or into the mic” type deal.
Yeah, yeah. I’m not a very nostalgic person to be very honest with you. I’ve never had a birthday celebration in my life. I’ve never commemorated anything. I don’t invite friends and family to see me accept some speech or…
Nah, not at all. I’m the son of an immigrant. We work hard and keep quiet. [Laughs]
WL: I can understand that. I have a few friends who don’t celebrate birthdays either from Sudan. I know you’re Sudanese as well. And they’re like “Yeah, we don’t do that.”
Yeah. We don’t understand the concept of that. You were born once, that day is gone. [Laughs] You know? You weren’t born once a year. And January 1st marks the New Year. I don’t need another reminder that there’s a new year. We all turn whatever age we turn whenever that year comes around. I don’t know, I’m not gonna shit on it because people are into that. But, I wasn’t raised with that concept, it’s foreign to me.
WL: That’s understandable. Now on The Good Fight — which is one album that I’m personally connected to— you were rapping about whatever that happens on a daily basis. So it was like relationships to working. Everything…
Thank you for understanding that by the way. I appreciate that. Most journalists didn’t. They thought the whole record was about an underground rapper fighting against the mainstream. Because that’s the box I get put in. But it wasn’t, it was about actual life. It’s very rare for me to hear people actually get that, I appreciate it.
WL: I was going through the same things that were happening on the album, which is why I was so connected to it. But with the theme of that album, will your forthcoming album that’s dropping in the fall have a similar theme or a new one?
Nearly every record I put out is always themed. Rock Creek Park was themed after the park. Traveling Man was themed after travels. Odd Seasons was themed after the seasons. The Beauty in All was themed after finding beauty in the smaller things rather than the bigger picture. Every record I’ve put out has a theme. My next solo album will have a theme as well. My next instrumental album, The Odd Tape, is also themed based. It’s basically a day in the life put to music.
WL: Oh, that’s what I felt when I was listening to it too! It just feels like it takes you through the whole day to night feel.
Exactly. That’s the whole… The theme to that is a day in the life put to music. Then my next solo album will also be a themed record as well.
WL: Do you have a title for that yet or are you still working on it?
I do. I do, it’s tentative right now. It’s been the same title for the past six months. But recently, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been wanting to change it. So, let’s hold off on talking about that. [Laughs]
WL: [Laughs] Okay, how are you able to balance being on tour and creating new music at the same time? Or do you already have your music done and you’re just fine tuning by the time you’re on tour?
For the most part, I’m just fine tuning when I’m on the road. But, I do work a lot when I’m on the road. I’ve had two days off in Jacksonville and I’ve been working on music in the hotel. We’ll have four and five hour car rides and my headphones will be on and I’ll be in the seat working on music. I gotta take a flight to New York tomorrow for one show in Brooklyn and then I gotta fly back to Florida the next day after to reconvene with my band and continue our tour. I’ll be working on music on that flight.
WL: Oh, wow…
I just keep a normal pace. Nothing too crazy, you’ll be surprised. You know if I work for four hours in a day, that flight take two hours or three hours and I’ll work for an hour and a half. I’m not a work machine, I just work smart. Yeah, I don’t work hard. I work smart.
WL: You were saying earlier how people typically put you in this box of “backpack rapper/conscious” rapper. But, I went to your show a few months ago in Brooklyn and you performed the trap version of “Want Something Done” It was even better than the original.
WL: Are you going to release that anytime soon?
Yeah, everybody was asking me to put that out. It was supposed to come out on the Alwasta EP but I had such short time constraints. I couldn’t record it in time. But um, I think I will. I think I wanna play around with a lot of ideas. I might even do a whole trap EP and release it for free this summer.
WL: That was going to be my next question! You are a producer too and you’re very well versed. You don’t put yourself in a box even though most do. So when I heard your trap version and your flow, I was surprised. It’s not like you trying to sound like anyone else. It’s your sound with you on it.
Right, I might do that this summer. I just feel like having fun this summer. So, I think I’ma get into a whole bunch stuff. The Alwasta EP is just the beginning of free releases until my solo album comes out.
WL: Speaking of the Alwasta EP, you gave that out for free. There’s a lot of talk going on about if the Grammys should start considering free eps and free albums for awards. What do you think about that?
You have to care about the Grammys first to care about if they should consider free releases. I don’t give a damn about the Grammys or any award show. I just don’t care. It means nothing to me. The people who subscribe to my music and support my music, they don’t really care about the Grammys either. And you have to ask yourself: as a minority, as a hip-hop artist; we all understand how Grammys are and how they’re elected. There’s a board of people who sign up— most of them aren’t really interested in rap music to begin with— they select from other genres, and then they have to pick a winner for a hip-hop category. When most of these people who select aren’t interested in rap music. So, it’s a popularity contest. And then they announce someone who wins and then we’re all supposed to congratulate them for winning this award. Why? I don’t get it. I don’t know.
My shows are sold out. My records are selling. I make a living from music. Why do I need an award from some committee on the hill who doesn’t know anything about my culture? Why do they validate my success? I’ve never subscribed to it and never will. If I won a Grammy, “Yeah, thanks.” But…
WL: [Laughs] But it’s not important.
Nah, nah it’s not. Just making a living from music is important to me. Nothing has gotten in the way of me doing that thus far so I don’t really care about much else. Magazines, interviews, radios… I don’t care. I do them, but they have no control over my career.
WL: [The Grammys] aren’t the pinnacle of your musical career to you…
Nah, not at all. Lord knows not a Grammy. [Laughs]
WL: So what would be?
I don’t know, I make a living from music. Like a really good living from music. I wake up when I want, I sleep when I want. I eat what I want when I want. I travel the world and go wherever I want to go… What else…
What is success? It should be defined by the individual. Success should be defined by the individual. Not by a committee, not by a group of people selected to deem you worthy. I just don’t have any time for that. ‘Cause I’ll never have those. I’ll never going to be a top 40 artist. I’m not gonna win a Grammy. I’m not going to have those things. But, I will make a living from music. I will support my family from my craft and I wont have it any other way. Nothing’s going to stop that.
WL: That’s a great outlook on that. Even for personal life, that’s beautiful outlook: to define your own success, instead of thinking of what other people define success as.
WL: You’re on tour with Good Compny. Would you ever consider doing a live album?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I think it’s in the works, we’ll start on it soon.
WL: With the live band, it just fits perfectly. A lot of artists are afraid of using bands because they think it’s going to take away from them. But, you guys compliment each other very well.
I think I’m at an unfair advantage, me being a producer/MC. I have more of a relationship with the musicians playing my music because they’re the ones who’ve been playing the music on the albums also. They’re my longterm friends. Our relationship is completely different. We were friends for years before we formed a band. They were already playing on my songs individually before we formed a band. So, it was natural.
WL: It’s better when it’s just natural, instead of pretending for it to be something that it’s not.
WL: I was watching your Hot 97 interview, you were saying you wanted to work with Stalley. Has that collaboration happened already?
Yeah, it hasn’t happened yet. It’s totally my fault. I hope he reads this and knows that I’m on it. I’ve just been working way too hard. [Laughs] Yeah, I gotta send him some beats. We’ve been talking back and forth. And the ball is truly on my side of the court. He reached out, he’s ready to go. I just haven’t sent the tracks yet because I haven’t had enough time to make an excess. Because I’ve had to work on so many of my own things. But, I’m getting there.
WL: Would it be a collaborative EP or would you just do production?
I think from my understanding, he just wanted production from me. I don’t think he wanted to collaborate with me. I think he just wanted production. Most people prefer my beats over my rhymes and I’m okay with that. [Laughs.]
WL: Is that because they’re intimidated by your rhymes or…?
I wouldn’t… I… I don’t know. I wouldn’t say so. I think they just like my beats more than my rhymes. I don’t know. [Laughs]
WL: I noticed on The Good Fight you used no profanity. You mentioned that cursing was holding you back from your money. Can you explain what you meant by that?
Sure. Hip-hop is getting older. So we’re now getting to the point where there’s a generation gap between parent and child is lessened. Whereas when we were children, what our parents listened to and what we listened to were vastly different. So now we’re getting to an age where you’ve got parents who are 30, 35, 40, 45. And if you rewind the clock back 15 to 20 years, they grew up listening to rap music. So you now have mother, father and child in the car together listening to the same genre of music which is very new when it comes to rap. As a result, you have families who want to continue listening to rap but don’t want rap with profanity around their children.
So, thats one aspect.
Then, I make a good portion of my living from music licenses. And you’re open to more opportunities in music licensing if there’s no profanity in your music. By removing it, I found myself being able to do all ages shows—where my demographic is now 16 years old to 45. And they’re all in the crowd together . Where my music is being licensed for commercials, documentaries, video games, etc. Because its safe to use.
I also got myself put in a nice category of being a “safe” rap artist. So, when it’s corporate events or performing in a museum or offices, I’m now a go-to artist to be used for those things because I’m a safe example to display rap as a genre without the profanity or all the things that people [use] to dismiss it. Though our messages may be the same. It’s very simple. If I say, “I fucking hate the system.” An older person will be like “Cut that off, it’s nothing but profanity.” But, if you take that out and say “I hate the system.” The message didn’t change. It’s just that people unfortunately focus on one word or a specific word and then that allows them to ignore the message. Even though the message is identical. Realizing that, it just put me in a different category that I’m eligible for as far as shows, licensing, and sales. And that’s what I meant like profanity was holding me back as a business.
I still use profanity in my day to day life, all the time. But, I don’t use it on songs because it’s just better for the genre and better for me financially.
WL: That makes a lot of sense. It’s kind of ironic…People put you in this conscious box, but don’t realize that you’re in a whole new realm when you don’t curse on music anymore. You’re not only more marketable but you’re able to get into other audiences when you just stop using certain words.
And it’s hilarious. I get put in these boxes and people think I’m this non-profanity using vegetarian. When I’m someone fucking up wings as we speak. [Laughs] But, I guess. I don’t know. I guess I’m a little bit too much to understand for a lot of people so to make me understandable. I get put into boxes that they already know exist. I’m the struggling underrated conscious rapper. [Laughs]
WL: How do you feel about streaming?
I love it. I love it. I’m looking forward to the day when there is no physical music. Because, I would rather everything be available for streaming or for digital download. I’m a minimalist at heart, I’m always looking towards the future in possessing less things. That’s a part of my over all ethos is possessing less.
Streaming is fine by me. I have a very vast catalog that’s all registered to my publishing. I have my publishing account set up and a direct deposit and I can see the streaming revenue into my account every two months. I’m fine with it. Let people get music how they want to get it. They wanna stream it. They wanna purchase it on vinyl or CD, have the freedom. Why be anti anything you’re not into? If you don’t like streaming, don’t stream. Buy the vinyl. If you don’t like the vinyl, don’t buy the vinyl buy the CD. I don’t even have a CD drive anymore. We spend too much time telling everybody else how to live.