At a time when most of the trendy U.S. MC’s are simply spanking big butts with wads of cash on bitchiz while rapping on horrendous instrumentals, others are performing a remarkable comeback to roots. Amir Mohamed El Khalifa aka Oddisee is one of those few stubborn. Since 2005, the talented MC and Beatmaker from Washington has been marking the Hip Hop with his own stamp. His beats, with a hint of soul and jazz and breathtaking punchlines, quickly became a true reference in the HipHop scene. This escalated rapidly, to the level of working in t he studio with some of the heavyweights such as Talib Kweli, Apollo Brown, DJ Jazzy Jeff with whom he produced the hit “Musik Lounge”. However, it was only in 2008 that Oddisee really started to establish his status of genius from the underground. He joined the label Mello Music Group and produced the classic “Make a Song For That”. In 2012, the artistic maturity flourishes. It’s after a good year of work that Oddisee presents his first real solo album “People Hear What They See”. This was a revival, with more funky instrumentals, as well as more thoughtful lyrics with the only aim of bringing the people together. A bit like his idol and biggest inspiration, a certain Marvin Gaye ...
Jacker / Why Oddisee ?
Oddisee / I chose the name when I was very young. It means journey. It’s from Omer’s book “ The Oddisee ” from Greece. And I just like the meaning of journey. I want the people to go on a journey when they listen to my music. That’s how the name came about.
J / You grew up in a musical family. Tell us a bit about your youth.
O / My family was from different backgrounds. My father is from the Sudan, my mother is African-American from Washington DC. Her family originally comes from deeper in the south, in the farms. So there are a lot of different influences of music, from arabic music to east and north african music, to soul, funk and blues. It was all played in my house at the same time.
J / Even though you do both, do you feel more like an MC or a beat-maker ?
O / I got asked this question a lot, and the honest truth is fifty-fifty. When I make a good beat, it makes me want to make a good roam. When I make a good « roam », it makes me want to make a good beat. So it is the same feeling.
J / You are considered to be a pacifist rapper. “ Drop beats, not bombs ” . Is that your Hiphop philosophy ?
O / I would definitely side with using logical reasoning, to solve problems first before violence. I don’t think that there is something that I can’t consciously try to do in my music, but... I’m definitly a rapper that wants to incorporate logical reasoning, rationality and understanding you know... Including human characteristics in my music, positive ones. The kind of things that makes us special.
J / You released something like 15 projects in these past seven years. Do you stop sometimes ?
O / I stop all the time actually. Because of technology, I can make music everywhere. A bit earlier I sat here on this chair and made a track. And then I can upload it on the internet, sell it, and the money comes into my account. Then I can go buy some shoes. So... “laughs”, I constantly work but I don’t feel like I’m working at the same time.
J / “ People hear what they see ” is your last solo album. Which direction did you want to give it ?
O / I wanted to bring musicality back to Hiphop. Hiphop has been reduced to being a product, and not an art form. From the lyrics to the beat, I wanted to add more instrumentation, orchestration, more layers with the lyrics. I didn’ t want to do any type of lyrics that were obvious, tricks to impress people but more subtle meaning. Lyrics with layers, lyrics with metaphors, lyrics with similes, lyrics that you have to listen to 3,4 times to understand the head and meaning to everything. And that has the art and the poetry back to the music that I miss. That was my main goal with the album.
J / Tell us more about the DMV.
O / The DMV, the district of Columbia, is shaped like a perfect diamond. It’s perfect all the way around. It’s not a real state. It’s just a district that doesn’t belong to any state. But the states that it sits in between are D.C, Maryland, and Virginia. So any of the parts of Maryland and Virginia are borders, D.C is considered as the DMV. We have the same accent, we listen to the same music. We have a similar style of dress. Our culture is the same. Rather D.C, Maryland or Vir- ginia, it’s near D.C. We realized this over time, and we become one culture.
J / Imagine you are on a flowing boat and your whole vinyl collection is on board. You can save only one record. Which one would it be ?
O / “ I want you by ” Marvin Gaye. Definitely, it would be the record I would save. Marvin is a huge inspiration for me. Marvin had an ability to give people a message but he didn’t go away from being entertaining. He had the ability to entertain you but not to be mindless at the same time. And his musicality had so many different layers. So, it’s such a complete record to me. All his work is so complete to me. But that one is specific.
J / You did a lot of dates in Europe. How is the European public ?
O / I love doing shows in Europe. The crowds are very warm and receptive. Not all the time, but most of the time (laughs). And it’s great to share a connection with people whom I don’t understand the same language. You know, most Europeans I come across speak very good english. But lyrics are a completly different thing. You know, even if I go to England, they speak the same language as me, but the way we use the language is different. So, it’s interesting to connect with the people that hear your music beyond your words. So, you have to connect with them through a different way, through the tone of your voice, through the beats and it make me a better artist you know. I love coming here and performing.
O / A last message to all Hiphop fans ?
O / My last album “ People hear what they see ” is now available. Please give it a listen. I promise you’ll like it. And continue listening and love Hiphop in general, not just mine.