That’s when Oddisee (born Amir Mohamed) decided to open up a little more: He didn’t invent a persona; he simply adopted a new philosophy. “Don’t fabricate what you are. Simply put a magnifying glass to what you are and blow it up for everyone to see,” he said on a recent Saturday afternoon outside Petworth’s Qualia Coffee. “And that’s when everything changed for me.”
The last few years of Oddisee’s career have played out as perfectly as possible for an independent musician. He has let his personality come to the forefront of his music, has established his own personal brand and is enjoying the greatest success of his decade-long career. He lives comfortably yet modestly off his music and makes no artistic compromises.
After increasing his profile with the D.C.-based trio Diamond District (featuring fellow local MCs X.O. and yU) Oddisee experienced a surprise, word-of-mouth hit with his 2011 album “Rock Creek Park.” Listeners were drawn to its lush arrangements, soulful melodies and breezy production. And that’s all they were drawn to: “Rock Creek Park” is almost exclusively instrumental. That his breakout album contained barely any lyrics was surprising to Oddisee, but only to an extent.
“I want the musicality to be sophisticated and complex,” he said, “so I’m going to add live instrumentation, I’m going to add a string section and a brass section. I’m going to sequence, I’m going to arrange, I’m going layer. And I’m going to care about this music as an art form.”
The strong reviews rolled in, but direct feedback from fans was even more fulfilling. “They hit me up and told me, ‘I played it for my mom, my dad, my grandmother, and they love it.’ There’s chord progression, there’s melody. Those are the things people expect hip-hop not to have. I’m kind of on a mission to change that.”
“Rock Creek Park” plays like a perfect soundtrack to a day spent exploring one of D.C.’s sprawling green spaces, but it was moving to New York and wandering through Central Park that provided the inspiration for the album. “Sometimes you need to step outside of something to really appreciate it,” he said. “Who knows if I ever would have made it if I was still walking through Rock Creek Park on a daily basis?”
Moving away from D.C. to New York was a career-oriented move, putting him closer to the heart of the industry. He’s still back home regularly — his band practices here — and it’s not like he’s cooped up in his Bed Stuy apartment all that often.
He’s more likely to be somewhere in Europe, where he tours more regularly than the United States. It’s not because he’s more popular there, he said. It’s simply that the logistics are better: More major cities close to each other and a euro that’s stronger than the dollar make it a more lucrative venture. Like most of Oddisee’s decisions, it’s calculated and prioritizes longevity over quick fame.