Photo credit “Shadowlands for I Love Ugly”
DC-born, Brooklyn-based emcee/producer Oddisee (also known as Amir Mohamed el Khalifa) and his live band Good Compny kicked off the Tangible Dream tour last Wednesday, June 25 at Glasslands Gallery in Williamsburg. Prior to the show, Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble sat down with Amir to discuss his beginnings in hip-hop, how he views the current state of the scene, and how Tangible Dream helped him have more confidence in his ability to throw an album together in two months.
What is the best part of performing in Brooklyn?
Being able to ride my bike to and from the venue is definitely my favorite part. There’s not too many cities where I get the opportunity to do that.
What made you leave DC/Maryland?
I left DMV to be closer to my industry. DC is a great place to make music but not necessarily put it out. It’s the things that circle around music that I need more of – the flexibility and the ease of being able to do interviews like this one, whereas normally, I would have had to come up by train or bus to New York to do photo shoots, interviews, etc. It’s a lot more convenient to be able to just be here and have people come over or stop by the venue and logistically as well – being able to fly from JFK saves me a lot of hassle.
How did you get involved in the scene?
I was always around music growing up. My mother sings. My father sings and plays a Sudanese/Arabic guitar. It was just kind of always around. An older cousin of mine introduced me to hip-hop, and I started to rhyme for fun, and that hobby became an obsession and that obsession became a career.
So you started rhyming before you started producing?
I did. Yeah, I started rhyming before I started producing. I got into production when a friend of mine asked me to come over and record, and I fell in love with the production process. He taught me how to make beats. His name is Sean Born who also has a record out on Mello Music called Behind The Scale. He’s the guy who taught me how to make beats. And I fell in love with it and decided to make my own tracks for convenience reasons, just being able to make music and release it when I want to.
How do your surroundings influence your sound?
My surroundings are my sound. Very much so. It’s the theme of a lot of my records, and the subject matter of my lyrics. I’m very influenced by travel, and I’m very observational. I love to look at things through a magnifying glass and see what’s in between and write about it and bring it to life, whether that be through music or through lyrics.
Photo credit “Shadowlands for I Love Ugly”
You’re a member of Diamond District and Low Budget Crew. Do you prefer collaborations or solo work?
I honestly have no preference. I just prefer to make good music and to constantly work on something is my only preference. So, to have the flexibility of working on solo records and working in a group releasing vocal records, releasing instrumental albums – that diversity gives me freedom to just create whatever I want and know that it will land on something by the time it’s done.
How did you meet the members of Good Compny?
Wow. We’re all from Washington, D.C. That city’s very, very small, and the music scene is even smaller. So, we’ve known each other for years as friends first, and then when I decided I wanted to tour with a band, it was nothing more than making a phone call to all of them.
Have you guys toured together before?
We’ve been touring together now for the past two years.
I know you’ve worked with some pretty big names in the past. Is there an artist or group you hope to work with down the road?
I’d love to work with Drake. I’d love to work with Kanye. I’d love to work with Chance The Rapper. I’d love to work with Kendrick. Yeah, those are some people I’d love to work with.
What do you think of the state of hip-hop today?
Well, hip-hop isn’t a living creature, and I always stress that to people. Hip-hop is the artists that are within it, that exist within it. So hip-hop is me, it’s you; it’s every engineer, recorder and DJ, radio host, etc. So, if you look at it individually, hip-hop is fine. It’s fine by me. I’m chillin’.
Yes you are. So, how did you end up on Mello Music Group’s label?
I ended up on Mello Music when Michael Tolle approached me to purchase tracks for a compilation he was putting together, and when I inquired more details about the compilation, I gave him some advice on how to make it more cohesive and how to put it out. And that started a relationship between us that went further than artist and label. And in so many aspects, we’re more like partners. And it’s been, you know, magic ever since.
How is the Tangible Dream mixtape different from previous albums like Rock Creek Park and Odd Seasons?
Tangible Dream for me was just a bit more raw. Not necessarily in content, even though I definitely feel in content I was a bit more raw, but more so in my approach to making a record. I didn’t take much time to make Tangible Dream. I went to Berlin for a summer, and I banged the whole record out in like two months: beats, the writing, mixing, the whole thing. I normally take a lot longer to write, but I used Tangible Dream as an exercise to force myself to learn how to write lyrics faster. So, whatever I wrote, I just kept. I didn’t really scrutinize it. I didn’t go back over it. I didn’t take my time to craft it, and basically, it was a free form, free writing class for me. And it was an experiment, and it was received well, so it let me know that I could trust my instincts with my first concepts and ideas and that they’re okay. I don’t have to overthink things.
Is there a special method to your sampling technique?
I wouldn’t have said there’s anything special about my sampling technique more so than anybody else’s. From what I hear people tell me about my sampling, the thing that unanimously I hear is that people think I loop a lot when in fact, I chop a lot. But my chops are seamless the way I piece them back together. So people search for a melody they think I may have used when in fact, that melody never existed. So, I tend to take samples that are chopped and make them sound seamless.
Have you ever heard yourself compared to anyone?
Constantly. People always feel the need to categorize to make themselves more familiar with things, so they can comprehend it. So, the comparisons are – you can’t avoid them. I don’t agree with most of the comparisons. I find comparisons are restricted to the musical taste of the person who gave the comparison, so if all you know are artists one through five, you’re going to compare me to one of those five artists. But if someone else knows artists six through ten, they’re going to compare me to them and they’ll swear to themselves that’s who I sound like. So I pay no attention to comparisons. They’re kind of meaningless to me to be honest.
Who are you listening to right now?
Who am I listening to right now? I’m listening to Anderson Pack. Yeah, that’s the dude right now for me. I love everything he does. He used to go by the name Breezy Lovejoy. Now he goes by Anderson Paak.
What can fans expect from your show tonight?
One of the best hip-hop shows out period. And I say that with no ego. I say that with certainty. I’ve been to plenty of performances, and I do almost 180 shows a year, and I’m constantly disappointed by hip-hop shows, whether that be people using a band as a prop to make themselves seem more interesting and not necessarily curating their set and making it cohesive or people have bad delivery and not being able to hear what they say or not engaging the crowd or people being too ego-driven and performing longer than they need to or coming on stage late. You see none of that at my show. You see an honest, good performance with a high level of musicality.
Is there anything else that you would like to add or promote?
No – just continue to listen to my music. I appreciate it. Thank you.