Born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa he’s better known as Oddisee which he goes by on stage. Oddisee grew up in Maryland close to Washington D.C. but lately works out of Brooklyn. As a Sudanese American Muslim who is also the son of an immigrant he has a unique perspective and voice that he expresses in his music, most recently with his new album The Iceberg.
Listen to Oddisee and you’ll be reminded of groups like A Tribe Called Quest with lyrics that examine identity, race, and politics. Oddisee has talked about growing up in one of the most affluent black neighborhoods which borders parts of town that aren’t so great. He loved hip-hop and rap but couldn’t relate to any of the gangster rap. Instead, he examines human nature and commentates on his experiences and social and political issues.
The Iceberg is a thought provoking masterpiece but one of the tracks that stands out with its powerful lyrics is “You Grew Up”. He raps about his best friend who was white “While I was trying to keep my Nikes clean/He was trying to scuff his Chucks up,” a small observation but it speaks to a bigger cultural divide. Think about these two music movements; Hip-Hop born out of the inner city in Brooklyn during the drug war and grunge born out of Seattle and teens from the suburbs. It’s a luxury to be able have new things and if you’re middle/upper middle class you come to take that as granted.
The song then goes on; “He blamed my father for the loss of his job/He said immigrants robbed citizens jobs”. This story and song begins to take on a different meaning especially with the rhetoric which our head of state has been spewing about immigrants. It goes on to describe how this friend became a police officer and the next time he saw him it was on the news for shooting a black man in his car by the park where they used to shoot hoops. The hook of this song is simple: “You grew up/No you didn’t change/You were made the same/As those before you came/You grew up/All our growing pains/Were given like our names/You just bought the blame/You grew up”. It touches on how much of who we are and how we act are based in social norms and how we are raised.
The next part of the song manages to capture yet another huge issue in America, terrorism. Oddisee explains that this part of the song was inspired by a story of a Sudanese man in Britain who became linked to ISIS. Rather than describing the terror this man he humanizes the ‘terrorist’. He paints the picture of a normal boy with two parents who were professors but was ostracized in school for the way he looked and the way he acted, for being who he is. Oddisee raps, “People of the present had faces of the past, make it easier to blast them if he feel they did him wrong”. It’s not excusing the behavior but instead trying to get people to understand where this hatred comes from.
“You Grew Up” is a meditation on what it means to be a person of color in America today. There’s police brutality, immigration, racism, and even more prevalent the subtle everyday reminders that you are different. Another standout track is “Like Really” which focuses on racial injustice, Oddisee asks “How you gonna make us great, when we were never really that amazing” and “How you saying all lives matter when the stats say we are not adjacent”. It’s a questioning of America asking how it can be so cold and cruel to people who call themselves Americans but aren’t white when they are just as American as the next person.
Lastly, the song “NNGE” or “Never Not Getting Enough”. If you’re looking for a new song to get you inspired for the latest protest you’re attending this is the song to listen to. Oddisee witnessed countless protests and movements exercise their right to assemble growing up right by the nation’s capitol which contributed to this song. “NNGE” is a call to be positive in these times, the line: “If you’re new to disrespect by your elected puppeteers/Well let me show you how to persevere,” sums it up pretty well. Other tracks to note: “Things”, “Rain Dance”, and “Rights and Wrongs”.
This album captures today’s issues; the unrest and anxiousness about the future. It touches on almost every issue you can think of that people are out marching and protesting for everyday which is what makes this album so great. Not only that but it’s nuanced; he struggles with how we can be of the same kind but have all this conflict because of meaningless differences. It’s a call to action even if it’s not directly so and a reminder that we all come from the same place. It’s an album defining a movement. The people’s movement.
Oddisee plays Neumos May 11th, buy tickets here.