The Come Up: Amir Obe’s Experimental Sound Has No Limits
Amir Obe has always had a certain mystique to him. The Detroit-bred artist has mastered how to share his life without giving too much away. His alluring aesthetics, which have become closely associated with his off-kilter brand, continue to draw in more curious fans.
Since August, Amir has dropped the first and second chapters of his three-part EP series, Can’t Be A__Here. Collectively, the seven tracks show growth of the ever-experimental 29-year-old artist (formerly known as Phreshy Duzit), with him opting to be more open about his experiences with love and life.
“[Can’t Be A__Here: Chapter 1] was very well-received,” he tells XXL. “I feel like the fans were losing patience on me not dropping music in a long time... I was anxious to see if they were gonna be disappointed that it was only really three songs and an intro. But from everything I saw, everybody loved it and they’re just anticipating what’s coming next. So I think we got the attention back.”
And that he did. On Oct. 12, the Def Jam signee unleashed Can't Be A__Here: Chapter 2, which consists of “Romeo,” “Juliet” and “Bloodshot.” The former two received a cinematic visual accompaniment the day of the project's release.
Can’t Be A__Here: Chapter 3 is already complete, with a music video for the focus record, “Famous,” already in the works.
Amir Obe stopped by XXL’s Manhattan office to explain the blank space in his projects’ titles, getting back in the studio with longtime producer NYLZ and growing beyond Detrooklyn, the first project he released under his current moniker.
XXL: What is the meaning behind the blank space in Can't Be A__Here?
Amir Obe: The blank space is kinda like for interpretation. I wanted the listener to focus some energy on whatever vices you have, whatever issues. It could even be a positive thing. But the "Here" is kinda like the now and the blank is just looking in the mirror and how you want to apply the music to your own life, I guess. It’s still open—we might fill it in, but as of now, it’s for the listener to decide. We all have our own definition for that blank space.
What inspired you to make this series of EPs?
When I do my first album, I really wanna get some collaborators involved [and] fuck with more producers I really wanna work with. So I just wanted to have music and visuals to drop to almost reintroduce myself to the fans I gained on the last project and make some new fans. When everything’s lined up [and the] momentum’s right, I’ma give them the album.
You’ve been spending a lot of time overseas, too. Did that play a part?
Yeah, I mean, everything does. Especially traveling. Having conversations with people and seeing new things, new experiences. That’s usually what I speak on. I can’t really make up this stuff. Traveling is a big part of what gives me some ideas to write about and just conversations with people.
You moved back to Detroit to work on Can't Be A__Here, correct?
Yes. It was all recorded in Detroit.
Why did you decide to go home?
I mean, one is NYLZ never leaves Detroit—that’s a big part of it. But aside from that, I just wanted to go back home and be around that family energy. My family’s there, NYLZ is obviously there. Just [wanted to] remove myself from a lot of distractions that are in the big cities.
And as far as your family, who lives there?
Both my parents stay there; I have a brother that stays out there and that’s pretty much it. And my childhood friends.
Were your parents ever into music at all?
My mom was actually a piano teacher at some point. I never learned, though. I dabble and mess around, but I’m not a piano player.
Gotcha. How is the process there different for you in comparison to working in New York or another major city?
I’m used to recording there. All of None of the Clocks Work was recorded in Detroit. Pretty much all my music’s recorded in Detroit. I track in L.A. and New York but I like the home vibe. And me and NYLZ pretty much built a studio with our bare hands throughout the years, so it’s finally complete. Just like an analog studio; that’s why you hear that warmth in the music. We put a lot into just the acoustics of everything.
On Instagram Live, you said you’re planning on moving to California soon.
Yeah, I’m actually in the process of doing that now. So we’re trying to find a spot out there. I think it’s just good to be around my peers and I got a lot of friends in music that I can’t really collaborate with ’cause I’m just always in Detroit. So just being around there, chillin’ with ’em, vibin’ with ’em, it’ll be a lot easier out there.
How long have you been back in Detroit?
I’ve been there for like a year and six months. Prior to that, I was living out [in New York] for like, 10 years.
How was it getting back into the studio with NYLZ and working on the project?
Oh, it was dope. It was refreshing; very free atmosphere. That’s how it always is. From the ground up we always find a starting space and eventually just abandon the song when we feel it’s ready. I mean, you can’t really finish on anything, so whenever it feels right we’ll step away from it.
How has he grown as a producer over the years?
We’ve both grown. He’s always trying to pioneer his own aesthetics and his output of his own influences. I give him freedom to do what he does, I do my thing and eventually we just find a common ground where it feels right and it clicks. It’s just easy.
When did you both initially begin working together?
A long time ago. It was right after high school for me, so around 2009.
How do you feel you’ve grown since None of the Clocks Work or some of your earlier work like Detrooklyn?
I think I’ve grown as far as, I’ll just say experimenting with new sounds and being more comfortable with melodies. I didn’t start off singing, I used to just try to rap. Just experimenting with melodies and harmonies and trying new things; discovering new ranges to mess around with.
Can fans expect Detrooklyn 2? That's all they've been asking you about on social media.
I was thinking about that. That one would—like, I’d have to be back in Detroit for a long time. And now it’s at pace that I think it could happen.
When can fans expect your debut album on Def Jam?
Tentatively I’d say expect the first single [at the] top of the year, 2019. That’s what I’m aiming for to drop the single and start rolling out the debut.
Do you have any features or producers locked down yet?
On the album yeah, possibly. Not locked down, but it’s in the works. Me and PartyNextDoor have a lot of tracks. Just getting back in with those camps. We have a lot of ideas that I think will manifest as they come about.
Do you have any artists in mind other than Party that you’d like to get in with? Or do you just wanna continue on the solo wave right now?
Whatever happens naturally. I have relationships with a lot of guys, so just having that free atmosphere and environment when you do get in, I think it will just happen naturally. We’re making a lot of connections along the way. [As for] producers, there’s a guy named Felix [Leone]—he actually did [Travis Scott's “Butterfly Effect”.] I’ve been working with him a lot. I’ve been working with J Pounds, Stwo. And NYLZ, obviously. And Mike Dean. We’re getting in probably in like two weeks.
That’s gonna be awesome.
Yeah, Mike Dean’s dope.
Who are some of the artists you’re listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of oldies. I listen to obviously Queen, Michael Jackson, [The] Beatles sometimes. But right now I got Travis Scott—I’ve been listening to that, Astroworld. And all the G.O.O.D. Music drops have been dope, I listen to all those. Pretty much anything I come across. I’m always curious.
And how about a possible tour?
We’re actually figuring it out now. I mean, I was supposed to straight focus on this album but I might take November to do a small run. Like a month-long run so it’s 15 dates. We’re trying to lock that in with Saint Jhn.
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