Oddisee Fights to Define Success on His Latest Album
To say that an artist is underrated is usually meant as a compliment. What fans usually don't consider is the double edged sword that compliment wields from the artist's perspective; that the artist is not successful. But what is success and who sets those parameters? For Oddisee, the DMV native who raps and produces for indie label Mello Music Group, what he may lack in popularity he more than makes up for with the respect he's earned. Hence the background behind his most recent album, The Good Fight.
"There’s this archaic concept with what success is that I have continually fought against, and then I realized I was fighting a good fight," Oddisee told XXL during a stop through our New York offices. "I make a form of music that isn’t celebrated, but it needs to be made. "
The 12-track LP is an absolutely wonderful listen, a sonically refreshing project that provides intelligent context for the question of the definition of success. XXL sat down with Oddisee to expound on The Good Fight, the dichotomy between appeasing core fans and evolving musically as an artist and the story behind each track on his new album. —Emmanuel C.M.
XXL: I stumbled across your album and was amazed; easily one of my favorites this year. What was the creation process like?
Oddisee: Normally I write all my rhymes outside, but on this album I decided I needed to write indoors. I normally have a real hard time writing inside. I sit there in the room and [get] distracted by wanting to make beats or not really having inspiration being surrounded by four walls. I said to myself I really need to get past that and get over that. So this record was a very personal record. I think I looked inside a lot more for personal inspiration. Normally I write on the train or a bus, walking around, where I’m constantly visually stimulated. So I had to look inside a lot more. That’s where a lot of inspiration for the lyrics came from, just being in four walls and just writing the whole record and producing it in one room.
Why did you begin writing outside?
It started on this album that I did called People Hear What They See, which was a theme of the record. Everything I've written about I visually saw and interpreted to rhyme to question what is "real" in rap. 'Cause when you say "real" in rap, it always has a negative stigma. But everything is reality. It may not be my reality, but it's someone's reality. So I chose to write about those things that I observed on that album. And I fell in love with that process and never looked back after that, and it became difficult to write any other way.
Was that intimidating to do again for this LP?
It's something I haven’t done in a while. I definitely took it upon myself to want to push the genre of hip-hop to be appreciated like other genres. Meaning, in other genres you can say and do whatever you want on an album. You can say something on this track and on the very next track completely contradict yourself and no one will question it, because it's art. But in rap, that is not the case. You're supposed to be this embodiment of your work in reality, which causes so many artists to lie about their reality, or exaggerate them. I've always been against that and wanted to push that and bring more imagination and creativity to the lyrical side of rap music.
What comes first, the concept or the music?
Concept always come first with me. I start off with a concept; it's like a blueprint in my head. I’ll spend the longest part of my process creating the concept. From the title to the subject matter to what threads the entire album together, that takes the longest for me. Once I'm done with that, I work incredibly fast. Once I had the blueprint for The Good Fight, I started Nov. 27 and I turned the project in, with artwork, on Jan. 13. I didn’t master it, but I did everything else I did within that time period. But the blueprint took a year.
What is the "Good Fight" to you?
The original blueprint came from an opinion people had of me and my music that I don’t share. Then I realized I was fighting for a cause for other people that I didn’t even realize was a fight 'cause I simply enjoyed it. That’s when the title hit me that I fight the good fight. Meaning that I make a good living from music. I travel, I see the world, whatever I want to eat, when I want to eat, I can. I wake up when I want, I sleep when I want. I live on my own time. Yet the majority of the people that listen to my music say, "You’re underrated, you’re underappreciated, you should be bigger." And it's kind of started to weigh heavy on me, like, What’s wrong with me? Why am I so happy with where I'm at, but the world is constantly telling me that I shouldn’t be happy with where I’m at? I said to myself, "What is it that I'm supposed to be doing to get bigger?"
Over the past few years I've been reached out to by numerous major label artists about production and interested in what I'm doing musically. I noticed that there's a lot of things that are missing in my music to take me to “the next level” that people want to see me at. It's relatively formulaic. I don’t have weed culture in my music, I don’t have stripper culture in my music. I don’t have drug culture in my music, I don’t have alcohol culture in my music. Just appealing to whatever is trendy. I don’t make lowest common denominator music that appeals to even the most simplistic people that want to appreciate rap music. I don’t appeal to the intellectuals who are really into avant-garde, abstract music and think it’s the music of the future. I am the sum of many of those things, all in the middle, and that is not necessarily what I feel the masses want in order to be taken to the next level.
Essentially, in life you always have to choose sides. Life forces us to choose things. And in all honesty, it’s a weird thing to say, because as appreciative as I am of my fan base... It’s a selfishness that everyone shares. "I like this person, therefore this person shall be liked by everyone." Where I feel like I'm the lone wolf that feels like not everyone has to like me in order for me to be successful. But there’s this archaic concept of what success is that I have continually fought against. And then I realized I was fighting a good fight. I make a form a music that isn’t celebrated but it needs to be made. We need these artists to push the boundaries. We need these artists to maintain it and keep it real and we need these artists to celebrate the now. I feel like I’m very much in that middle.