If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, then you may have noticed that there’s been something missing since its inception: hip hop music. For a site that claims to support all styles equally, this certainly seems like a problem that needs to be addressed. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to it, and today I present to you People Hear What They See, the latest from rapper/producer Oddisee. This is a quintessential hip hop album. It’s an incessant spark that adds to the bonfire of hip hop culture, and it’s a great use of 45 minutes for rap aficionados and novices alike.
Enjoying hip hop music has always been a bit of a struggle for me. I’m going to spin you a bit of a personal story here, but bear with me (I’ll try to keep it short). Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciated the genre, but I’ve never quite been able to get into it. I hold no confusion as to the reason – it’s a direct result of my instrumentally-focused musical foundation. Progressive rock was the first style and subculture to kindle my love for music into a full-blown passion, and that’s about as far away as you can get from hip hop. Thus, it’s in my nature to place less emphasis on the lyrical content of a song, which of course is a defining characteristic of rap music.
Fortunately, I’ve evolved since that time, and have subsequently broadened my musical horizons. Even so, I still have a problem with a large portion of mainstream rap. To be perfectly honest, I believe a lot of it comes across as fake and simply poor-quality. The beats are unoriginal, and the rap verses are packed to the brim with recycled messages. But then again, that can easily be the case with just about any genre. Of course there are exceptions – I enjoyed Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy as much as the next guy. The fact remains, however, that any artist has the possibility of selling out once they strike mainstream gold. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.
So with all that being said, I feel confident that the first hip hop album to be featured on Audio Intimacy is truly more than deserving of the title. I’ve finally been able to tap into the metaphorical gravy train of hip hop culture via a more underground path. And if this is the train speeding towards more revelatory hip hop exposure, then Oddisee is surely its reliable conductor.
I was simply blown away by People Hear What They See. I’d like to start off by saying that I very much admire rappers who produce their own beats. Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, as he is known outside of his artist persona, has that area covered. I could listen to the instrumental mix of the entire album and still be satisfied. The production quality irrefutably shows that Oddisee has a brilliant mind for both composition and orchestration. His tracks switch from funky gospel to vintage soul to cinematic hip hop. “Set You Free” features some incredibly jazzy keyboard and organ comping, while “Way In Way Out” relies more on a ballsy, bombastic, brass build up. The left-field approach to constructing beats is much appreciated, and definitely essential in the creation of an exemplary album.
On top of that, of course, are the lines and rhymes. To quote from Oddisee himself, “This album is about influence, inspiration, perception, and reality. Every song was written in an outside environment, so that I could observe the subjects that would become my subject matter…By having a visual representation of my subject matter, my hopes are that the listener will see them through the words and melodies of my songs.” Each song on the album tells a different story from a different perspective. It’s an intriguing concept, and it translates extremely well through the voice of the Sudanese/African-American rapper.
He also deserves praise for his lyricism. His lines are always thought-provoking, creatively-woven, and relevant. For example, he starts off his song “That Real” with the lines: “Before I knew what I was doing, I was trying to do something / That’s the definition, listen, of a know-it-all young’un / Hard headed, hardly headed in directions I intended.” This is an honest musician who has a solid head screwed on his shoulders, working as both an artist and a consultant for the Mello Music Group, an independent hip hop label.
Oddisee shares all the traits of a passionate individual and inspired musician. He understands the solemnity, the freedom, and the truth in music, and he uses it to his advantage. People Hear What They See is an outstanding work of artistry that showcases his personal style of musical expression, and that is something that can be universally appreciated. Five stars from this music blogger for a unique creative identity and beautiful production.