Few artists in the Hip-Hop scene, let alone the music industry in general, can boast the work ethic, commitment and dedication to their craft as Amir Mohamed el Khalifa better known by his stage name Oddisee. In the span of just under a decade the D.C. emcee has dropped eleven studio albums either as a solo artist or one-third of the group Diamond District. Six mixtapes and four EPs. Along with a plethora of singles, numerous features as a guest performer and providing his production talents, lacing tracks for artists such as Joey Bada$$, Homeboy Sandman and J-Live amongst others. Needless to say, between his extensive discography coupled with a seemingly endless regimen of touring both nationwide and internationally Oddisee has rightfully earned his place as one of the premier alternative emcee/producers currently in the Hip-Hop scene. It this exact work ethic that is showcased front and center on full display on his latest solo album The Iceberg.
Coming right on the heels of his EP Alwasta as well as his mixtape The Odd Tape both released last Spring, Oddisse has refused to take so much as a moment’s rest and released The Iceberg as his third solo project in than the span of less twelve months. On The Iceberg, the album compiles twelve tracks of soulful bliss, a slick combination of Jazz, Funk, Gospel, and Soul all meticulously layered through the sonic backdrop of booming Hip-Hop production which Oddisee has come to be known for. Likewise, similarly to his more recent efforts put forth in the last couple of years, Oddisse makes ample use of an accompanying live band which beautifully compliments the soulful Hip-Hop production supplied by Oddisee himself which the album is dripping from head to toe in. The album’s sound much like that heard in 2015’s The Good Fight continues the trend of Oddisee putting forth projects that straddle the line between socially conscious, lyrical Hip-Hop and a funky, dance album which only adds to the album’s replay value.
Never a stranger to social commentary or one to shy away from political analysis, Oddisee wastes no opportunity to reflect on the particularly virulent and unstable political climate and uncertain times that the country has found itself precariously caught in the middle of. Perfectly segueing and serving as a continuation of similar topics and themes explored in his prior releases from last year. On tracks such as “NNGE (Never Not Getting Enough)”, Oddisee laments the election of Donald Trump and the rise of authoritarian fear based politics through the lens of somebody well aware and all too familiar with the effects and consequences of government sanctioned targeting and suppression. In one such excerpt, Oddisee raps,
“I mean what is there to fear?
I’m from black America this is just another year
If you’re new to disrespect by your elected puppeteers
Well let me show you how to persevere
Just get up every time somebody knocks you down
And celebrate in front of people like they’re not around
And if they try to build a wall to keep you balling out of bounds
Use the bench they told you to warm to keep the fences knocking down”.
Oddisee doesn’t just stop at “NNGE (Never Not Getting Enough)” either. On the track “Like Really”, he places systemic inequality still all too common running rampant throughout our society in his lyrical crosshairs. Touching on a variety of topics such as disproportional prison sentencing, the economic divide and lack of opportunities available to communities of color as well as the common practice of Hollywood’s whitewashing of historical events. Oddisee raps,
“How you gonna make us great when we were never really that amazing
Take it back what, I don’t find hanging black lives entertaining.
How do you police the streets of a neighborhood you do not engage in
Why a brother get three for a sack while your brother go free for a raping.
How you make a film about Egypt with all lead roles caucasian
How you saying all lives matter when the stats say we are not adjacent”.
It’s tracks like this that not only give The Iceberg much of its political bite but also it’s humanity and soul, keeping one foot grounded and connected to the reality we find ourselves faced with. A concept unfortunately largely lost on a significant portion of today’s contemporary emcees in the genre today. While there’s no shortage of tracks of this nature present throughout The Iceberg’s 48 minute run time, perhaps the album’s most powerful and poignant track is “You Grew Up”. A semi autobiographical story where Oddisee details and explores the importance oh how our own upbringings are critically important to the way we live our lives and how we interact with the rest of the world. Oddisee addresses these as significant causes and factors for terrible acts of violence such as racism, police brutality and terrorism. In the song’s first verse Oddisee tells the story of his friendship with a white childhood friend who drifts apart due to his friend’s prejudice against his father’s background as a Sudanese immigrant and eventually becoming a police officer who kills a Black man sitting in his car. On the song Oddisee raps,
“But things changed when his pops got laid off
He blamed my father for the loss of his job
He said immigrants robbed citizens jobs
And I better never set foot again in his yard
As we became adults in a cult called America, he got himself a job as an officer of law
My thoughts got blacker and his views got cracker
There was no way backwards, to the roots at heart
Many years apart, I recognized him in the news
He shot a black man that was sitting in his car”
The song is especially poignant and reflective of the country’s socio-political climate especially given the prevalence and increased awareness of police brutality and the subsequent demand for law enforcement oversight and accountability that has followed numerous highly publicized incidents. Oddisee concludes the song, shifting gears telling the story of a young man radicalized through harassment and driven to religious extremism. Citing the vulnerability of bullied and damaged individuals, Oddisee paints a sad but all true picture showing that even those who grow up in good homes, in educated families can still fall victim to such extremism and driven to violence when hate is inflicted. Oddisee even confronts his own cynicism which he himself admits to as one of the unfortunate side effects of coming of age in a cold and often time heartless world.
This being said, not all tracks present on The Iceberg are in-depth examinations of societal ills and political discourse. “Rain Dance”, which features beautiful production from Oddisee blended seamlessly with the accompaniment of live musicians is one such song. While not completely delineating from the overall theme present throughout much of the album, Oddisee poses the track as a celebration that acknowledges how success is often derived from difficult situations serving as a positive and triumphant moment in an album filled with many heavy themes and at times dismal subject matter.
The album’s guest features on The Iceberg are also noticeably kept down to an absolute bare minimum, with Toine and Olivier St. Louis serving as the album’s two lone guest performers tasked to accompany Oddisee. A refreshing break from the army of guest emcees and performers who oftentimes overwhelm many of today’s current Hip-Hop releases. At a length of twelve tracks and clocking in at 48 minutes, The Iceberg is yet another solid effort in the vast repertoire of Oddisee’s extensive catalog. The Iceberg is a musically and stylistically diverse album the delivers everything that fans have come to expect from an emcee of Oddisee’s caliber. While The Iceberg may be a bit layered and dense both sonically and thematically for the average casual listener, long time fans and Hip-Hop heads hungry for socially conscious lyrics, soulful production, and skillful musicianship will undoubtedly find much replay value in the months to come. The Iceberg serves not only as a testament to the enduring relevance of socially conscious Hip-Hop but also as another milestone in the prolific career of one of Hip-Hop’s hardest working artists.
The Iceberg is currently available to purchase now in stores, through Oddisee’s own Bandcamp page as well as to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music, and iTunes.
Full Album Track Listing & Credits:
- Digging Deep
- Built by Pictures
- Hold It Back
- You Grew Up
- NNGE (Never Not Getting Enough (Feat. Toine)
- Like Really
- Want to Be
- This Girl I Know
- Waiting Outside
- Rain Dance
- Rights & Wrongs (Feat. Olivier St. Louis)