Hip-hop artist Oddisee has his fingerprints all over the album process. He writes it. He records it. He comes up with design ideas for the album cover. And he hits the road to promote it.
The Washington D.C.-based hip-hop artist is known for his soulful music and introspective lyrics, backed by a tight, jazzy and funky band. Although a departure from his past albums in how he approached writing the music, Oddisee’s new album To What End (out Jan. 20) is a continuation of his philosophical examination of society. He performs at the WOW Hall Tuesday, Nov. 29.
Oddisee’s music is what sets him apart from other hip-hop artists. Rather than relying on a musical track composed of sampled music, Oddisee writes his music. He says his musical influences include ’70s and ’80s R&B and funk groups, such as Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind and Fire, as well as early ’90s and ’00s artists, including Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest.
When Oddisee writes his music, he says he works mostly on computers, using an electronic MIDI keyboard and clicking and dragging sounds through a software. Although he uses a computer medium to compose, he says he keeps in mind he is writing music that is playable for a live band. “The end result sounds very acoustic and organic,” he says. “But the process is very electronic.”
Getting to a tight live band takes about a month to nail the set with two rehearsals per week, he says. But the band has some leeway to have fun with the songs and not just perform the set as it was recorded. “It’s really fun to come up with new variations or renditions of the songs,” he adds. “We’ll add different time signatures.”
To What End is his first full-length album in nearly six years and is a departure from how he has composed in the past. When writing music for his previous works, he says he incorporated feedback from audiences at live shows to help him decide elements of the song, such as changing tempo. But being away from the stage for the past few years has made him change his songwriting approach.
“This is the first album where I’ve had to rely on an internal monologue to create this record,” Oddisee says. “Coming off the heels of the pandemic, all of my previous records, I was in a constant motion of catch and release, meaning I would go on tour, catch inspiration, depending what the audience was listening to and how they were listening to it. And I would go home, put that into music, and release it.”
In his previous releases, Oddisee’s lyrics often dove into politics, but in a way that captures political narratives. “Like Really” from his most recent album The Iceberg (2017) didn’t hamfist political headlines into lyrics but instead looked at some of the injustices of Donald Trump’s Republican Party and policing.
“How you gonna make us great, when we were never really that amazing/ Take it back to 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.”
Oddisee says inTo What End, he doesn’t get as political and instead dishes out his opinion on life and society. The name of the album is a question of how far someone is willing to go and why, he says. “All the songs are different perspectives and examples of how far we go for what we want and why,” he adds. “Whether it be for love, for money or attention.”
The idea of the theme of questioning ambition came to him with the time he’s spent observing human behavior while in one place, rather than being on tour, Oddisee says.
“Just seeing how polarizing we’ve become as a nation, how polarized the world has become,” he says. “Seeing the increase — like Karl Marx predicted — of extreme wealth and extreme poverty. And what it’s doing to people.”
Oddisee performs WOW Hall Tuesday, Nov. 29. Doors open 7:30 pm and the show starts 8 pm. Tickets $20 in advance, $25 at the door.