Amir Mohamed, better known by his stage name, Oddisee, is a member of a rare breed of rapper that seems to be dying out with every passing year: He produces all of his own music, his lyrics focus on social issues and he’s never used the n-word on a track.
Oddisee’s music isn’t the only reason he’s an anomaly among the current pool of rappers. His background is quite different from many of his peers. He grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, which is the wealthiest African American county in the United States. There, he was raised by an African-American mother and a Sudanese father who taught him the virtues of Islam.
Now 32, Oddisee has turned a small niche audience into a large cult following. He music is a well-blended mix of R&B and hip-hop that he has developed with his prolific work ethic, which he says he got from his mother, who hasn’t missed a day of work in 20 years.
On Tuesday, Oddisee will perform with his band Good Company at WOW Hall. His current tour is in support of his 11th studio album, “The Iceberg,” which was released in February. On the record, Oddisee attempts to break down social barriers. He says the best way to solve social issues in the world is for people to find common ground, which he attempts to accomplish with his music.
“I wanted people who listen to me from all across the world to realize that many of the same issues that are occurring in the states are actually occurring elsewhere,” Oddisee told the Emerald in a phone interview. “People think that things are exclusive to them or their trials and tribulations in general are exclusive to their people or them personally, when in fact, these are things that everyone is experiencing around the world.”
Oddisee attained this insight by traveling the globe and meeting people from different cultures throughout his 15-year professional career. In his travels, he has gained a more holistic perspective of the world around him and is worried about the direction that the society is headed.
“We’re moving to being an ultra-conservative society,” Oddisee said. “A lot of fear mongering is used to persuade the masses and it made me worried about the lack of critical thinking that I’ve witnessed across the globe. People are taking things at face value and not taking the time to understand why things are the way they are.”
As a Sudanese-American Muslim man, Oddisee felt compelled to write an album that deals with issues that are pertinent to his life and his experiences. Although he has taken a political stance with his most recent album, Oddisee says it is unreasonable to burden musicians with the responsibility of inciting political discourse through their lyrics.
“We’re artists,” Oddisee said. “We didn’t go and get a degree in Poli-sci, but many artists are expected to act is if they have. I don’t necessarily think that’s fair.”
While it might be unfair to hold artists accountable for their music to be socially conscious, Oddisee says that he holds the music industry accountable. According to him, plenty of musicians have important messages but don’t receive the same opportunities and resources as other artists.
“A majority of the world doesn’t have access to a higher education,” Oddisee said. “A good portion of the world is below the poverty line, yet we expect everyone to be socially conscious. But we know that oftentimes social consciousness comes with privilege of education and access to information. A good portion of the world doesn’t have access to that content, nor do they have privilege.”
For musicians like Oddisee, their greatest challenge is reaching audiences who don’t have the resources to understand the complicated concepts that are often featured in their songs. Making a song that delivers an important message and is also something that people want to listen to is easier said than done.
“I think artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and even myself are doing a good job of making music that’s entertaining and appealing, but also delivers a message at the same time,” Oddisee said. “If you are an artist who is concerned about the welfare of people who don’t have the same amount of resources as other human beings, there are ways of incorporating a message that is digestible. It’s not the easy route obviously, but there are ways of doing it.”
Oddisee said certain audiences are unable to relate to his music, and people who haven’t had the resources to contemplate the social issues he’s rapping about don’t listen to his music because they face a different reality than he does. Instead, those people listen to music that reflects their environment. Oddisee said they are worried about surviving on a day-to-day basis and it’s difficult for them to think about issues that don’t have an immediate effect on their lives.
Oddisee will continue to spread messages through his music while trying to reach those untapped audiences, but his career goal is a much simpler task:
“Making music; Making art. I want to live to make music. That’s it.”
Tickets for Oddisee’s show on May 9 at WOW Hall are available online for $12 and $14 at the door.
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