AS BOTH A GENRE and a culture, hip-hop can be generally divided into two camps: There are the flashy, materialistic, often misogynistic artists you hear on commercial radio who sell records in ridiculous amounts, and the introspective, socially conscious artists who are solely accountable to themselves for staying relevant.
Since 2009, Oddisee has firmly been in the latter camp, having released a near-constant stream of albums and EPs to a loyal but small corps of fans worldwide. As one-third of Washington, DC, collective Diamond District, along with yU and Uptown XO, Oddisee was celebrated for his mic skills as much as his ability behind the board as a producer and multi-instrumentalist. But despite his talent and prolificacy—and high-profile collaborations with the likes of DJ Jazzy Jeff, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar—Oddisee remains stubbornly underground. The Good Fight, his eighth studio album (not including mixtapes and EPs) is his biggest attempt yet to cross the miles-wide divide that separates obscurity from relevance. That sense of urgency—both artistic and cultural—is palpable throughout the album.
From a tour stop in Minneapolis, Oddisee remembers exactly how the album took shape. "I started it on the 27 of November , worked through December, and on January 13 I turned the record in," he says. "I wrote, recorded, and produced this record in a very short amount of time. In order to do that I had to just stay home and write."
Born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa to a Sudanese father and African American mother in Prince George's County, Maryland, Oddisee was raised in DC, where he and Diamond District began making their mark on the local hip-hop scene. For strategic reasons, Oddisee relocated to Brooklyn five years ago, but he hasn't let his adopted home alter his distinctive sound.
"My music has never really been truly affected by my place of residence, or where I get my mail, so to speak," Oddisee says. "My inspiration comes from everything around me. In fact, when I'm in New York, for the most part I'm in the house. I'm very secluded and reclusive when I'm home in New York."
Though technically a hip-hop record, The Good Fight distinguishes itself from the predictability of its contemporaries by incorporating the syncopation of the JBs, the vibes of Roy Ayers, and unconventional time signatures from jazz and international influences. A song like "Counter-Clockwise," with its tricky 5/4 beat, owes as much to Dave Brubeck as to the haqibah music of Northern Sudan.
"That 5/4 time signature is very common in the Sudanese music I grew up listening to in my household in Washington, DC," he says. "And I took that Sudanese rhythm and incorporated that into hip-hop."
Lyrically, The Good Fight addresses Oddisee's pursuit of a wider audience while recognizing the perils involved. He acknowledges the contradictions in seeking mainstream acceptance while also trying to stay true to his artistry. "I wanna make nonstop profit/I wanna make a nonprofit," he says on the appropriately titled "Contradiction's Maze."
Unlike a number of other conscious hip-hop albums from the last couple of years, The Good Fight doesn't attempt to address current affairs or the state of black America, at least not directly. The good fight, rather, is a more personal battle than a political one.
"The things that we love to do, that we deem worthy of our love," Oddisee says, "we don't even realize we're fighting for them. It's unconscious urgency; it's definitely not something that's in the forefront of our minds."
For Oddisee, whose name evokes both his way of viewing the world ("odd-I-see") as well as his way of traveling and living in the world, The Good Fight is a testament to his connection to his fans, and his family, across the globe.
"It speaks to people who realize that, through travel, we are not that different, in all aspects, anywhere in the world; that humanity, at its core root, is essentially the same. You start to transform what you value in this world, when you realize how similar we are."