Oddisee Hits the Tip of ‘The Iceberg,’ But Lacks Identity

By: Lucas Kowalik

I had never heard of Oddisee until I discovered this album while looking through HipHopDX’s list of The 17 Most Anticipated Rap Albums Of 2017. He was the only artist I didn’t know on the list, so when this came out I knew I had to give it a listen.

His style is reminiscent of the conscious (jazz rap made popular in the early ‘90s by groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul) but it does not feel stuck in the past. Although Oddisee has a southern accent, his flow has an apparent East Coast influence that is a healthy middle ground between Aesop Rock and Common. Similarly to Aesop, he is lyrically dense and you will get something new out of his songs with each listen.

His latest project, The Iceberg, is all about looking at the cause of a problem rather than its effect. Sure a lot of people died on the Titanic, but the cause was the iceberg. On this album, the iceberg itself is a manifestation of all of the problems currently facing America. Rather than let the iceberg go unnoticed until it sinks the ship, Oddisee opts to tackle these issues directly.

This album is entirely and excellently produced by Oddisee himself. His use of live instrumentation pairs nicely with the very soulful choruses throughout. The production is nothing revolutionary, but it does show Oddisee’s versatility as an artist.

The first track, “Digging Deep,” opens with snapping fingers which give slam poetry vibes and warns the listener that Oddisee is about to drop some serious knowledge. Slam poetry was also a precursor to rap and similarly, this album is rap at its purest form.

“Built by Pictures” is an inspirational track where Oddisee discusses how he learned to survive not by being taught, but rather by observing his environment. He criticizes those who bankrupt themselves to keep up the façade of success, and argues that true success is acquired from hard work. This continues the album’s underlying theme of focusing more on the cause rather than the effect.

One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Hold It Back.” In the verses, Oddisee addresses a variety of issues including money, politics, and gender—even throwing in a humorous shot at people who wear yoga pants while not working out. The chorus has society telling him to hold all of these thoughts back but Oddisee feels he has a responsibility to speak his truth.

Another standout track is the cautionary tale “You Grew Up,” which gives origins to a corrupt police officer and an ISIS suicide bomber. Through their stories, Oddisee shows how a person’s upbringing is a major determinant of who they will become.

My favourite song on the album is the grime-inspired banger “Like Really”, which has Oddisee asking a series of politically-charged hypotheticals. It is guaranteed to get your head bobbing and might blow your speakers if you’re not careful.

After this, the album does start to drag on and get a bit boring. Oddisee’s flow is still solid and all the tracks fit conceptually, but I find it hard to stay interested. The song “Want to Be” has Oddisee feeling content with his current life and not wanting anything more at the moment. It is a humbling track but also one of the most boring on the album. “Waiting Outside” is about the stigma towards mental illness in black communities and is the most interesting song post-“Like Really.”

The Iceberg is full of quality emceeing and lively production, but it falls short of being memorable. There are a handful of tracks that will stick with me but for the most part, I likely won’t come back to this album. That doesn’t mean this album is bad—it is a good album. But the concept of focusing on the cause over the effect becomes superfluous. There is still great political commentary on this album, though I’m not sure Oddisee is offering a fresh perspective. I also feel that Oddisee lacks his own identity on the mic. He may have a consistent flow and good wordplay, but there isn’t much to get excited over. The main problem with this album is that everything Oddisee does, I have heard done better.

Recommended Tracks:
“Hold It Back”
“You Grew Up”
“Like Really”

Grade: B-

(Featured Image: The Iceberg, Mellow Music Group)

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