1 / 1

Oddisee

Nov 29/2016
WORDS by Leslie Ken Chu PHOTOGRAPHY by Eric Tavares

Sudanese-American hip hop artist Oddisee is transparent about the intentions behind his EP, Alwasta, which he released online for free last March. “You give something to get something.” Alwasta complements his even more recent instrumental release, The Odd Tape (which followed in May), adding repertoire and hype to his current 30-date North American/European tour.

Alwasta derives its title from the Arabic term “wasat.” The colloquialized form, “wasta,” loosely translates to “middleman” or a figure who possesses great social currency and who uses that wealth to connect members of their community. “A person has achieved social currency by being an influencer or someone who can come to the aid of others,” Oddisee explains. “It’s almost like a credit system. I’ve definitely been there for a lot of people, and I’m a person that everyone knows they can count on.”

Oddisee can’t overstate the importance of wasta in funding the EP’s creation. “The whole album wouldn’t have come together without having wasta.” Vital personnel including his graphic designer, keyboard player Ralph Real, and friend who is an Arabic-English language teacher all returned his requests for services – album art, musical tracks, and translation – within 48 hours.

“Social currency is something that I have an abundance of,” Oddisee says, aware of his stock. “It’s something I’m very proud of. It’s something that I’m very happy to have – , the ability to essentially do what I want, when I want, not based on how much money I have in my account but by how much respect I have from people.”

Wasta has taken Oddisee far in his career, and he’s certain wasta can take him far around the globe. “If right now I wanted to fly halfway around the world, I can’t think of a single place where I don’t know someone who would give me a room or a bed. If I was hungry, I can’t think of a single state or country that I wouldn’t know someone who would feed me.”

Oddisee is particular – and blunt – in distinguishing wasta from karma. “I know it’s ideal to think of it as a karma system, where you give without thinking of returning, but it’s not that. It’s the cold, hard truth.”

Like social currency, soul flows through Alwasta. Whether Oddisee maintains an approachable, positive vibe or gets political recounting his Muslim experience in post-9/11 America, his authenticity cannot be denied at any point on the EP. “Soul is as core to my music as it is to humanity…. I think all music has a soul.” Oddisee admits he’s unsure what soul is as a genre anymore, but he does know that soul is a feeling. “My music’s definitely based on feeling and emotion, and I think that that’s something you can hear and feel in my music.”

Oddisee acknowledges the subjective nature of music numerous times throughout our conversation, but there’s one detail he doesn’t leave open for interpretation. Alwasta’s closing tracker, “Slow Groove”, recalls Eddie Kendricks’s widely sampled “Intimate Friends” (Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Drake, and Common have all put their own spins on the classic), but Oddisee immediately clarifies that “Slow Groove” does not sample a single part. “Rob Real replayed everything, and we added a vinyl crackle in the background to make it sound like a sample. But there’s no samples in it whatsoever.”

With the release of Alwasta and The Odd Tape, Oddisee keeps busy but perhaps not as busy as one might think. The trick is in how he balances his schedule: by spending as much time off of the road as he spends on it. When he’s not touring, he says, “I work prolifically on a lot of music, and then over the course of the year, that music will release itself.” This routine creates the illusion that he writes all year round.

Despite Oddisee’s work rate, and despite his bustling mind and making himself available to his communities, he manages to find time to enjoy simple pleasures, like most everyone else. For him, there truly is no place like home, where he can just be Amir Mohamed el Khalifa. “I wanna be there more than anywhere else at any given time no matter where I’m at in the world. I’d rather be in my apartment, on the couch, watching Game of Thrones with my wife than anywhere else.”

Los-Angeles pop artist Billie Eilish began writing and recording music at the young age of 14, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to her. Her lyrics are seasoned with insight carried by a voice that softly and soulfully stretches over dreamy soundscapes. The result is a compelling collection of contrasts, both musically and lyrically, which is on full display on Billie’s debut EP, Don’t Smile At Me (Billie’s debut EP, Don’t Smile At Me (Interscope Records/Universal Music Canada)). Co-written and produced by her brother Finneas O’Connell, the Eilish siblings prove they have no shortage of talent. When we spoke to Billie she was on the road and had just begun her North American tour. G—You started singing at the age of 4, what at that time got you interested in music so early on? BE—I started singing before I could talk, and since then I have been singing all the time, every day. Music has always been part of my family, I guess a part of the way that I think, so it has never come as something separate from my brain. Music and my brain are just one and the same.  G—Now, at the age of 15 you have a

MORE

  Allie X began with a vision: of a blank slate. The multimedia electronic pop artist chose the letter “X” to signify infinite possibility – an attempt to strip herself of any pre-existing identity. Yet she feels the presence of multiple versions of herself: good ones, bad ones, and everything in between. “I think I’ve always had this self-awareness of the bad parts of myself,” she reflects. “I remember feeling as a kid like I hadn’t suffered enough, which is kind of a strange feeling. And then I remember in middle school feeling like I wasn’t being nice enough to people.” Her self-awareness has only expanded with age: “As I’ve gotten older, sometimes I just feel like I’m watching myself from somewhere else and think, ‘Who is this person?… Who am I, and is it good or bad?’” Unsure of who she is, anything does seem possible. The cover of Allie X’s latest album and full-length debut, CollXtion II, features her literally reassembling herself, slotting cubed pieces of her shin back into her leg. The visual perfectly captures what The Story of X, the name she has given the narrative that arches across all of her creative output as Allie

MORE

Hayley Law

In her role as Valerie Brown on Riverdale, Hayley Law is one of the show’s most charismatic characters, standing confidently behind the keyboards as one fourth of Josie and the Pussycats. In real life, outside of acting, Law is a burgeoning recording artist who makes playful pop and soul-inflected music under the stage name Hayleau (pronounced Halo). In November of last year she dropped her first self-titled EP, and since then the 24-year-old, who’s based in Vancouver, has been working on her sophomore release in between filming two huge Netflix series. We spoke with Law about being Hayleau, her creative catharsis, and of coarse, Riverdale.  G—You’ve had an impressive start to 2017. How has your life changed in the last year? HL—It’s changed a lot. A year ago I was working at a job that I hated, serving at a breakfast restaurant. Now I get to do something that I have been working so hard to do, every day. I’m so thankful I don’t have to do what I was doing to get to where I am now. G—Parallel to your role as Valerie on Riverdale  you have a blossoming music career. Could you tell us a bit about your

MORE