Producer's Corner: Oddisee
Artists like Kanye West and Pete Rock may have record sales and reputations on their side, but as far as emcee/producers are concerned, Oddisees talent and catalog are just as potent as his peers. Getting his first big break by working with Jazzy Jeff on the cult-classic The Magnificent [click to read], Oddisee has since spent much of his career crafting a mix of soulful soundbeds and trunk rattlers for compilations on his Halftooth Records label home and his Low Budget crew (which consists of Kenn Starr, Kev Brown and others), along with J-Live, Little Brother and other emcees. He further displayed his talents on the mic in 2006 with his Foot In The Door debut mixtape, which included new songs and splices of previous material he rapped and produced on, but rampant bootlegging of the project thwarted him from achieving the full-bodied buzz he had intended to make as a dual threat.
Last year, Oddisee took things into his own hands, offering the Oddisee 101 mixtapewhich featured the likes of LB, Jean Grae, Zion I and othersas a free download on his blog [click here]. In an interview with HipHopDXs Producers Corner, Oddisee talks about his growth as a producer, two upcoming projects with new emcees, and getting paid for your product.
HipHopDX: Whats your background in music, before you started working with Jazzy Jeff?
Oddisee: From a technical standpoint, I started out with the ASR-X, made by Ensoniq. Its not the ASR 10 that people mistake it for, thats the keyboard version. The X was basically Ensoniqs answer to the MPC. They made a box version with pads to compete with the MPC. It didnt go as good; the MPC flourished, and the ASR got discontinued. I just got into a bit more of the grassroots forms of Hip Hop more than the glossy stuff toward the beginning of my career. Now, Ive grown to appreciate it all. But as far as the beginning, I was somewhat of a purist. I would only sample from records, I wouldnt take samples that had already been used, and [although] of those invisible stipulations and guidelines which complete nonsense to me now, I love when I first started making music.
DX: What were those guidelines?
Oddisee: I would only sample things that I had on vinyl. I wouldnt sample something that had already been used. I wouldnt take drums from another producerlike if [DJ Premier] left a snare open or something like that. A lot of things. Some of those things I still kind of stick to, but for different reasons. I still, to this day prefer to sample only from vinylor CDs, it doesnt matter, but I dont like to sample from MP3s. As nerdy as it sounds, I really do hear a sound quality difference. A couple tricks of the trade that I do on my samples, I cant do on MP3s; lets just say that. [Laughs]
As you advance in your career, and your hobby becomes your career, what you love to do becomes your money maker, you learn thatI think it comes with a level of maturity. You learn that as long as the end result is good, and that your craft and your hard work and time is visible, and it can be heard in the music, it doesnt matter what the process is to get there. I used to say, Aww man, Id never use a computer to make beats. Yet I barely even use my ASR anymore, I make my beats completely in ProTools now. Its a whole bunch of stuff that, when I was younger, I just had this purist mentality. But when you get older, youre more compassionate and understanding of other styles and techniques. Theres more than one way to skin a cat.
DX: Youve got the albums coming out with Stik Figa and Tranqill. Tell me about these guys.
Oddisee: Sure. Im always a fan of working with breaking, new artists. I kind of do my best to shy away from the usual suspects that people think Im supposed to collaborate with because of the category that Im in. Thats no disrespect to them, because I love em, and the music is dope, but all in all, I dont want to collaborate with the usual suspects. I get disgusted when a record comes out that Im on, and then I see everybody that Ive already worked with on that record. Its like were just constantly making compilations over and over and over, and the only way to preserve and progress this culture is if we constantly introduce a new market. The underground, a lot of us get in these little cliques amongst ourselves, and we dont get outside of them. So Im a bit more conscious about those things in my career, so I prefer to find another artist whos hungry with innovative, bright ideas and create something new. I love taking that risk, and it keeps me intrigued in a project, so I dont know what to expect.
Stik Figa, hes from Topeka, which is about an hour north of Kansas City, Missouri. He reps Kansas City just as much as he reps Topeka, he got his start down there in the Hip Hop community real strong in Kansas City. Hes just got this real dope Midwest swag to him. His lyrical potency is up thereand no disrespectits what you would compare a lot of east coast artists to, or the rhyme complexity of a Detroit artist. Detroit artists, I guess they dont have as much of an obvious southern twang to their flow, so it doesnt catch you off-guard. Often-times, its a negative thing, but we associate the thicker the southern accent, the more inferior the lyrics are, which isnt the case.
Thats what Im doing with Tranqill as well. Contrary to popular belief, its really grimy in London. London is one of the grimiest cities in the western world that Ive been to, as far asjust the overall look on peoples faces, you can see that life is pretty hard there. Its an expensive city. They dont shoot people that much, they stab people. It takes a lot more to stab somebody. Its all a negative and unfortunate thing. My homeboy Tranqill sort of portrays that grimy side of the UK that America really doesnt know about. He doesnt do Grime, he doesnt do Dub Step: he does Hip Hop. The sound I carved out for himwhich which is what I love to do, I love getting a new artist and carving out a custom sound for himis like a lo-fi swagger. The BPMs are between 78 and 88, nothing goes any higher than that. Its very lo-fi, two-bar loops with a lot of heavy live instrumentation over em. If I could sum up his sound, think about Portishead and Wu-Tang [Clan] and Coldplay smashed up together. Im serious, thats what the beats sound like.
DX: How do you decide on who you want to work with, aside from just making them different from what people would expect?
Oddisee: Its a couple things that come into play when Im deciding who I want to work with. First and foremost is money, I not gon lie. Ima not a keep it real underground artist, I live in reality. And this is when people are coming to me; if I come to you, theres no money involved. Stik Figa and Tranqill dont pay for beats; thats something I want to do, so we split the fruits of the labor toward the end. If you come at me for production, you have to pay me. Once you can pay me, its two things that come into play: if you have a sound that you looking for, or if I have to create one from scratch. I deal with both, oftentimes. Ill have an artist come to me and just say, I like what you do. Send me a beat CD. So I send them a beat CD, they pick a couple of joints, and thats that.
Other artists have something more specific that they want tailored. When we get to that point, normally what I do is say, Do you have any snippets of what youre working on already? Sometimes they do and sometimes they dont. Then Ill say, Give me some examples of production thats already out that would say the sound that youre looking for. They send me a couple tracks, who knows what it would be, and then I say, Okay, I see what youre kind of going for. And from that point, I say, Im going to give you that, but its going to sound totally different. My goal is to give you something that you dont already have on your project, but its still cohesive, so Ill extract elements from what you gave me, but Im not going to go down that same road. Whats the point? Youve already got that on your project. I make sure its cohesive, and I might make my patterns or the BPMs, I cant really predict it until I do it. Ill make it sound cohesive, but itll be different from what you had. Its real simple, but difficult. If its the same, then its generic and its lost in the mix. If its too different, it alienating, and people cant relate to it, so they dismiss it. You have to find that perfect balance in giving people what theyve heard, in a way theyve never heard it before.
DX: Your mixtape Oddisee 101 was a free download on your blog. What made you decide to take that approach?
Oddisee: As far as my career, I hit a lot of road bumps as far as people not realizing the amount of work that Im doing, and that Im an emcee/producer. For all the stuff that Ive done, theres still a lot of people that dont know me. People that do know me, I say a large portion of them think that all I do is emcee, or that all I do is produce. So again, Im trying to centralize my fan base. When Foot In The Door came out, it was pretty heavily bootlegged. And it was frustrating, because people would get the credits wrong. I would see one song on a blog on Bulgaria, saying, Produced by Oddisee, and that would be it, but its me rhyming on it. Then I see my stuff on a blog in Brazil, and it would say, Featuring Oddisee, but it wouldnt have any production credits. People have no idea what theyre listening to; all they know is that it came from Foot In The Door.
Im putting two and two together, trying to centralize my fan base. So I thought, if I create something and put it online at a central place for people to download, and I put all the appropriate album credits online, people will know what theyre listening to, and theyll come here to download it, not to somebody else. What thatll do is centralize my fan base, and thatll allow me to tour more, thatll allow me to network easier. Theres no money left in CD sales, you can only get money online and through touring.
Thats what I did, and to be honest with you, it worked man. In the UK, I had over 27,000 hits alone, according to one of my homies whose site I put it on. I sold 300 copies when I went on tour in Europe, I shipped 300 to Japan, I sold over 400 in the U.S., and I cant even count the amount of downloads it had, its definitely in the thousands. Im proud to say that they could download it from me, and since people learned that its from me, they know what theyre getting. I think anyone who heard Foot In The Door has heard 101. Its just a revolution right now. You saw Saul Williams did it, you saw that Radiohead did it. This is my take on it.
DX: Whats your situation with Halftooth right now?
Oddisee: The situation with Halftooth is, Ive fulfilled my contractual agreement with them. I had signed a two-option deal with them, and I fulfilled my two options with all my releases. Right now, were in the process negotiating me re-signing, but I havent resigned yet. Right now, to be honest, and the same thing I told Halftooth, I dont want to worry about business right now. I want to finish this record, and then we can talk business.