How Oddisee Embraces Life’s Chaos and Blessings In Fueling His Purpose

The producer and emcee known for his profanity-free yet incredibly poignant lyricism opens up about touring and crafting a soul-stirring new EP, ‘And Yet Still.’

Veteran DIY rapper and producer Oddisee, born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, has carved out a unique space in the music industry by blending thoughtful lyricism with a resilient outlook on life. Known for his ability to balance life's challenges with gratitude, Oddisee's perspective is rooted in the understanding that history has never been entirely stable.

“Problems are relative, and no matter what adversities I have to face in my time on this earth alive, I have to be thankful for something because it's always been hard,” Oddisee explains to BET.”It will always be hard."

This affirmation of thoughtfulness and resilience has defined Oddisee's career since his 2008 debut album, 101, under Mellow Music Group. Over the past few decades, he has released a series of critically acclaimed indie rap projects, including 2011’s Rock Creek Park, 2015’s The Good Fight, and last year’s To What End. His music consistently explores universal themes with a high level of craftsmanship. 

It also helps that his last several projects have been profanity-free. He removed profanity from his music to increase his chances of licensing deals with big brands like Nike, which prefer music without offensive language. Oddisee also wanted his music to appeal to multiple generations, allowing parents to enjoy his records with their children. Speaking to Oddisee over Zoom before he performed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, during his Asia tour, the D.C. native discussed connecting to multi-generational fans worldwide through real-world commonalities.

“When I travel, I get to have conversations with people who tell me that their job market is terrible,” said Oddisee. “Layoffs are terrible. They say it's really expensive to buy a house and the neighborhood that you want to live in, you can't really afford to. So people have to move further out. So when I constantly hear these same stories over and over, no matter where I'm at in the world, this tends to come back home and I put it in music that I know people can relate to by the words.”

Reflecting on his current stage in life, Oddisee notes that he has moved from being an idealist to becoming wiser, more practical, empathetic, and passive. Understanding life’s repetitive cycles has brought him a sense of calm that he lacked in earlier years. 

“I think it’s reflected in my music by being way more comfortable saying whatever I want on record and being more experimental musically and releasing music now with a lot more freedom and less scrutiny,” Oddisee explained. 

Those new sentiments of freedom appeared in early March when he released Odd Sketches Vol.1. With that project of unreleased and unfinished material; he challenged himself to release music he wasn’t satisfied with as a test of creative vulnerability. Oddisee admits that he wouldn't have done this in previous years, but facing his fear showed him it wasn't as daunting as he thought.

“I don’t think in previous years I would’ve ever done something like that but that was just a test for myself to see how people feel about music you don’t really approve of that much,” said Oddisee. “And guess what? It’s like once you conquer your fear, you realize it wasn’t that bad in the first place.” 

That attitude of acceptance continues with his latest EP, And Yet Still, set for release May 30th. The six-track project has Oddisee experimenting with various sounds, including Drill music on “Improve” and Yacht Rock on “Give Way” while making sure day one fans are taken care of on “Live From The DMV.” However, two tracks, “World On Fire” and “Thankful For,” serve as the emotional heart of And Yet Still

“World On Fire” conveys Oddisee’s frustrations and the helplessness he feels as a father and husband witnessing global tragedies while expressing a deep sadness about the current state of the world with a chorus that has him rhyming, “I say the world’s on fire and your body is the wood/Ain’t burnt yet, keep surviving your hood.” As a Sudanese American, his connection to the war in Sudan, alongside other global tragedies, inspired the track.

“There are 20 million people displaced in my country right now in Sudan,” said Oddisee. “My father didn’t flee the war and he’s still there surviving right now through a full on war. Then you have the situation in Gaza. You have the situation in Congo. You have a completely failed state in Haiti alongside earthquakes in unusual places.” 

Meanwhile, the following track, “Thankful For,” serves as a moment of personal gratitude and a musical homage to his wife’s Moroccan heritage. Despite the territories that inspired “World On Fire,” there’s a real level of hope that comes with lyrics like “Notice the moments you hold with sincerity/Own what I am letting go of what’s scaring me/Conquered my fears like I’m armed with a pair of wings/Came, saw with a chainsaw then I claimed all that’s ahead of me/Cutting through brain fog even rain storms are a pleasantry let it be.” 

Oddisee believes that progress is not linear, and for most people of color, there's no better time in history to live than the present, despite its challenges. He expresses gratitude for what he has, recognizing that life has always been hard and will continue to be. And Yet Still reflects the honest self-recognition of being present in good and bad days.

“There has never been a point in history where there’s peace without war, without famine, without strife and without disease,” Oddisee said. “The present is always the best that you can get. There’s no point in history that you’d want to go back to. The present is as wild as it is.”

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