Oddisee takes conscious rap much, much further on The Iceberg.
The past two years have seen a rise in so-called “conscious rap,” a moniker that aims to differentiate it from its better-known and more popular yet nefarious cousin, gangsta rap. It’s a label in which there’s an inherent pretense, but it typically means the artist eschews sexual conquest, genitalia, bravado and expensive purchases in favor of offering a perspective on social issues, politics and religion. Certainly both have their time and place and often simply appeal to different situations. Oddisee takes conscious rap much, much further on The Iceberg. Far from being just rapping about social issues, he aims for relevance on a human level that transcends the present-day identity politics. The Iceberg is one of the few albums to where there’s a lot to agree about and we can do it with our heads nodding to the most weighty, jazzy beats put to recording in so far in 2017.
Conceptually, the first few bars are quite literally the tip of The Iceberg. Easy and understated, propelled by snapping fingers and horns that sound more tuned for an end than a beginning, the mourning suggests lazy, dark speakeasies and poetry nights. “Digging Deep” is the perfect introduction to the record. Jazz night has begun in full swing and the place is suddenly packed. Somewhere a funky break began and Oddisee’s rapidfire style is inviting you over a full live ensemble, “Let’s get into it!” Despite getting a little more abstract, “Things” shows the same production prowess in opening on patterns that don’t seem particularly inviting before finally building to a beautifully produced funk groove full of organic instruments and a soulful hook.
One of the greatest things about the album is the sheer diversity. It’s possible this is some sort of compensation for a rap style that’s fairly consistent. Rapping over a more minimalist beat, Oddisee could run the risk of sounding a little monotonous, at least in tone. He makes up for this with an incredibly informed and diverse series of topics and production styles ranging from human relationships to the current political climate. Each is dressed up in just enough pop music sensibility to ensure repeatability. The wonderfully melancholic “Hold it Back”, for example, comes off like a ballad about speaking freely on thoughts packed so tightly they reveal valuable wisdom once you peel back the layers (“Every time we restart it/ We’re gonna end up pushing the demons deeper in the closet”).
“You Grew Up” is a commentary on how a white childhood friend began hating immigrants. The effect is enhanced by a slow, rolling breakbeat which comes in strong after a few phrases. When it cuts out, it’s replaced by vocal parts and synth arpeggios, which give it a depth and complexity that makes it hard to believe you’re only midway through the album.
Track after track, The Iceberg keeps going deeper, introducing new break styles, new and important commentary. The diamond at the center of it all is “NNGE” featuring Toine on one of the albums only guest appearances. The break carries an impossible swagger and is easily the first candidate for repeat play. Indeed, the entire album can be put on repeat and just played over and over like some kind of slow-release medicine. Oddisee’s lyrics will rarely be understood on first listen, and they reveal staggering wit and poignancy on each subsequent listen. Oddisee has been prolific even over the last few months. As a result this record will very likely fall under the radar and be overlooked. It shouldn’t. But something tells me Oddisee won’t really care—there’s much more to come.