VICE Presents: Oddisee and Melodownz in Conversation
Ahead of his New Zealand tour, presented by VICE, Oddisee chats with opening act Melodownz about family, inspiration and recording the musical efforts of drug dealers.
Oddisee has been around long enough to come up with his own theory on the music world. There are artists who are all about education and those who are about entertainment, he says. Music works in cycles that ping pongs between the two.
We can take a pretty good guess at which category Oddisee falls into. The future-facing soul-rap auteur is coming to New Zealand, for a nationwide tour presented by VICE NZ and our friends at Madcap. Oddisee will be joined on tour by Melodownz, a local artist with a message of his own. We connected the two by phone for a wide-ranging conversation before they hit the road together.
Melodownz: Hey, what’s up my brother?
Oddisee: Hey man, how you doing?
Melodownz: Good man. It’s a privilege to speak to you. I’m an MC from New Zealand and I’m gonna be joining you on the NZ leg of your tour. Mad love brother. So where abouts are you based at the moment?
Oddisee: I live in New York currently. I’m from Washington DC but I live in Brooklyn, New York.
Melodownz: I noticed you’ve got a baby girl, congrats brother.
Oddisee: Thank you very much man, I appreciate it. She’s 15 months old now.
Melodownz: I just wanted to know how you find the balance of being a father and spending time with your family and the music, touring and stuff.
Oddisee: Well, you do what you have to do. I mean this is how I make my living so I go out in the world—I go to work like any other parent—and I come home and provide for my family. And for as much time as I am on the road, I’m equally at home. I’m working a five-day week, where you condense spending time with your family into the evening for a few hours and Saturday. When I’m home literally from sun up to sun down everyday I’m available. It’s the trade off that I make work.
Melodownz: I love how you make that work bro. So like as an artist I want to pick your brain about your creative process. I’m interested in how you come up with your ideas for a song.
Oddisee: My process is fairly simply you know. I decide I want to do an album and I come up with the title of the album first, and then I come up with the subject matter that the title is about, and then I sit and produce music until I feel like I’ve come up with 12 tracks that I feel fit the theme of the record. Then I start to write the album from track one to track 12, and I record from track one to track 12, and I mix from track one to track 12. It’s just like writing a book. A beginning, a middle, and an end.
Melodownz: Man, that’s tight. I’m working on this new project, it’s called Melo and Blues, it’s a double EP. I kind of did the same thing, I had the name before I had the songs. Sometimes I feel the vibe, and I just start writing.Oddisee: It’s been a while since I just freely wrote, like I usually write per project. But you know, there’s no one way to do it.
Melodownz: You dropped The Iceberg last year. What was the meaning behind the name of that album?
Oddisee: It was about encouraging people to dig beneath the surface, to understand why things are the way they are, instead of judging things just on the top layer. We were living in a world—well, we still are—where people are very shallow and judge things on the surface, run with their first understanding of something without digging deeper to analyse things. It was an album dedicated not only to political awareness, but the album was about encouraging people to dig beneath the surface and understand why things are the way they are with love, finances, depression, emotions, politics, racism—all kinds of things.
Melodownz: That’s beautiful, brother, beautiful. I feel we need that, as musicians, as artists, we need to keep a message like that in our music. You’ve been in the game a long time now, so what are the changes, positive and negative that you’ve seen over the years?
Oddisee: Music works in cycles, so for the extremities, you know it gets extremely education oriented then it becomes over-saturated with educational music, then it turns, becoming entertainment, then it becomes extremely entertaining, then people get over-saturated with it not having any subject matter, then they go back to educational.
I’ve been around long enough to just witness that cycle over and over and over—entertaining artists versus educational artists—and then it just ping pongs back and forth. When you live long enough and you see it long enough you realise that that was just a moment in time and it happens over and over.
Melodownz: What’s the most conducive space for you to create in? Is there a type of environment you like to be in when you’re creating or is it just like when the ideas come it can be anywhere?
Oddisee: Ideas come anywhere at any time. But if I had a preference as to where I’d like to be when I create, it’d definitely be at my studio in my house. It’s my favourite place to be. I’ve created the conditions—the ideal conditions—to create in. Anywhere else is welcome—inspiration hits you when it hits you and you should be open to receive it—but I think of my studio almost as an incubator.
Melodownz: That’s kind of like me as well. I’ve been seeing my girlfriend for about five years and I could never write around her, every time she’s with me, for some reason I just couldn’t write. Then we moved in together last year and I kind of had to adapt to my surroundings. I mean she’s always going to be around when I’m creating so I had to try find my little corner and find that space within her space if you know what I mean?
Oddisee: Yeah man, of course.
Melodownz: I notice you’ve got a bunch of dates in Europe and in Asia. I’m just wondering what are the biggest differences you notice touring in different spots?
Oddisee: Honestly, the more you travel and the more you tour, the more you realise the world is far more similar than it is different. There aren’t that many differences, you know? There are crowds of people who know you, and there are crowds of people who don’t. The crowds who don’t know you, you have to win them over, and the crowds that know you, you have to provide them with what they’re expecting. So you learn to create a show that wins people over and gives them what they expect—and then it’s all the same after that.
Melodownz: If you were to curate your own festival what would five artists, dead or alive, like off the top be?
Oddisee: That’s a good question. Dead or alive? Man. Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Marvin Gaye, Tribe Called Quest and Lauryn Hill.
Melodownz: That’s love man, that’s love. I feel a lot of new cats these days that want to get into the music industry or they are aspiring artists, they always want to get signed to a specific major or something like that, but really you can just DIY and then get picked up like that.
Oddisee: It’s a beautiful thing about the age we live in. I think it’s one of the best times in music because it’s just so free, people can get music instantly at the same time around the world and you know there’s no cultural restrictions, everyone can listen to everything and you know you can take control of your own music industry and your own career if you have the business savvy to do it, you can take matters into your own hands and I think now more than ever before that’s a possibility people are capable of.
Melodownz: How did your journey start, you wanting to do music and how old were you and what were you doing before you had a music career?
Oddisee: So I was 18, fresh out of high school, decided I didn’t want to go to university, I wanted to do music, and that was it, that was all I’ve ever done. You know I had a studio in the basement and I recorded everybody in DC. I made my money off all the drug dealers in DC—they would hustle at night, then come during the day with the money they made and they would make mix tapes and pay me to record them. I transitioned from that to recording my own music and then I started booking my own shows and I've just been about this music since day one.
Melodownz: I’m 26 now but I’ve been doing music since I was a teenager as well, but being in New Zealand, it wasn’t until I went to Europe last year, until I realised we’re actually on the bottom of the globe and if you wanna do this music shit we have to work extra hard to get seen, because obviously people never heard of where we’re from. What kind of advice could you give a brother like me that’s trying to go hard?
Oddisee: The advice I would give any up-and-coming artist is don’t fall victim to underdeveloped and overexposure, you know, where you focus more on your content and your content roll-out rather than just cultivating your craft and your music—where you focus more on your imagery, your photography and your stature and your style and your social media, more than the actual product. You know if the product is good, it sells itself. And that’s something I tell everybody. The clearest indicator in the world is how many times you’re calling the people versus how many times they calling you, you know. If you’re calling people more than they’re calling you, you need to go back to the studio, today.
This conversation was edited for clarity and length.
Oddisee is touring New Zealand in December with his band Good Compny, US singer/songwriter Olivier St Louis and Melodownz presented by Madcap and VICE NZ. Check out our Facebook for more details. Here are the wheres and whens:
Take a listen to Melodownz's brand new double EP Melo & Blues.