Oddisee “Odd’s Job” (ELEMENTAL Magazine, 2006)

(Click photos to enlarge. Read below.)

By William E. Ketchum III

With a steadily-building resume that boasts production credits for Wordsworth, J-Live, and Talib Kweli, Amir “Oddisee” Mohamed is emerging as one of hip-hop’s premier beasts behind the board. But don’t expect to buy his beats off the rack – all of the Maryland native’s productions are tailor-made to fit.

“I don’t make beat CDs anymore, I stopped working like that,” Oddisee says. “When an artist calls me and says they want a track from me for their album, I ask him how many he wants, what’s the deadline, and what’s his vision for what he’s looking for. I take all that information, I ask him to send me a couple of mp3 snippets, and I sit back and listen to what he’s already got. Then I go in, and make something I think is cohesive with what you’ve already got, but different, because l’m not trying to give you the same shit that somebody else already gave you.”

Oddisee has made his way through the game by learning to adapt to situations. When his man Kev Brown (popular for The Brown Album, a soulful remix of Jay-Z’s The Black Album) landed a gig at Jazzy Jeff’s A Touch Of Jazz studio in Philly, he brought all of his Low Budget crew -Kenn Starr, Cy Young, Critically Acclaimed, DJ Roddy Rod, I.Q., Kaimbr, Sean Borne, and Oddisee—up to Philly to let Jeff hear their work. Oddisee brought a CD of hardcore hip-hop music he made, and when that received a lukewarm response, he went back to the lab for six months to create soundscapes that fit in more with the soulful, jazzy sound of Philly.

“I was like, ‘Damn, he ain’t like nothing I played for him,” he remembers. “I can’t miss this opportunity.’ So I went back, I listened to my records with a different ear, I programmed my drums a different way. It made me understand how to make music for projects and clients, not necessarily just from feeling. A lot of producers make their music out of emotion and out of feeling, but if you ask them specifically how to make something, they can’t do it.”

He brought his new material back to Jazzy Jeff, and his track “Muzik Lounge” made the cut on Jeff’s 2000 album The Magnificent, showing the world his rhyming skills and establishing his trademark sound of smooth woodwinds mixed with boom-bap background elements.

“It wasn’t difficult [to change production styles], because I loved it aII,” Oddisee says. “I’m from the school where when you made a hip-hop album, you had the smooth, laid-back track, you had the storytelling track, you had the hardcore track, you had the girl track – you had all of those. My favorite albums are albums that have all of that. People claim when they like smooth, laid-back hip-hop that their main influence was A Tribe Called Quest, but they forget that Tribe made stuff like “Scenario” that was hardcore, and that’s what I’m a fan of.”

A few months after The Magnificent dropped, one of Oddisee’s co-workers at Gap clothing store told him that one of her friends were starting a record label. His co-worker told that friend, Zach Gordon, about Oddisee, and Gordon came to the store during Oddisee’s lunch break to hear some of his music. Gordon liked what he heard and tapped Oddisee to work on the label’s first compilation, You Don’t Know The Half. He initially lined up to only contribute a few tracks, but he ended up rhyming on several tracks and crafting soundscapes to most of the songs, earning executive production credits for the disc.

“Halftooth really trusted me,” Oddisee says. “They had all this money for this budget, and basically asked me who I wanted to work with and put them on this record. I got the executive production credit on that album because I assembled the majority of the artists that you hear on that record. I’ve got Little Brother on there, I got Grap [Luva] on there, I got Low Budget on there, I got Asheru on there. I put all those artists on those records. It was a good lesson on how to produce an album.”

You Don’t Know the Half helped Oddisee build a reputation. Since its release, he has crafted beats for Little Brother, Asheru, The UN, Wordsworth, and others. The collaborations that stick out the most in his mind, though, are the ones with J-Live. Oddisee says that J-Live has taken him under his wing since they initially worked together, helping him “maximize [my] potential” and bringing him along on tour. J-Live is quick to praise Oddisee just as much, though.

“He’s very solid. Seldom do I hear a beat from him where I feel like something’s missing,”