Washington, D.C. born and New York City-based, singer-songwriter Oddisee has built an easy-going career, his latest album To What End released January 20, 2023 under Outer Note Label, certifying his tranquil melodies and invigorating raps. Amir Mohamed el Khalifa made a name for himself by embracing his Maryland, D.C. suburb upbringing, often singing about his own experiences in the constantly-changing Prince William County. Now, after having released countless mixtapes, Oddisee continues to reflect on the stories that got him here, spitting out hard-hitting truths to the beat of a jazz choir and the strings of a violin.
To What Ends opens with “The Start of Something,” an orchestral piece that highlights not only Oddisee’s chill, relaxed voice, but his ability to pair power with softness. He uses the track to engrave his current place in the music spotlight, talking about how he, “Gained confidence in an industry swarmed in doubt/ Accomplishments made of experiences void of clout.” The following song, “How Far,” introduces De La Soul-type energy, Oddisee bringing in jazzy choirs to sing his chorus.
The soft hip-hop, almost low-fi-esque beats remain on the third track “Many Hats.” It’s repetitive of the sounds heard before, but instead of maintaining a state of monotony, Oddisee skillfully transforms it into one of the hardest things for an artist to create: consistency. The piece covers the idea of being caught up in the world around you and the struggle to maintain individuality, the theme reviving itself on other songs like “Ghetto to Meadow”, “More to Go”, and “Work to Do.” Oddisee raps, “We retell the same sagas of our great fathers/ Today ain’t harder you just bothered by the same events.”
The fifth track “Choices” marks the turning point in To What End. In the next couple of songs Oddisee joins forces with other upcoming hip-hop artists: Phonte, BeMyFiasco, Kay Young, Freeway, C.S. Armstrong, Oliver St.Louis, Toine Jameson, Dilal, Noochie, Haile Supreme, and Sain Ezekiel.
In the seventh of the sixteen-track album, Oddisee is accompanied by Freeway, the pair singing “Ghetto to Meadow,” a track as powerful and melancholic as its title precedes. Freeway’s more aggressive sputter beautifully mixes with Oddisee’s relaxed manner, sending the song into a true middle zone of stereotypical intense rap and the lighter, more R&B-like tone. The usage of slower trap beats and piano chords as segues into verses mirrors the composition of Marvin Gaye. But, Oddisee has managed to separate himself from the Motown icon, and has instead focused on the different ways he can still achieve his distinct utopian sound through electric guitars (“Race”, “Try Again”) and orchestral movements (“Hard to Tell”).
“I’ve people watched from the steps of Union station to the square/ I can’t help but notice what’s distinct’s becoming scarce/ We gladly trade our freedom for convenience cause it’s comfort over quality, a burden to think logically.” Despite leaving, your life finds a way to remind you where you’re from. In his twelveth song “People Watching.” Oddisee transports listeners back in time to his life in Washington, D.C., a city where he often spent his days watching the politicians, Hill interns, and the normal folk walk. It’s a far more raw piece, a vulnerable upset with minor piano keys that cut through the previously upbeat tracks.
The album closes with “Race,” a look into the musician’s unsure future and his eternal hope for certainty. While Oddisee may remain rooted in the classic, laid-back rap styles of the past, his love for nostalgia propels him forward instead of holding him back, In an ever-changing genre of strong men hissing out rhymes and rhythms, it’s refreshing to hear a cooler take on the same important issues. As Oddisee states, “So what’s next? I don’t know” he answers his own question of To What End with nothing more than, “I just know I won’t rest.”