Like many emcees of today, Oddisee is a triple threat. He writes his own lyrics, makes his own beats, and has the musicianship to pull it all together. With last year’s album The Good Fight, the Washington D.C. rapper finally brought these strengths to the forefront, creating a fantastic hip-hop record that lacked nothing and overflowed with confidence, charisma, and good vibes. For many artists, an album of this quality is both a gift and a curse. Can Oddisee rise to the challenge once more, taking his music to even further pinnacles, or will he succumb to the weight of rising expectations? Oddly enough, the D.C. emcee takes a third route on The Odd Tape by releasing a solid, enjoyable beat tape.
As an Oddisee album, The Odd Tape, no matter how good it may be, feels somewhat anticlimactic. Even with his jazzy, fine-tuned instrumentals, Oddisee has always remained the star of his show. His lyrics may not be as dense and profound as Kendrick Lamar or Nas, but they certainly give his music an intellectual, feel-good appeal. Tracks like “What’s Love” and “Counter-Clockwise” from his last album prove this, not only through tightly constructed verses, but also through Oddisee’s warm voice and flow. To listen to his instrumentals by themselves may be pleasant, but it will never compare to his previous albums.
That being said, The Odd Tape still manages to pick up where The Good Fight left off. For the first half of the album, Oddisee further explores jazz hip-hop fusion with crisp drums, full horns, and hearty piano chords. “No Sugar No Cream”, one of the singles leading up to the album’s release, works in handclaps to complement added sound effects and vocal snippets, while “The Breakthrough” incorporates twinkling electronic melodies that accentuate the piano. Deviating even further from standard jazz-rap, Oddisee throws a curveball on “On the Table” by playing some tight funk guitar that colors the track beautifully. In a sense, he’s like Big K.R.I.T. in that—although they are emcees first and foremost—their clean, jazzy production styles add new dimensions to their music that most other hip-hop acts will never attain.
While these first six songs are easy on the ears, Oddisee does stick to his comfort zone a bit too much. Even at their best, these songs feel like a lackluster rehash of his previous work. After “On the Table”, however, Oddisee comes out of his shell to create some of the most interesting beats on this entire tape.
“Brea” and “Born Before Yesterday” start the second half of The Odd Tape brilliantly. The former is a bittersweet tearjerker with layered soft keys, slow drums, and a heart-wrenching melody. The latter, on the other hand, takes a noticeably moodier twist as Oddisee unleashes eerie piano and lo-fi vocal distortions across the song, making it sound inspired by Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit I Don’t Go Outside. It’s the biggest surprise that the album has to offer, yet it all goes off without a hitch.
After “Silver Linings”, a breezy cut that momentarily returns to the album’s jazzier roots, “Out at Night” picks up the experimental torch once more. Using cinematic-sounding looped string sections and handclap snares, it may not be the most authentically hip-hop instrumental on the album, but it’s a welcome and pleasant change of pace. The same can be said for “Long Way Home”, since Oddisee brings out flashier chord progressions and sweet synths to brighten up the soundscape once again. While these latter songs may be spotty at times—especially during a handful of the beat switches toward the back end of these tracks—they’re at least unique and groundbreaking for Oddisee.
If one song on this album represents the project as a whole, it has to be “Still Sleeping”. While it contains a hint of experimentalism with its electronic melody, it remains strongly rooted in the realm of jazz through Oddisee’s use of horns and lovely piano chord progressions. Although it’s by no means a bad song, it does feel repetitive, monotonous, and—dare I say—bland to an extent. The Odd Tape is the same in this regard; it’s pleasant and lively but overstays its welcome, becoming just a bit too dull to make it worth a revisit.