In a 2007 experiment conducted by Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten, world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, incognito in a baseball cap, was planted in Washington, D.C.’s L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station to see how much money he could generate from playing his violin for passers-by. The night prior, Bell performed for a sold-out crowd in Boston; in the Metro Station, however, he could barely get people to listen or pay him any mind as he stood and played for more than 45 minutes. Bell was only able to collect a little over $32.
The Bell Experiment helped DMV-raised producer/MC Oddisee develop the concept behind his latest musical installment, People Hear What They See. During SXSW this past March, Oddisee spoke with SoulCulture and described the concept:
It’s basically to sum up that people don’t really hear what they hear unless they’re sold on something visually. We live in a very, very visual time in our history and everything needs some kind of visual representation for people really grasp what it is that they’re saying — that’s how you get sold a lot of bullshit at the same time. Every song that I wrote was written outside. I was observing everything that I looked at when I wrote it, so it’s not my reality, but it’s a reality. There will be a lot of visual representation for every song as well. It’s really an album concept that ties in audio and visual and how important they are and how connected they are.
Despite working for years as a solo artist on projects like Traveling Man, Odd Seasons and Rock Creek Park, as well as being a member of Diamond District alongside MCs yU and X.O., this is Oddisee’s first LP.
Even though the key concept of People Hear What They See was to create an introspective album based on the things that were heard during the creation process, the album flows almost like the coming-of-age story of a minority in America who is a little jaded by the “American Dream.” The album is drenched with social commentary as well as relatable subjects like relationships and the economy. More than any other project in his discography, this album gives listeners an honest portrayal of who Oddisee is, speaking to his intellect and proving that he’s more than just a “rap cat.”
On “Do It All,” Oddisee recruits his Diamond District counterparts for a song that explores the survival-of-the-fittest aspect of a constant grind. It also showcases the chemistry of the trio, building anticipation for Diamond District’s upcoming album, March on Washington.
Putting tracks “That Real” and “Let It Go” in a sequence works out well, as both have a similar 70’s vibe and provide background information on Oddisee.
The production on “That Real” is very, very soulful, with a sample that almost sounds like live vocals. The song sees Oddisee speaking essentially about the multiple façades of himself, the feeling he gets from rapping, his views on the industry and his personal experiences.
On “Let It Go,” the production in the intro sounds like the theme song from Shaft, perhaps done purposely to show the New York connection (Oddisee dwells in Brooklyn and Shaft was based in Harlem). Developing this connection further, Oddisee essentially provides listeners with the backstory of why he moved to New York — basically to follow his dreams despite the obstacles that he may face. Oliver Daysoul’s vocals provide additional help with the chorus on what is really a motivational song if you take the time to listen to the lyrics.
“American Greed” was inspired by the laws, legislation, congressmen and lawyers of Oddisee’s Washington, D.C., stomping grounds (where he spends a lot of time when not in NY). The song addresses the way people come to America in hopes of obtaining “The American Dream” only to often find that it’s not everything it seems. The first few lines speak to this point with references to George Bush, oil and gas prices and more. Oddisee raps, “Supply and demand can fill them corners off late night / that suffering bestowed us by the Great White, not Columbus… but Colombians.” The concept of being greedy is only repeated on the chorus,
“This is everything you want and everything you need, this is gold old fashion American greed/ See we get it how we get it and we spend it how we spend it because it’s good old fashion American greed.”
“Way in Way Out” has interesting wordplay exploring various ideas of hustling, being Black in White America, and trying to do well in society but still being a target. A specific line that sticks out like a sore thumb is, “My word, I’m running from my block right into your Wall… Street that when I see it close it’s just a prop, signed to keep me cropped outside the picture that pictures my people in defeat.” This song’s only downfall is how abruptly it ends.
For “Thinking Maybes,” Oddisee collaborates again with Daysoul for a song about the confusing rollercoaster ride a lot of relationships go through. Perhaps he starts questioning the relationship dynamics because he’s been drinking, smoking, or maybe just thinking.
“Another’s Grind” is the epitome of what hip-hop should be — head nodding, nice metaphors, complete with the “yo’s” for people to participate along with.
With “Set You Free,” Oddisee creates a jazzy vibe, spitting thoughtful lyrics like, “Furthermore less ain’t more no more/ we assess success like herbivores / More green, more esteem and clout to liberate us from that twenty-four hourly bout / Better known as the day-to-day struggle, no escape from to make one you got to hustle,” and “Man builds rockets to go to the moon but can’t lend hands to the needy in help.“
With People Hear What They See, Oddisee gives listeners a piece of himself through a well-balanced project. Out of all of his material to date, this project seems to be the most complete, perhaps due to the fact that he produced and raps on every song.
A great album and a clear representation as to why he is on a lot of people’s radar.