Oddisee and Good Company at 9:30 Club - A Homecoming
“DC, we back home!” The capacity crowd erupted, hanging on Oddisee’s every word as the MC paused momentarily to celebrate his arrival at Washington’s most iconic venue. His backing ensemble, Good Compny, launched into the next track – an explosion from a drum set with more pieces than Nick Cannon’s Drumline and a rumble of unpredictable notes from the bassist’s six-string… yes, a six-string. Crouched, poised, posed, the rapper held for a photo opportunity, eager audience to his back, before standing and skillfully spitting the next verse.
My brother-in-law, Christopher, first introduced me to Oddisee a few years back, recommending Rock Creek Park, the 2011 mixtape named for the national park that bisects Northwest DC. I’ve been hoping to catch the rapper live for a long time, and last week, Rachael, Christopher, our friend Chessie, and I joined a raucous crowd to do just that.
Oddisee is the stage name for Amir Mohamed el Khalifa, a Sudanese-American rapper and producer originally from the Washington, DC-area who graced the stage of the 9:30 Club late last week on his national Beneath the Surface tour. Lyrically, Oddisee’s songs often recount the MC’s upbringing in the DMV, reflect on topical social issues, and consistently maintain optimism and accountability in the face of conflict, be it societal or personal. That’s not to say that Oddisee’s songs are without struggle, cynicism, or critique (consider Oddisee’s inquiry, “How do you police the streets of a neighborhood you do not engage in?” on “Like Really”). Yet somehow, his lyrics evoke solidarity rather than isolation, motivation rather than lamentation. See “Want to Be,” whose chorus proclaims, “I just want to be happy / I just want to be free / I just want to be left alone / I just want to be me.”
Oddisee’s latest album, Iceberg, released earlier this year, is no different in that regard. After rolling through “Digging Deep,” “Things,” and “Built by Pictures,” Iceberg’s first three tracks, Oddisee modestly plugged his latest work. “Ya’ll gonna hear it tonight,” he laughed. The members of Good Compny voiced their approval, and over the next 90 minutes executed a master class in live performance.
Good Compny’s expertise spanned a variety of styles, intricately and effortlessly weaving funk, soul, R&B, gospel, and go-go elements and systematically showcasing each musician’s unique skill. Their performance mirrored the intricacies of each Oddisee track, even while showing off their individual talents. From soaring organ hook to buzzing bass lines. From reverb-soaked guitar riffs, to breakneck drum fills, each of which sent Christopher’s jaw plummeting to the floor. It was clear that these songs were written with a live band performance, rather than a DJ set in mind.
All the while, Oddisee articulated verse after verse, showing off an assortment of rhyming schemes and measured cadences. With hardly a sign of a recovery breath, the rapper varied his delivery in tempo and emotion. During “Hold it Back,” the MC stirred the crowd into a Simon-says-esque call and response (“When I say ‘Hold it,’ you say ‘Back!’”), eliciting wry laughter from the audience who over-anticipated a call – “I didn’t say ‘Hold it!’” laughed Oddisee.
It was as if the entire community had participated at an Oddisee show before. Perhaps everyone else had. During crowd favorite “That’s Love,” it didn’t even take directions from the MC to rouse the audience into participation.
But what was apparent and especially distinctive throughout the entire set was the chemistry between Oddisee and Good Compny. “This all started in three basements,” Oddisee stated, referring to the origins of his MC notoriety. “Your mama’s basement,” – Oddisee pointed to guitarist Ameer Dyson – “Your mama’s basement,” – Oddisee pointed to DJ Unown – “and my mama’s basement.” Each member of the band raised their eyes and pointed toward the second-floor bar overlooking the stage, directly behind our balcony position. “This show goes out to all the mamas!” Oddisee shouted as the house lights went up. The crowd erupted, including the performers’ parents perched just above us on the balcony, and the entire U Street corridor recognized the homecoming in progress.
Oddisee closed the evening with “Nnge,” a go-go-beat driven ode to his hometown that repeats, “This is for the county and the areas surrounding / DC, Maryland, and Virginia, know I’m with ya.” The ensuing track saw a parade of local MCs (including Toine, as featured on the album version of the track) and instrumentalists stir the room into a cacophony of sound and celebration that was all DMV. As the song climaxed – drums thumping, keys rambling, guitars whirring, crowd roaring – Oddisee proclaimed, “Republic Gardens. DC9. Bohemian Caverns. I rocked every spot on this strip except this one – until tonight. We did it!”
Oddisee’s inaugural performance at 9:30 Club was a celebration, and likely felt like a lifetime achievement for the rapper. For the DMV, and the U Street Corridor in particular, it was a homecoming of a native son. Yet I’d bet there’s a good chance that Oddisee and Good Compny will be back to do it again on U Street real soon.