Pairing lush instrumentation informed by soul, electronic music, even indie rock, with sharp-witted, relatable lyrics, Oddisee (a.k.a. Amir Mohamed) has established himself as a gateway hip hop artist.
As he's traversed the east and west coasts of the continent playing tracks from his excellent solo debut, People Hear What They See, he's seen diverse crowds that include everyone from mainstream and underground rap fans to hipsters, men and women in equal numbers, young and, uh, slightly younger. (Mohamed, from Brooklyn by way of Washington, D.C., pins his age demographic between 18 and 35.)
"There's a lot of people who come up to me and say, 'I don’t normally listen to hip hop but I like your stuff,'" he told me before his show at Garfinkel’s on Sunday, the last stop on an extensive fall tour. "I think I live a lifestyle of accessibility and it shows in my music."
Maybe it was the first snowfall of the year with its fat, wet, heavy flakes halting traffic for much of the afternoon. Maybe it was the very late Sunday night set. Or maybe most Whistlerites just aren't particularly interested in live music when the snowline begins its annual descent down the mountains. But whatever the reason, Oddisee's Whistler crowd was dishearteningly sparse.
"It's kind of poetic for our last show," he said in passing, surveying the room while Whistler's own hip hop duo Animal Nation opened with a spirited performance. (Props also to local MC Lozen, who played to even fewer people, but still gave it her all — the mark of a true optimist and performer.)
To his credit, Oddisee also gave the handful of fans crowded around the front of the stage a sincere performance. When he ended after a scant five song set, the audience was understanding.
Opening up with the first track off his record, "Ready to Rock," with stuttering brass from a sampler pad — he had to leave part of his live band below the 49th parallel for logistical reasons — the song retained the same rich textures with the help from a guitarist/backing vocalist. The crowd could've been tipped off to the short set by the scarf he kept slung around his neck, burgundy toque and unzipped green coat — but hey, this is Whistler, right? His thick, blue sweater with a collar peaking out added to his on stage persona, devoid of swagger and defined, instead, by earnestness.
Leading into "That Real" the guitarist (the set wasn’t quite long enough for first name introductions) stole the spotlight during the chorus with his lovely falsetto, bouncing gently over the mic, a smile playing on his face, despite the circumstance. Oddisee's own singing chops were also highlighted on "You Know Who You Are," performed simply with the electric guitar and his own smooth croon. Mostly, though, it was his strong, accessible lyrics — delving into greed in America, depicting subway rides and other trappings of regular life, or reflecting his take on current culture — that made the show.
"For the people who stayed, thank you," he said after finishing his last track. While an awkward silence hung in the air before the overhead music kicked in again, he jumped off stage and launched into conversation with those who braved the inclement weather for a show that was understandably short, but sweet nonetheless.