The Hip-Hop of Oddisee, Olivier St. James, & Latrell James

The crowd at the Brighton Music Hall consisted of a different makeup than the last show I saw there. Rather than a venue full of teenage boys (myself included) who threw themselves into the crowd at the Maxo Kream concert, this audience was full of more mature twenty-somethings ready for a more relaxed night. The opener of the night was Latrell James, a Boston area rapper who has been making waves with his music. Not quite on the “gang banging/druggy” side of rap such as Big Leano or Cousin Stizz, but also not the kinda dopey, humorous rap like Michael Christmas. James’ lyrics focus more on social and personal issues, including family, racism in America, and the plights of those in rougher neighborhoods. James walked on stage with his brother, joking about how his brother forgot all of the instrumentals on a computer at home. I had heard his debut mixtape Twelve while doing research for my “Modern Sounds of Modern Massachusetts” piece this winter, and I really liked what I heard.

Latrell James’ set was a bit confusing for the first time viewer, because this wasn’t a set he had been practicing for months on tour and he hasn’t been performing the songs for months. After opening his set with a couple of songs off of Twelve, he moved onto new arrangements. He focused the second chunk of his part of the night to working out the kinks with his live shows. James debuted a variety of tracks from his upcoming release Today, an album which he said was inspired by everything that has happened to him in the last year. The songs continue with the themes he explored on Twelve, but also talk about dealing with his fame as an upcoming musician. It was something special to be a part of crafting a live show, and I look forward to this artists rise to the top.

Next up was Olivier St. Louis, lead vocals and guitar for Oddisee’s backing band The Good Company. Olivier started the set by saying, “I know this is a hip-hop show, but is it okay if we play some rock and funk?” Olivier and the rest of The Good Company proceeded to take the audience on a detour away from the night’s scheduled rap, at least for twenty-five minutes. Olivier’s falsetto shocked the audience, and for his set he switched songs between rock and funk. Later into the set, the band played a cover of Thundercat’s “Them Changes,” which immediately electrified the audience.

Somewhere in Olivier St. Louis and The Good Company’s time onstage, it morphed into Oddisee’s set. First, let me sing the praises of a live backing band for a hip-hop show. The amount of energy in the room, the chemistry between the band members, and the ability to create live improvisational hip-hop instrumentals onstage (!!!) created such a unique experience. Oddisee explained later that night about how they had all grown up together in Washington D.C., and you can tell by the way they interact while performing that they’ve known each other for a long time.

Oddisee’s instrumentals take a lot of inspiration from “Go-Go” music, a subgenre of funk extremely popular in the DMV area. In a hip hop perspective the music is similar to the boom bap inspirations of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Oddisee’s subject matter focuses more on social issues than anything else. An 2011 NPR All Songs Considered segment says:

“Oddisee is part of a new crop of artists who are returning to the early roots of hip-hop and emulating East Coast MC’s like Eric B. & Rakim, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. Oddisee says these rappers didn’t talk about drugs or murder, and he could relate more to their lyrics.”

Oddisee’s songs talked about hot topics like Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter, whitewashing, and Trump’s America. While I was watching him, his mannerisms and subject matter reminded me of Logic but done in a better light. Logic is often criticized (and rightly so) for talking a lot and not saying anything with much value, as well as not using the storytelling potential of the medium to its fullest. Oddisee’s music is straight up hip hop, not cut with skits or messages without meaning, and he takes an “old school” approach to his rhymes. Even though he came onto the scene in 1999, Oddisee still seems like a “young man’s rapper,” and is still talking about relevant topics.

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