Published Mar 29, 2016We are told to separate the art and the artist, but Oddisee makes that proposition difficult. His work is so rooted in his development as a person that one cannot simply enjoy the tunes without celebrating his growth. As a producer and rapper, his introspections and beat selections are inseparable. Alwasta, "the plug," reconnects us with a man a little more sure of who he is, having answered many of the questions on 2015's The Good Fight and now asking new ones.
This seven-song EP was composed and completed in one week's time, designed as a lead-up to an instrumental album in May. Far from a teaser, Alwasta is a proclamation of Amir Mohamed el Khalifa's evolving role as artist and bandleader. It opens with "Asked About You," a sombre telling of an immunity to obliviousness, worth the price of admission for its gymnastic colonialism synopsis. "Strength & Weakness" is a bouncing revelation of coalescing character traits, once again showing that while Oddisee's best muse is Oddisee, self-reflection is wonderfully contagious.
Fans of Black Milk & drummer Daru Jones' collaborations on 2010's Album of the Year will probably enjoy the dusty knock of the too-short, all about the Benjamins "Wouldn't Be Surprise." "Lifting Shadows," arguably the EP's strongest cut, is an aggressive ode to a country that defies the totality of acceptance. "I love my country, hate its politics, can't just let me be," he raps while contrasting the theoretical idea of America with his actual lived experience. "Regardless of my belief, I thought the Fathers wrote it clear?"
"Catching Vibes" is the only song that falls short of its intended mission. An easy breezy aesthetic is obscured by Oddisee's inherent reality checks that defy any and all escapism. This is intentional of course, but those intentions are better executed on the EP's closer "Slow Groove." Rocking over an interpolation of Eddie Kendricks' "Intimate Friends" (that will have you reaching for Sweet Sable's "Old Time's Sake" soon after), Oddisee waxes about his devotion to his craft and career with sure footing. In a laissez-faire manner he asks, "What's more tragic: living in a hyper reality or the systematic murder of magic?"
What is clear is that the answers to Amir Mohamed's pondering will reveal themselves eventually, be it on his next album or three records later. In a game where every step risks falling off, Oddisee knows every inch of his ledge. Alwasta is not a brave new direction in his music, but it is a strong signal that we can expect a constant progression for years to come. (Mello Music Group)