Oddisee, Mental Liberation
Oddisee's 2010 album is called "Traveling Man" and we get our first glimpse of his tireless journeying one year earlier, on the underrated Mental Liberation. The budding rapper/producer, who proudly reps the DMV (that's the DC, Maryland, Virginia region, not the dreaded Dept. of Motor Vehicles) , has made friends all over the country and recruits an impressive lot of them here — whether grizzled veterans of NY (Prince Po, J-Live), their laid-back counterparts in CA (Georgia Anne Muldrow, Declaime) or a few of Detroit's promising upstarts (Finale, Invincible).
Oddisee's beats — to oversimplify just a little — are a hybrid of these locales. Think equal parts Premier, Madlib and Dilla. These influences allow his cohorts to perform with clear direction under his aegis. So it may come as a surprise that the best vocal track on the album is the only one to feature nobody – opener "Hip-Hop's Cool Again". Over a simple-but-crushing beat, we get a particularly impressive dose of wordplay, Oddisee listing the idiosyncrasies of growing up half-black half-Sudanese ("I'm acclimated to the winter cold and the hot / spit a flow in the desert, wrote it on a cinderblock"). But after this fitting introduction, Oddisee's raps take a backseat, putting his comrades — and his beats — in the limelight. Not that this is a bad thing, though the result feels more like a compilation than a solo effort, and users may be more inclined to go the a la carte route. Give "Q&A", with its catchy hook and chopped up soul sample, a listen, as well as the lively "What's Crazy," which features dizzying drums and keys. This accomplished, likeable album assures Oddisee will be a dominant force for some time to come.