Oddisee, a Maryland native and Brooklyn transplant, has been one of the country’s top independent hip-hop producers for more than half a decade, amassing a sizeable fan base out of the rap nostalgists and beatheads attracted to his mellow, expansive instrumentals. But his new record marks a first; the rapping on The Iceberg—fluid, dynamic and above all, thoughtful—finally matches the pull and urgency of his production. In the past, a solemn chorus of horns and bass, like the one on Iceberg opener “Digging Deep,” may have outstripped the lyrical overlay. Here, though, the music provides a backdrop for Oddisee to explain the album’s premise: Our actions are only comprehensible once you understand the circumstances that have shaped our respective characters.
The Iceberg zeroes in on those circumstances, while serving up another selection of near-perfect beats. On the clear standout, “You Grew Up,” one verse traces the divergent paths of Oddisee and a white friend who grows up to become a murderous police officer; another examines a man whose self-loathing leads him to radical Islam. Oddisee offers a complex portrait of both men, and his storytelling is complemented by sharp lyrical asides. The producer places himself under the microscope as well: The go-go beat on “NNGE” affords him an opportunity to return to his D.C. roots, while on “Rain Dance,” he explains how his ambitions as a musician confounded his Sudanese father. The parental pressure led him to focus on his finances.
Oddisee’s focus on the business of his art led him to analyze the weaknesses of independent hip-hop as a whole. In an interview with Passion of the Weiss last summer, he explained his takeaways—“We rap about rapping, we chastise, we preach, we live in the past”—and said that he had challenged himself to do better. He’s succeeded in that regard. The Iceberg uses dynamic narratives to (mostly) avoid the sanctimony that has stained the genre, pairing Odd’s always-reliable board work with a new commitment to lyrical exploration.