I’m a sucker for homecomings. Especially when it involves an artist performing in front of their hometown crowd. Kanye West playing in Chicago, Jay-Z in Brooklyn, or Drake at the Air Canada Centre. Homecoming shows are rare and exciting spectacles with sky-high expectations. While Oddisee doesn’t have the same pedigree at these artists, his return to D.C. was not to be missed.
On March 14th, fans congregated at U Street Music Hall—an eclectic basement dance club in the nation’s capital—which has hosted the likes of Skrillex and Disclosure, and is recognized as one of the best dance clubs on the East Coast. Devotees came out all week to celebrate the hall’s eighth birthday and celebrate Oddisee, a native of nearby Maryland, who now calls Brooklyn home. The rapper/producer brought along his pal and collaborator, Olivier St. Louis, and the Washington Slizzard himself, Ras Nebyu, rounding out a homegrown lineup.
Nebyu came out first—armed with a mic, a hypeman, and a DJ, he plowed through his tracks. “I’m not so good at this talking shit…play the next track,” he told the crowd. At only 26, he’s been a staple in the D.C. rap scene, a testament to the crew based sing-rap that has come to define the city’s sound. Tracks like ‘Thirsty Packman” and “God Bless” have solidified his unique sound. I’m excited to see what else he has in store.
Olivier St. Louis—previously Olivier Daysoul—hit the stage next with a funky genre-spanning set. St. Louis, born in D.C. but raised in the United Kingdom, is an artist whose vast experience with electronic, funk, jazz, and soul music allows his blending of sound to come naturally. He seamlessly transitioned from a funk breakdown into a thunderous guitar solo.
After being trained in BioScience at Oxford he embarked on a dual life of music and science, landing him tracks with artists like Hudson Mohawk and Bibio. Now, years later, that scientific precision bleeds through into his music. St. Louis tore through 2017’s Ever Since the Fall, his hits, and a cover of Thundercat’s “Them Changes” with a deliberate freedom.
His show was electric. I could listen to this man play for hours. Velvet pipes and silky smooth guitar carried me all along for his set that was just shy of an hour. 10 minutes into the set, phones lit up faces throughout the crowd to feverishly Google just who the hell Olivier St. Louis is. It’s a true testament to a quality performer when you watch people download their most recent album mid-set. St. Louis flexed his vocal chops on tracks like “Better Than You” and had even the cool-looking try hards dancing their asses off to “Foolish.”
Just as St. Louis began to wind his set down and people headed for the bathrooms, the smoking section, and the bar, Oddisee exploded onto stage powering through “Built By Pictures,” a catchy, spaced out, break drum beat with a pumping brass sample. He treated the hometown crowd to a career-spanning, 15-song set— even dropping a quick remix of Jay-Z’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle.”
After almost 20 years in the game, it’s tough to see why Oddisee hasn’t had much mainstream success. His music is smart, political and artfully sewn together. His albums are cohesive. The live show is a spectacle, audience interaction is plenty, everyone is dancing, and his band Good Compny is tight as hell. I thought—maybe the audience is too niche? But there were men, women, black folks, white folks, hipsters, and hypebeasts. With the technical skills of New York 90s and the sweet flow of Atlanta’s Dirty South, I struggle to find a reason why he isn’t a household name. Our own editor-in-chief Elliot Williams suggested, “He fast-raps lyrical bars on every song and has only a few recognizable hooks. His beats are where the money is.”
I like to think it’s because guys like Olivier St. Louis and Oddisee are operating on a different wavelength. More concerned with spreading their talent, message and artistry than they are with an offer for a major label, their live show was a truly exciting and uplifting experience.