This feature is one of a two-part Ray-Ban series that highlights the brand’s connection to timeless, authentic artists who display courage and creativity in their work and output everyday. More than just musicians, these icons-in-the-making are also thought leaders, purposefully using their art to build people up, support their global communities, and to help people clearly see the best in themselves. Read on to see how they’re accomplishing these goals in style.
Oddisee is well aware of his good fortune. When you ask the rapper/producer if he's encountered any setbacks due to 2020’s pandemic shutdown, he doesn’t groan about being benched. There’s only gratitude for the privilege of time it afforded him to be productive at his own pace. “I've had more time to do more work and explore things that I put on the back burner,” long-time glasses wearer Oddisee explains from his Brooklyn studio, where today he's matched his pair of transparent RB4323V Ray-Ban frames to a black beanie and an olive army jacket. “I've been blessed that [I get] more studio time, more records to work on, more things to produce… I wake up in the morning, I walk to my studio, I work, I finish, I go home with my daughter and my wife, done.”
Like most people, Oddisee, born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa in Washington, D.C., started out the year with a full plan. He had an album due in March, a U.S. tour set for April, festivals in Europe all summer, and then a European tour in the fall. The festivals and fall gigs were booked, and the tour route was being locked in. But even before COVID-19 struck the United States, Oddisee knew he had to change things up. In early December, he called up his booking agent, manager, and distributor to tell them to cancel the April tour dates because he felt the album wasn’t ready.
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"When it comes to eyewear, I look for something timeless and malleable. Life is constantly evolving."
“I want more time to work on it and just be in the studio. It's too soon for me to go on tour. Cancel it,” he told them. Once they agreed, Oddisee bounced. “I went to Sudan to see my dad, then came back in January and started working. I get back and my dad is like, ‘You won't believe what happened after you left. I got real sick.’” Although his dad healed from what he still thinks was COVID-19, Oddisee knew 2020 wouldn’t be like other years. After squeezing in one last Bangkok show in March, he realized there’d be no more live performances anytime soon.
Once back in the States from Thailand, Oddisee had to quarantine before he could see his family. So he put those solo weeks to good use, recording a brand new record. His EP Odd Cure dropped in July 2020 and includes six songs, plus five skits recorded from phone calls made while in isolation. Those catch up sessions proved to be eye opening for him. “I found myself calling people who I hadn't spoken to in years,” Oddisee says. “I found my father and my family in Sudan calling me saying, ‘Oh, my God, I saw the news. Are you okay?’ and me realizing that never in my life has that been the other way around.”
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"Having frames that can represent my personality externally are a helpful assistance in my efforts to convey who and what I am to people."
Oddisee thought about his manager in Berlin, his best friend in Europe, another pal in San Francisco, his mother in D.C., his father in Sudan, and himself in Brooklyn. “This is unprecedented,” he remembers thinking. “We've had a tsunami over here, monsoon over here, an Ebola breakout here, and SARS over here, but we've never experienced the same thing at the same time, regardless of class, race, ethnicity, religion, country. This is a pivotal moment in society and I really wanted to capture this feeling in music.”
Oddisee’s village—his friends, family, fellow creators—have long played pivotal roles in helping him see his full potential. As a kid, he had many creative passions. For school, he was supposed to leave D.C. to study graphic design and illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, but those around him helped him realize that music was the one thing that loved him back. “I would make a mosaic, some surrealist piece, or a watercolor, and everyone from classmates to my parents to peers to teachers would say, ‘That's nice,’” Oddisee recalls, sitting down at one his keyboards, switching glasses to a pair of bold, black RB5388 Ray-Ban frames, as though he's consciously adopting a more serious vibe as he digs deep on his personal history. “But I would freestyle at lunch, go to open mics and show up for battles, and people would be like, ‘Do that again. Hey, you guys need to listen to him. Do that again.’"
Open mic nights eventually turned into a buzzing career as part of the D.C. hip-hop group Diamond District. Then he went solo and began to thrive, creating albums like The Good Fight and The Iceberg, performing with The Roots, and producing for Jazzy Jeff, Little Brother, and De La Soul. However, it took a conversation with fellow artist 9th Wonder to make Oddisee really think about why he was making music and what he had to say. The two were backstage after a performance at Virginia Tech, where Oddisee remembers 9th advising, “‘You and the crew are good, but the problem with y'all is you don't have a story. You're good at music, but there's a lot of people who are good at music. You got to have a story.’” With 9th Wonder’s critique heavy on his mind, Oddisee went home to do a little soul searching.
After some thought, Oddisee's artist bio wrote itself. He was born in D.C., spent his weeks in Upper Marlboro, Prince George’s County, and Largo, Maryland, his weekends in Southeast D.C., and his summers in Khartoum, Sudan. “I went from the ’80s and the ’90s in the Murder Capital and the crack epidemic of Washington, D.C. to one of the wealthiest Black populations of America to one of the most war torn, genocidal countries in the world,” Oddisee says. “These things shape you. This is my story. This is what I want to tell. That's the answer to 9th's question years later.”
And honoring the people, places, and communities that helped Oddisee write his story are a crucial part of his artistic mission too. "I may create art but it's a community of listeners that give me a platform," the rapper says. "It's that same community that often inspires my future works when I get the opportunity to connect with them. That relationship of something today affecting my creative choices of tomorrow tether my past, present, and future together."
"Clear vision is everything. No matter what the obstacle, having the ability to see past it is what keeps me focused and optimistic."
At this point in his life, Oddisee clearly sees who he is and the kind of man he wants to be. Now, that purpose and intention show up in his work and the way he presents himself. “I'm a person who appreciates quality and minimalism,” he says, noting that this trait even extends to his collection of classic glasses, which includes some vintage Ray-Ban eyewear, and to the way he lives his life. To him, as long as he’s walking in his purpose and is successful without sacrificing peace of mind, he’s doing things right.
“I'm not here to impress anyone,” Oddisee says. Quite the opposite. “I want to be able to wake up and sleep when I want, eat what I want when I want, go wherever I want when I want,” he explains. “If those things are possible for myself and my family, Alhamdulillah, I'm good. I don't need anything else."