It shouldn’t matter what time of the year an artist releases music, but Oddisee’s latest album feels like because it was released in January, the world promptly moved on. Perhaps my Twitter algorithms are hanging on by their last, ahem, thread, but this album should be a bigger deal. Similar to last week’s write-up of Little Simz’s “NO THANK YOU”, these late December/early January releases seem to be lost in the shuffle of holidaying journalists, distracted social media coverage, and for us at RR, a failure to celebrate these albums when they are brand new. That’s on us, but in this case, me, as I’ve been listening to Oddisee’s latest LP “To What End” since it dropped, and it’s another album that improves the more time you spend with it. In that sense, reactionary takes through Twitter prove less valuable. For context, I consider Oddisee one the greatest hip-hop artists of the last decade, and I’ve eagerly awaited his next album since 2017’s superb “The Iceberg” capped off an impressive run of projects by the Washington, D.C. producer/emcee. Personally, I prefer listening to him to Kendrick Lamar, and the only reason I compare the two is they both took five years out to craft their next classic. Neither succeeded, in my opinion, but Oddisee came closer.

“To What End” is a lovely record, but perhaps it lacked the cutting social commentary of songs like “You Grew Up” and “Own Appeal”. Post-Trump and post-Covid though, it’s an understandable transition, with Oddisee leaning on more soulful, laid-back beats. As he states “my greatest attributes are what I’m lacking too” on “Many Hats”, he refers to his multi-talents potentially holding him back in a world of artists specializing in one craft. The Kendrick comparison is therefore unfair, as he’s more in line with a Kanye West. Hip-hop is frequently trotting out the same formulaic structure: sixteen bars, hook, sixteen bars, hook. Hell, we don’t even get a third verse these days! There are bridges here, and instrumentals are allowed to breathe. There’s something natural and freeing about the way Oddisee crafts his music, but it doesn’t dilute the writing – Oddisee still comes through with his boxing-jab of a flow and one-liners are available for those seeking them. Clocking “before I had a Child I never thought about Destiny” after my tenth listen is an example of this, and it’s those levels of depth that have marked Oddisee out as a fine, often underrated lyricist.

“Already Knew” possesses the holy trinity all of Oddisee’s best material does: soulful melody, thought-provoking lyricism, and the live instrumentation that undoubtedly sounds incredible live. Oddisee continues to throw in British vocalists on his albums, this time including Kay Young as the third verse on a track with Phonte. It’s a bold statement and one that pays off. I’d love to hear Oddisee work with Little Simz next – they must be on each other’s radars. 

“Try Again” is a positive spin on the never give up attitude needed to survive in the music industry. It’s a theme I’m hearing more from artists, with Supastition addressing this recently on his album, and RJ Payne citing that he didn’t blow up until he was 40 (he’s doing himself a discredit there, given he’s 39). It’s also interesting to note that this album isn’t on Mello Music Group, a label Oddisee has been associated with for over a decade and helped build to be the reliable brand it is today. There appear to be no hard feelings, but the split is touched upon in “Hard to Tell” and “All I Need” and there’s clearly a sense of relief from going independent:

“I needed to split not only from people but also their ego
I started to trip into an abyss, the ultimate evil
And that’s when you’re quick to think everybody is trying to defeat you
I learned to let slip what doesn’t exist and now I live peaceful

“Today ain’t the day I was born it’s the day that you wake up and get a new model
I been okay though with saying tomato
And y’all hit me up with tomato
A different label the product the same though
It’s BS in popular bottles
I’m not complacent I stopped at amazing while perusing greatness
Not late on payments, I shoot on location”

Something that I also noticed on this album is the length of songs is often sub-3 minutes, meaning tracks can fly by and don’t sit with the listener as they may have on previous albums. The average song length has dropped 20%:

  • The Good Fight (2015) – 3.8 minutes
  • The Iceberg (2017) – 4 minutes
  • To What End (2023) – 3.2 minutes

Considering Oddisee’s strengths lie in his ability to tell stories as an everyman, this means certain songs don’t impact the way they perhaps could have. It’s also his longest album, track-wise, since 2008’s “101” which is likely due to the hiatus he’s had through the pandemic years. Rap nerd pedantics aside, there’s plenty to enjoy – my favorite song is the aforementioned “All I Need”, which features a killer vocal performance from frequent collaborator Olivier St. Louis.

I wasn’t necessarily disappointed by some songs but underwhelmed. There’s certainly less rapping than in previous albums, with tracks like “The Way” and the Bilal-assisted “Work To Do” leaning into more neo-soul territory. “Bogarde” is an interesting experiment with bass, including trap rapper Noochie that is a well-considered presentation of that style through Oddisee’s lens, but isn’t one I return to. Despite being a fan of Freeway, I also found his intense presence on “Ghetto to Meadow” and the wordy hook a bit much.

In an era where hip-hop is often reduced to clichéd tropes and repetitive production, Oddisee stands as a beacon of creativity and innovation. His albums have never really dropped below good, but I found “To What End” is an album that grows on the listener. It does have a few tracks that sound like they could have been from older albums and the shorter track lengths I can’t ignore, but there are great tracks here to appease any self-respecting hip-hop fan seeking something more genuine and soulful in their 2023 playlists. While his streaming figures continue to be strong, Oddisee records are best consumed as albums, and this is still true with this one. I just don’t think it hits the heights of his previous material.

Oddisee :: To What End
8Overall Score