There are other two-way threats in hip hop today who produce and rhyme, but I don’t know if there’s anybody else working right now who is as prolific and expansive as Oddisee. In the past couple of years, the D.C. artist has released three full length instrumental albums, all with fully formed themes, as well as producing several EPs and multiple tracks for other artists. With all of that work, it’s easy to forget that he also works as an emcee. While he never stopped rhyming, it’s been a little while since he’s done a full length album with vocals, so I’m sure there are plenty of listeners that don’t realize what a capable emcee he is. Fortunately, we get the full package here on People Hear What They See - producer, writer, emcee, performer…Oddisee can wear a lot of different hats and wear them all very well.

The most typical approach to songwriting is to be introspective and to tell your own story. It’s easy to think of a songwriter alone in their bedroom with a notebook, writing their innermost feelings. There’s nothing wrong with this, and this isn’t to say that Oddisee hasn’t written some intimate and personal rhymes before. It’s simply to preface that Oddisee specifically wanted to approach this album with the idea of being outside. He specifically spent a lot of time outside observing others, imagining the back stories of overheard conversations and actions and body language, and proceeded to stay outside while writing out his ideas. It’s an interesting exercise, and Oddisee is a strong enough writer to assume different voices in writing these songs. Most importantly, he uses his lyrics to get underneath the surface and to really explore the motives and influences behind the observations he made while wandering around the D.C. area. This could be the small time hustler on the street corner, the big time hustlers on Capitol Hill, a couple having a fight, or a person seeking spiritual guidance. It makes for a really interesting and varied album, and Oddisee proves himself up to the task of writing from these multiple perspectives.

The album opens with “Ready to Rock,” which opens with a midtempo beat that really builds momentum with rolling strings and horns playing off each other as a chorus proclaims “Yup, we ready to rock,/Yup, we ready to roll.” Oddisee quickly re-establishes himself on the mic, changing his flow up several times, including a few rapid fire moments that give you a glimpse at the full skill set that Oddisee has at his disposal. “Do It All,” comes back with some boom bap swagger that opens itself up nicely to bring in his co-collaborators from Diamond District, XO and yU, as they discuss the difficulties of making their way as independent label artists. “That Real” is where the album really begins to open up, with a sweet soul sample providing the background for the protagonist to try to wrap his head around the struggles a young man faces as he tried to grow up and form successful professional and personal relationships. “Let It Go” reworks the theme from Shaft for some introspective rhymes about trying to find religion. “American Greed” gives us a biting attack on the political and economic policies of the U.S. “The Need Superficial” incorporates some Curtis Mayfield/George Benson jazz/funk/R&B, as Oddisee dives into the ideas of superficial beauty and self esteem. “Way In Way Out” is dark track that explores what pushes people into crime, and the stacked deck of cards that are dealt to those of color in our country. “Maybes” is the only song that I don’t really care for on the album, which is more an indication of taste, as it gets into more of smooth R&B/pop territory that isn’t my bag, and features a guitar solo toward the end that starts to get into some Supernatural territoy. Not my thing. “Another’s Grind” is built on a midtempo beat with strings and female soul vocals in the background as Oddisee gets inside the head of the street corner hustler. “Set You Free” channels some Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson soul-funk as Oddisee examines our dependence on technology. “You Know Who You Are” is the anthem of the album, as it grandly builds on piano, strings, and horns over the trade off over hand claps and heavy bass, as the protagonist explores who he currently is and who he wants to be, and what it will take to get there. “Think of Things” is a laid back song, which features a really clever dialogue between a sample of a voice saying “What more can I say?” with Oddisee replying “I can think of a few things,” before he drops a few verses tying up some loose ends and ideas he had before finishing the album. An acoustic version of “You Know Who You Are” with Olivier Daysoul closes everything out on a really nice introspective note.

People Hear What They See isn’t quite perfect, but it’s incredibly interesting, and it’s a hell of an artistic effort. It offers a lot of different perspectives and musical styles, creating an interesting portrait of life in D.C. It also demonstrates just how talented and unique an artist Oddisee is. I feel that he’s overlooked in a lot of ways right now, but hopefully this album will get him the recognition he deserves.