Washington-based Producer Oddisee’s Traveling Man

Born in Washington, D.C., to a Sudanese father and an African-American mother, Amir Mohamed grew up in Maryland, influenced by soul and rap as well as the myriad of musicians on both sides of his family. He was all set to attend the Art Institute of Philadelphia, however, to pursue visual art when a friend of his introduced him to hip-hop producing. He was so enamored by it that he changed his plans and concentrated on making beats, ending up with the track “Musik Lounge” on DJ Jazzy Jeff’s 2002 record, Magnificent. Part of the Low Budget crew, which included fellow D.C. area MC and producers Kenn Starr, Cy Young, and Kev Brown, Oddisee released his solo debut, Foot in the Door, mixed by Jazzy Jeff, on Halftooth in 2006.

Oddisee’s fifth album Traveling Man and his second instrumental-only-work is a breakthrough for the Washington, D.C.-based producer. Every song Traveling Man is named for a different locale, but the connections between sound and city are dreamlike rather than direct. “Miami” is given a sound that is large and lavish, while “Philly” is a swirl of stately orchestral soul. “Logos” and “Sao Paulo” both echo but heavily rhythmic musical cultures of those cities, and conversely the spare, haunting “Detroit” feels like a lament for a place abandoned.

Traveling Man is kin to similar-minded projects by Madiib and J. Dilla, but Oddisee has a broader appreciation for contemporary rap trends than either of those producers. “Atlanta” is his twisted rejoinder to the bombastic beats of DJ Toomp and Shawty Redd, while “Houston” is as slow, low, and bangin’ as any beats from a Slim Thug or Z-Ro album. Oddisee’s two odes to his D.C. home hold a special place on Traveling Man, but his three-part tribute to Los Angeles is the album’s highlight. Though it features no rapping, Traveling Man has as much to say as any hip-hop album in recent memory.