Only two weeks into this column, and I’m already cheating. Oddisee’s mostly-instrumental pastoral soul-rap opus is a couple of weeks old already, and it’s only a mixtape by the most liberal definition possible. There’s barely any rapping on it, it doesn’t use any other people’s beats, there’s no DJ bellowing over it, and, most damning of all, Oddisee’s actually asking you to pay him for it; it’ll run you $8 at this Bandcamp page. And yet I’m taking this opportunity to write about it anyway, mostly because it moves me way more than any mixtape I’ve heard this week.
As a member of the Diamond District crew, Oddisee is one of the most important figures on Washington, D.C.’s underground rap scene, even though he doesn’t come from D.C. exactly, and he doesn’t live there now. Oddisee’s a recent Brooklyn transplant, and he’s originally from suburban Upper Marlboro, Maryland, just outside the District. He named Rock Creek Park after a wooded expanse on the D.C. border where he used to ride his bike as a kid. Which is to say: This is an instrumental rap album about being a kid and riding your bike through nature. If you look at it from a certain angle, it’s practically chillwave.
There aren’t any diffuse underwater synths here, though. As a producer, Oddisee has long been in a the neo-traditionalist boom-bap camp. His beats for Diamond District and other D.C. types owe a lot to Pete Rock; they’re all neck-snap snares and floating horn samples. And more than most of the modern-day producers who work that sound, Oddisee’s got a sense of cinematic grace in his style. The lived-in warmth of orchestral ’70s soul is an actual aesthetic basis for this guy; it’s not just a source of sounds for him to chop up in ProTools. His beats always sound heavy and full, not thin like those of so many other producers, which is the main reason why he’s able to put together a full-on instrumental album without letting things get boring.
Only one track on Rock Creek Park features vocals: Opener “Still Doing It,” which has a verse from fellow Diamond District member yU. After that, it’s all impressionistic drum-ripples and dizzy soul strings. There are samples in there, but Oddisee also used live-band arrangements. The production walks a tight-line, staying away from looped-up monotony on one side and session-player gloss on the other. And so the whole thing breezes by in 43 ridiculously pleasant minutes. Oddisee’s named the tracks after specific local geography (“Beach Dr.,” “Clara Barton”) or specific memory-trigger phrases (“Skipping Rocks,” “All Along The River”). And even though it’s not generally wise to read too much emotional connection into instrumental music, the album really does evoke the beauty and solitude of being a kid alone in a park, and traces of the clatter of the city around it also creep in. It’s a deeply pretty and thoughtful piece of music, and it deserves your $8, or at least your 43 minutes.
Stream and/or buy Rock Creek Park at this Bandcamp page.