Somewhere in between the musical spaces of hip-hop, R&B, pop, and Afrobeat exists the sound of ODIE, a genre-bending artist whose musical experiments have separated him from his peers. The 21-year-old artist along with his collective Unité is altering the modern sound of hip-hop by creating a unique style all their own.
Born in Montreal, Canada and raised in Toronto by Nigerian parents, ODIE has been around music his entire life. The sounds of Fela Kuti, Sunny Ade, and Michael Jackson filled his household during his childhood, while artists like Usher and Coldplay played the soundtrack to his adolescent years.
At age 12, ODIE and his family moved to The Bay Area, and it was there where ODIE would start to appreciate the music that was around him. Dan Black and Kid Cudi’s 2010 collaboration “Symphonies” inspired the Nigerian-Canadian to begin making music. “That song expressed so many different emotions for me. The combination of Kid Cudi and Dan Black and being able to take two elements and still have the energy and the expression that hip-hop does was so crazy to me,” ODIE tells Billboard.
The discovery led to countless beats on YouTube being downloaded, and hours upon hours of songwriting. It wasn’t long until Odie partnered up with his high school friends, Yaqob and Chris, to form Unité, a collective group of diverse individuals who’ve created the sound of his music. ODIE’s atmospheric rhythms and personal lyrics filled with the occasional flexes and moments of retrospective thinking is attributed to four years of practice.
In 2016, ODIE emerged on to the scene, releasing a handful of tracks on his SoundCloud page that amassed over 500,000 plays on Spotify. A year later, ODIE would gain traction and more people took notice. His record “Trance Dance” hit 1 million streams on Spotify, while “Crescendo” was right behind with well over 800,000 streams. ODIE followed that with premieres on Pigeons & Planes and Vibe for his records “Little Lies,” “Faith,” and “Night Terrific!” He landed a spot as an opener for Amine’s TourForYou Canadian Tour and found himself on Apple Music’s Vibes playlist and Pitchfork’s What’s Good playlist on Spotify and Apple Music.
Channeling Fela Kuti’s syncopation and energy with Kid Cudi’s lyrical conviction and vocal style, ODIE is set to release his debut album Analogue on Friday. “Analogue is sort of my coming of age story,” explains ODIE. “2018 is the year where my fans will be fully introduced to who I am as an artist and as a human, flaws and all.” The album features ODIE’s soft singing and percussive rhyming throughout.
ODIE spoke with Billboard about his debut project, evolving as an artist, channeling Fela Kuti and Kid Cudi for his debut, and much more.
Billboard: Can you talk about how being raised in Toronto and then moving to the Bay Area shaped you and your music?
ODIE: I think the biggest thing that I’ve taken from living in both areas is that they’re both really multicultural. Toronto, especially where I lived in Scarborough — everybody is an immigrant, for the most part. You’re pretty much forced to understand and be around different cultures. You also learn about your own culture being in that environment. Moving to the Bay Area was on the same wavelength. There wasn’t that much of a disconnect or a change. The Bay Area is a very loving, tight-knit community. So being able to be in areas where having a culture, having pride in your culture, and still being open to other cultures that really helped me create sort of my own identity.
In your music, you’re mixing elements of soul, R&B, hip-hop, pop, and Afrobeat. What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
I listened to a lot of music. I would say if I would narrow it down to three genres, I listened to alternative music. Then, of course, a lot of African music. Afrobeat, dancehall, especially being in Toronto, there’s so much dancehall. African music was being played since I remember even listening to music. It was a part of me and a way of life. When I started getting older, of course, hip-hop music. That was where I really got into it. It was a good mixture of those three genres.
Tell us the influence that Fela Kuti and Kid Cudi had on you and your music.
As I started to understand music and did a lot of research on Fela Kuti, I learned how much meaning [he had] and how powerful the movement that Fela was pushing back in the ‘60s and ‘70s [was]. I realized how much power he had putting Afrobeat on to the world, and how the political relevance of it stuck. For me, just looking at someone who’s influenced people in general that’s huge for me.
With Kid Cudi, he was the first artist I listened to, especially a black artist, that was sort of like, genre-bending. He was still hip-hop, but he was doing things that no one in hip-hop was doing. That really touched me. The music that he was speaking was so real, and it dealt with a lot of personal issues. That was touching to me as well, because it was like finding yourself, and figuring out how to live in society.
For the last four years you and your group Unité have been working to create a new sound. What is this sound and what is the mission of Unité as a collective?
We really don’t have a name for the sound yet. It’s just something completely new. It’s a combination of everything. The way the world is trending with the age of information, the Internet, and all that stuff, is that everything is sort of becoming one. Now a lot of artists don’t want to be stuck in a box — because why should we be stuck in a box when we could feel different things at the same time?
The whole idea of Unité, which means unity in French, is the idea that we all come from different backgrounds and we all come from different feelings and go through different things. We understand it, and it doesn’t stop us from coming to together to create something that gels and is new. The Unité sound is a united sound. The idea is we’re not trying to limit ourselves we just want to be able to express everything.
You’ve mentioned in your press release that you’re an “analogue artist in a digital age.” What do you mean by that?
One of the reasons why I fell in love with the artists back in the day was because of the way they were able to express themselves. The way people express themselves now is very different, because of the Internet and social media making everything so easily accessible. Everything is so out there, and you can learn anything about a person at any point in time. What I loved about artists back in the analogue age, before the internet, when you did hear something about them, you didn’t hear or see anything about it every single day. But when they did release an album or something, everything was orchestrated towards that.
As an artist, I’m not going to be that type of artist that’s always out there. I’m on social media and I’m a part of the wave, but I’m not this person that’s going to share everything that I do 24/7. When I do share the things and the work, I want the work to be something people can look at and experience for a long period of time, rather than it being a short moment in time.
What was the inspiration behind Analogue?
It chronicles everything I felt, from me graduating high school at 18, to me now still figuring myself out. I have a lot of questions about myself. I knew the type of person I wanted to be, but it was just like — I wasn’t that person yet. I feel like people at 21 feel like they’re in purgatory to an extent, trying to figure out who they are. At times, I’d be depressed about it. At times, I’d be super excited and happy. Those little moments I just wanted to capture all the feelings, and all the moments that I felt throughout that period in time, where I was me — being Odie, and becoming the person I wanted to be.
What were the studio sessions for Analogue like? I know you’re big on writing and meditating daily.
Like you said, I always try every day to think about or just write something that happened in the day that was important to me. The studio sessions were on and off, because we were pretty much living in the space that we were creating. Nothing was really forced or rushed — like, I didn’t have set times to record anything. One day I would feel something and I would make a song and finish it in 30 minutes. Some songs literally took two years to make, like “In My Head,” which was the first song I started on the project, and couldn’t finish because it didn’t sound how I wanted it to sound. It was a process of me growing.
What are some of your favorite songs off Analogue?
One of my favorite songs is “Phenomenon” for sure. It just sounds heavenly to me. When I made that song and listened to it, after when it was done I just felt like I finally reached heaven, to an extent. There’s a lot of good songs on there. “Midnight” is very interesting. “Bliss City” is one of my favorites as well. Man, all of them are my favorite, to be honest. It changes every day for me.
You just wrapped up opening for Amine on his TourForYou Tour. I’m assuming it’s your first tour. How is it going and what’s it like performing several shows for you home country?
It’s definitely a learning experience. I’m learning how to set the tone and pace of a show, and being able to get people involved, but it’s been crazy for me. I sit at home all day and make beats and record music. Being able to go shows — for example, the Victoria show we did, people were in the crowd singing the songs to the lyrics I’d written and I thought were trash. Seeing those people reacting, and coming to me after the show, is insane. Being able to go to the shows and seeing people interact with the music is big for me. I know exactly what type of show I want to do, and how I want the show to be. I know what type of experience I want the fans to have. When I do my own tour later this year, or whenever I get to my own tour, it’s going to be a super-crazy experience.
You mentioned on Twitter recently that you’re only human but still so much more. What else can we expect from you in the future?
Expect me to evolve. One thing I’m really big on is the fact that I learn new shit every day. One day I might be stubborn and think I’m the most perfect person in the world and no one can stop me. Then one day I’ll be humble.
I really want to be the best version of myself. I’m trying to be Super Saiyan, I’m trying to have yellow hair and create the most illest music ever. I don’t ever want anything to sound the same. I already know the name and sound of what my next project is going to be and it’s going to be different. I want to surprise people every time they hear my music. The whole point of life is to grow and evolve as much as possible.
Stream ODIE’s new project, Analogue, below.