Brooklyn has Biggie and Jay Z. LA has Dre and Snoop. Atlanta has Andre and Big Boi. Detroit has Eminem. Philly has the Roots. Even Staten Island has the Wu to praise Shaolin. But not since Parliament-Funkadelic declared Washington, DC “Chocolate City” has our nation’s fair capital had a lyrical champion (at least not one without a go-go beat) as strong as producer and rapper Oddisee.
Amir “Oddisee” Elkhalifa takes on DC the way James Joyce took on Dublin, exploring the city and surrounding environs, capturing the rhythms of life. And like Leopold Bloom’s wanderings, there’s often little more plot than a walk in the park.
By no means is Oddisee constrained to DC, as you can tell from the global and eclectic sounds on the instrumental album Traveling Man, where each song relates to different city, but he might be at his best when boasting about his ‘burg.
In the intro to Diamond District’s In the Ruff, Oddisee explains while growing up and listening to east coast hip-hop, he was envious. He knew all the projects, bridges streets and slang of, say, Brooklyn, but there was nobody talking about his neck of the woods — DC and its suburbs. Oddisee has been fixing that.
Herewith a guide to Oddisee’s lyrical and musical romps through the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV):
A straight reference to one of DC’s self-bestowed nicknames in the 1970s. P-Funk’s ’75 album of the same name was meant to show love for the city, where the band had a lot of fans.
“Did I mention I was from Largo,” Oddisee asks on “Gentrification” off Foot in the Door, calling out his hometown in suburban Maryland.
Prince George’s County
The suburban Maryland county bordering DC where Oddisee’s hometown of Largo is located. On the song “I’m from PG” on Odd Seasons he raps, “I’m from PG, I rep DMV/ I step easily.”
University of Maryland, College Park
On the lead track off his debut Foot in the Door Oddisee says he’s “a Sudanese American” from “the home of the Terrapins/ and the home of turbans.” The Terrapin is the University of Maryland mascot and “Home of the Terrapins” is often used to refer to Maryland (In “H to the IZZO” Jay-Z raps “herbin’ em in the home of the Terrapins” which Oddisee later sampled on Diamond District’s “The District”) and the turban, of course, is the typical Sudanese headdress.
Interstate 95 joins the Beltway (the freeway that loops around DC) and runs through Maryland up to New England, connecting DC to Baltimore and New York. The song “95 North” on 101 talks about “some 95 North shit.”
Ben’s Chili Bowl
A historic neon-lit hot dog and chili joint which Oddisee references — “My mom used to eat at Ben’s Chili Bowl” — on “Gentrification” on Foot in the Door, complaining that the price of a chili dog has doubled due to the titular theme.
An area near Howard University, and a hub of successful black-owned businesses (including Ben’s Chili Bowl). A Metro stop opened here a little over a decade ago, changing the make-up of the neighborhood somewhat as young professionals moved in, driving rents higher. Oddisee calls it the “U Street takeover.”
Rock Creek Park
Oddisee’s mostly instrumental 2011 album is named after the park, and captures the atmosphere of a lazy day in the grass (even if the park, at night, is home to muggings and worse, a side of the park hinted at in the track “Closed After Dark”).
1600 Pennsylvania Ave is, of course, one of the most famous addresses in DC, but the boulevard also runs through Rock Creek Park, as featured in the chorus of “Still Doing It:” “Pennsylvania Avenue/ we rolling around/ because it’s summertime we got the windows down/ Right over Rock Creek Park.”
Clara Barton Parkway
The song “Clara Barton” is named for this road connecting Maryland and DC, which in turn is named for the founder of Red Cross.
The title of an instrumental track on Odd Seasons takes its name from this tributary that flows from Montgomery County into the Anacostia, and, eventually, The Potomac.
View Oddisee’s DC in a larger map, and please feel free to add and edit with additional locations.