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“Ya know, sometimes ya gotta turn ya hustle off,” Oddisee rapped on his 2012 single, “Hustle Off.” That was an unexpected decree from a producer and MC who spends a big chunk of his time on the road. But it’s that kind of retreat to serenity that guides his excellent new album, The Beauty in All, his first LP since 2012’s People Hear What They See, and his first instrumental record since 2011’s Rock Creek Park. This record is dedicated to tuning out and taking notice of the pastoral—the kind of things that too easily slip by when you’re on the grind.
When Oddisee still lived in the D.C. area, independent rappers relied on him for obscure loops, hard drums, and a sound that threw back to hip-hop’s golden era. It served the Largo native well, but for years he remained stuck in a holding pattern. In 2011, he took a big step with the lush, instrumental Rock Creek Park, which paid homage to D.C.’s geography. He anchored the vibe in hip-hop but roped in funk and other influences. The product, recorded only in two weeks, sounded satisfyingly immaculate. It also widened his audience—from mostly hip-hop heads to hipsters and old souls, too—and finally brought Oddisee, who now lives in New York, some critical shine.
The Beauty in All is a bit more subdued than that landmark release, with more spacey electro-soul than R&B. Each song develops slowly around billowing synths and distorted samples. But while The Beauty in All doesn’t sound as old-school as Rock Creek Park, it still inspires the same kind of introspection.
“After Thoughts” spends its first four minutes in deep digital mode, but morphs into a funky, vigorous jam session in its tail end. “Fork in the Road,” the album’s spacious closing track, gives way to a stampeding soul sample that sounds like a Rock Creek Park holdover. But Oddisee shines brightest on album highlight “No Rules for Kings”: Over an acoustic instrumental, he adds a buzzing synthesizer, transforming the piece into a stellar hybrid of neo-soul and quiet storm. “The Gospel,” carried by a straight vocal loop and dusty drums, is the closest thing to hip-hop on the record. Though the song’s outro—which should be its own track—brings deep bass stabs to Latin bossa nova.
By the time this review is published, Oddisee will be on tour in the Midwest. Perhaps he’ll be constructing another project or making beats on a bus or in a van. With The Beauty in All, Oddisee takes his own advice and chills out for a minute. But he’s not stepping back, exactly; he’s stepping out.