Now ask Jonah Bromwich about DJ Kool.
Washington DC has two nicknames. The first, as I was informed by my snide, street-smart-and-proud-of-it, seventh grade teacher, is “Chocolate City,” which refers, of course, to the fact that there are a lot of black people who live in DC. The second, which I only learned a couple of years ago (and which Wikipedia classifies as a former nickname, whatever that means), is the “City of Trees.”
There’s an unfortunate instinct in me to separate these two nicknames, to think of Chocolate City and the City of Trees as different places altogether. After all, DC is still very segregated and when I think of the parts of the city with trees, I picture the places I hung out as a kid, diverse to say the least, but at the end of the day still dominated by a white majority.
Which is why it’s healthy for me (and for anyone who enjoys instrumental music) to listen to Oddisee’s new release, Rock Creek Park, a beat tape which reminds me that Chocolate City and the City of Trees are, of course, the exact same place.
Oddisee, one part of the heavily touted trio Diamond District, showed last year that he was adept at evoking settings through beat music. With his Odd Season series, he crafted instrumentals that melded perfectly to the seasons they were meant for, cold and hard in the winter, warm and lilting in the spring, and spaced out in the summer.
Rock Creek Park sounds most similar to Odd Autumn, the strongest of the four season EPs. Using live instrumentation, drums and samples, every track on the record is built on a solid boom-bap foundation and moves upward, blending different sounds into one another in order to recall the different aspects of the enormous, eponymous DC park.
“Skipping Rocks” starts with a piano loop, add strings and brass and erupts into an effervescent (wordless) chorus. “The Carter Barron” (where, incidentally, I used to play soccer as a kid), is anchored on a soul sample and works a joyous cacophony around the singer’s mellow voice. Heavy bass, plaintive horns and tweaked Dam-Funk synths power “Scenic Route to You” while “Along the River” meanders around swooning whistles and the occasional vocal coo. “Uptown Cabaret” operates with handclaps and distorted sung stabs and “Beach Dr.” (which is the shortcut to my best friend’s house) moves in a stylized netherworld of organic electricity and drum taps and then morphs three quarters of the way through, giving us a funky drum and guitar pattern which intersects with a sampled Motown chorus and then fades suddenly.
“Still Doing It” features the only rapping on the album, performed by DD member Yu, but written by Oddisee himself and rapped succinctly over Go-Go Drums and analog fuzz. “Clara Barton” experiments with different rhythms and drum patterns and keeps pace with a subtle loop and “Closed After Dark” captures a jam session of distorted brassmen sharing a couple of minutes together. The tracks work well together, and yet each has a disparate feel, different threads of the same pattern.
The point of the occasional references to my own life is to highlight one of the great things about Rock Creek Park: Oddisee uses the idea of a large, shared, public space to create a similar musical environment; though the record is his own interpretation of the park’s variety and beauty, the song titles and sounds fit themselves just as ably to my own experience (as I’m sure they would to the experiences of others). One of Oddisee’s great gifts is his ability to use signature hip hop sounds to conjure up classical beauty. In the process he makes it clear that the dichotomy of urban and suburban, of gritty and pretty, of chocolate and trees, can easily be reconciled by the right space, or the right artist.
MP3: Oddisee-“Mattered Much” (Left-Click)