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Breaking Bread: How Oddisee Cultivates Culture and Community

Amidst his Australian and New Zealand tour, Oddisee breaks bread with LOWF, Melbourne’s premium streetwear brand, to chat through how culture has helped create his circle of relationships.

Born Amir Mohamed el Khalifa into a Sudanese African-American household, Oddisee has always embraced others with open arms. With an upbringing where privacy was a foreign concept, saw the rapper reaching for fostered connections at any given moment. Alongside his commitment to building genuine ties, the rapper continues to navigate the hip-hop landscape with artistry and introspection, guided by his experience in his early life.

Raised in a tight-knit community where familial bonds were paramount, Oddisee found himself incorporating elements of his background into his music and identity. Speaking with LOWF, the two come together to share their paralleled pledge to community and curation by breaking bread.

Breaking bread, whether metaphorically or literally, symbolises more than just a shared meal, and with that Oddisee tells us how culture has created a space for meaningful conversations and creative collaborations.

It’s great having you here to talk about your journey so far. Tell us about how you got into the hip-hop scene.
I first got into it as a fan first. I started off as a listener. I had older cousins who would frequently go up and down the East Coast to New York and bring back records. I had this early access to rap that people in the DC area didn’t necessarily have because we have our own local music called go-go music.

I just would spend a lot of time in my cousins bedroom when we go visit, just listening to records and I just fell in love with the genre at a very young age. And then I started to collect music myself and. As most school kids do, you take a crack at it, and I remember freestyling with my friends at lunch tables. It went from a hobby into an obsession and an obsession into a career. 

With your upbringing in Washington and your dad being Sudanese and your mother being African-American, that seems to deeply have influenced your music and your perspective on life. Can you share more about that?
I think all of us just as people, our backgrounds shape us. It’s the sum of what we are right and I’m no exception to that. We’re all just the sum of our experiences and mine.  At the time my father immigrated to the United States in the mid-70s. He was definitely one of the first Sudanese people to be in the D.C. area along with him and some of his friends.

Having that duality at home was definitely a fundamental part of who I am – speaking two languages, having two different sets of comfort foods and two different religions in my household – my mother is Christian and my father’s Muslim. You know those divisions?

Have your parents influenced you a lot while growing up?
I was raised by my father and my dad had this really, really nice apartment in this area called Silver Spring. It was a three bedroom apartment. I had my own room. He had his own room, and there was a spare room. On any given week day, there was some new guy who just came from Sudan that my father was helping out – and those were all my uncles, those guys raised me and I’m still very close to them today.

So I was raised in a very strong Sudanese community that inside was a very strong African-American community, and I reap the benefits of both musically, culturally, exposure, everything. I’m very thankful for my childhood and my upbringing. 

Coming from such a culturally rich background, there’s bound to be stories. Is there one that you can remember that really represents that family dynamic?
We all have those stories of that spare room. If you don’t have a spare room to take in new family members or relatives, you have a spare bed. I grew up not accustomed to privacy because even in Sudan, there’s no privacy. I spent my summers every year from 6 years old to 18 in Sudan, and we had a very traditional Sudanese house, which is a wall all the way around the compound, and when you walk in, it’s a courtyard and that courtyard is where you greet people. 

We slept all together as a collective family in the courtyard every night. So all these beds would get pulled out and my grandmother, my aunts, my uncles and my cousins, we would sleep communally outside under the stars. So privacy was not something I was ever looking for. You know, people over the houses just to be expected. 

Let’s talk about your style as an artist and as you know, an individual. You have a really distinct, recognisable style. How does your fashion reflect who you are?
As a genre, fashion and hip hop are so intertwined that it’s almost a part of it. You can’t be a part of listening to this music if you aren’t conscious of your appearance, for better or for worse. 

Where I come from, it’s the wealthiest population of black people in the United States and it was a huge importance placed on appearance when you went to public school. You wouldn’t make it through the day if you didn’t look sharp, like you would be attacked. We very much paid attention to what we were wearing. That’s where the focus of importance on appearance comes from and that’s something that I’ve even as an adult, tried to deal with because it wasn’t always a positive thing. 

You’re based in New York, right? Brooklyn has a rich cultural history, especially in hip-hop. How has being in Brooklyn influenced your creativity and artistic community?
I have never truly reaped the benefits of living in New York because I am an introvert and a creature of solitude when it comes to my creative process. So the amazing rooftop parties, the gigs, the shows, the jam sessions and the late night get-ups, I’m not present at any of them and I never have been. New York has been very beneficial for me because New York allows you to create your own New York.

The amount of coffee that I’ve had in my place where I’m personally making people coffee and making deals. I will take that over meeting anybody at some event at night time. My New York is a New York of office hours and good conversations during the day and it’s been very advantageous. 

What does Breaking Bread with like-minded people mean to you, and what’s the energy you feel when conscious people come together?
Breaking Bread is a very important thing to me. Being of Sudanese ancestry we basically have one word in our dialect. It’s one word that summarises; ‘to sit and chat amongst the people’. It’s called ‘twanas’. Breaking bread means camaraderie. It means that you’re ready to take that next step in a relationship, regardless of what type it is.
It says, I trust you and that I want to break bread with you. I want to share with you, I want to share resources with you – something that’s precious to me and my survival. I want to experience it with you. Coming from Sudanese ancestors, that’s very, very important. I think it’s safe to say I owe a lot of my success in building relationships and closing deals with the art of breaking bread with people in my own home. 

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