‘Alwasta’ speaks to fame and power

Arts & Culture

Sudanese American rapper Oddisee inhabits a delicate space in the star-obsessed rap world—bigger than underground, but not yet a household name. Still, the D.C.-born artist is on the rise, beloved by critics and hip-hop purists for his thoughtful, intricate rhymes and self-produced beats that recall the so-called golden age of rap. 

On previous releases, Oddisee proved himself a thinking-person’s rapper, favoring incisive social commentary over celebrations of excess. That consciousness is even more evident on his recent EP Alwasta, an Arabic word for one who wields social influence. The seven tracks are laced with musings on identity—especially racial and religious (Oddisee is Muslim)—and how it can be used for good or ill. 

The opening track, “Asked About You,” questions our ignorance of the struggles of minorities: “Glory to the most wise, we came here on boat rides, wavy/Yet the ground beneath us seeming bone dry.” Oddisee turns that critical eye inward on “Strength & Weakness,” confessing his struggle to use fame and power responsibly. 

The album’s most stirring song, “Lifting Shadows,” is also its most straightforward. Reflecting on life as a Muslim American in a post-9/11 world, Oddisee recalls a tense experience of flying on a plane as well as the time he met with an orphaned migrant boy on tour. The song crescendoes into a jeremiad against hostile rhetoric toward refugees, including people like his relatives who make other lives possible.


The album closes with the chilled-out “Slow Groove,” about Oddisee’s need for a more contemplative lifestyle. A soulful refrain punctuates the rapper’s verses: “I just wanna take my time/I don’t mind the wait in line”—words that might well be describing the key to his steady ascent in the rap game.

Image: Flickr cc via Alex Proimos