Written by Calla Camero
Photos by Ramsey Cheng
July 5, 2018
The first time I heard the soft melodies of Odie was back in 2016. I assisted my best friend on a video she was shooting for this emerging Hip Hop and R&B, Toronto-born artist. We used my home in San Francisco as the location for the shoot, and transformed my living room into a modest set for Odie, with softly-lit icicle lights trailing the wall behind an open space surrounding a center stool and mic. When we first met, he didn’t say much. He was polite and soft spoken, but didn’t fill the empty void of conversation with meaningless chatter, as most of us tend to do when we feel an awkward silence approaching. Instead, Odie kept to himself, savoring all of the goodness he possessed for the real introduction that would ensue when he put his lips to the mic. That’s when he told us everything we needed to know. His voice was striking, like listening to a live lullaby of comforting vocals, over a haunting bassline and a catchy guitar melody. We were instantly enamored by this person who we knew so little about- seduced by his music and fixated on the lingering curiosity of exactly who this artist was, where he came from, and how long it would be before we heard from him again.
Now it’s only two years later, and the 21-year-old known to all as Odie (really short for Odunayo Ekunboyejo) has quickly worked his way into the spotlight. In 2018 alone, he’s played numerous shows touring Canada and parts of the West Coast, released his first album titled Analogue, and is in the middle of his first world tour, hitting major cities around the US and parts of Europe. On Spotify, his song plays are hitting the millions mark, and there’s an overwhelming amount of requests from his followers on Instagram to play in their city next.
For any young, new artist like Odie, who started off making music in his bedroom in highschool, using Garageband and stolen beats from YouTube, all this poses as a pivotal turning point, setting the tone for his artistry and foretelling a promising musical career. But to Odie, this moment is really just an extension of himself and the music he’s been making all along, and the “spotlight” feels more like a false sense of reality than anything else.
“There’s the perception of what the spotlight is, and it’s very unreal,” he tells me. “It’s the whole Atlanta thing, that people who have a lot of notoriety live a certain kind of lifestyle. Everybody thinks, ‘Oh you’re poppin now, you have this now’ and I’m like no, I’m still eating cereal three meals a day and going to school and sitting in stupid ass classes so, it’s a weird paradox.”
He talked about how his life still feels regular, and how the only thing that has changed for him as a musician, is the fact that the music is finally getting heard on a bigger scale. At first I thought, perhaps Odie is just incredibly modest, which is to say, true. But then I realized that Odie was addressing a bigger topic of discussion here: In other words, when does your passion crossover and turn into something that is distinguished to most as your livelihood?
Is this intersection even visible for someone within a creative industry?
Odie seemed to have mixed feelings about this. He started off by expressing his frustration with the labeling of a “creative” in and of itself, and how the act of defining anything has the ability to distort our purpose. But then went on to juxtapose artistry as self-expression versus artistry as occupation.
“[Analogue] is the first project I’ve ever made in my life, so up until just now when we released it, it felt like I was just doing a side thing or a hobby. But at the same time, it felt like what I was meant to do because I’ve spent more time making music than doing anything else,” Odie tells me. “But yeah, being a creative is very interesting because technically it’s not really a job unless you make a lot of money for it, but at the same time, even if you make a lot of money it’s not seen as a job, because you’re just seen as yourself.”
Odie exhales, as if to make a final point.
“I guess in a sense whether I told myself I was an artist or not, I’ve always felt like one.”
This above all, seems to be inherently true. To think back two years ago, to the time that I was serenaded by Odie in my living room, it didn’t matter whether he was on a record label or how many albums he had sold at the time, we knew he was an artist to remember, through his attitude, sound, and performance.
There are two initial personas that show us who a musician is: the artist in the studio and the artist on stage. Odie has figured out a way to orchestrate these aspects of his musical presence gracefully, and with an attention to style. The stage is where he connects who we hear and who we want to know. He interprets emotion through sound, pulls you into his world and holds you there for the duration of the performance, allowing you to relish in the moment that is.
“I think being a real artist, is translating the music to the stage. When people come to see you, they want to see if the people that they hear is the same people that are on the stage. I’m just trying to figure out how to translate that.”
I asked Odie how his stage presence has evolved over the years.
“The first time I went on stage, I think I had my eyes closed the whole time because I didn’t want to look at anybody. Not that I was nervous or anything, you just don’t wanna look at anybody and ruin that. We definitely made a huge improvement from the first couple shows, but yeah, it’s been a very interesting ride. I mean there’s definitely been some shitty shows.”
Now he’s on his first world tour which kicked off in Paris, and ends in New York. The tour is titled “Spiritual Noise” and materializes the journey that he’s gone through in creating Analogue, the album that we all waited patiently for Odie to release. Up until then, he gave us all this Frank Ocean-esque interval, where we didn’t hear from him through music releases or social media.
Even after the release of Analogue, there continues to be this lack of publicity with Odie that echoes throughout his identity on platforms like Instagram.
I hear a pause in his voice when I ask him what his thoughts are on Instagram. “It’s just weird,” he laughs. “That’s part of the whole explanation and idea behind Analogue as well. I see myself as an Analogue artist in a digital age. And I remember the people that I look up to. It wasn’t necessarily about the amount of times you heard about them, or the amount of times you saw them. It was about the content they put out and the purpose behind the content. That’s what made them.”
This is the essence of Odie. The bread and butter. None of what he does is excessively curated, and yet, everything he puts out has a guided purpose behind it. He shows us more by showing us less. He doesn’t consider himself a perfectionist, rather, a lazy perfectionist who thinks “everything should be perfect without necessarily doing the things that would make it perfect.”
Odie is always in his head. He’s constantly manufacturing ideas and scenarios, compelling him to live so much in the moment, that he isn’t. He believes this is the cornerstone of his own destruction: not taking advantage of the moment, because he’s too focused on how it’s supposed to be, or what could make it better. On that same note, I believe this is also what makes Odie so remarkably mysterious. It’s what keeps his intent and purpose in-check. It’s what keeps us guessing. [good place to add “the only thing that can stop me from being the version of myself that I see in my head is me]
What I’ve learned from knowing Odie, is it’s unclear whether or not we will ever fully know him. It’s been two years since we’ve met, since I’ve listened to his discography and had countless interviews with him, and I still have questions about the artist that is. I still crave to know him. But if there’s one thing that is clear, it’s that this kid was born an artist. And his journey into this world of music has only just begun. All we can really do now, is watch from the stands and await his next move as he takes flight.