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Oddjobs members Advize, Crescent Moon and Nomi perform at First Avenue.

Judy Griesedieck, Star Tribune

New York state of rhyme: Oddjobs left Twin Cities to find one another

  • Article by: Chris Riemenschneider
  • Star Tribune
  • September 12, 2002 - 11:00 PM

There's no place like home, especially when you're a hip-hop group on the verge of breaking big.

That's essentially what the members of Oddjobs said after two 7th Street Entry gigs last month, their first in their native Twin Cities in quite some time. The quintet relocated to New York City a year ago to be closer to hip-hop's birthplace, or at least to one another (two members were already attending college there).

Returning to Minneapolis for a gig Sunday at First Avenue, a release party for their new CD "Drums," the members say it's a relief to come home. And yeah, home is still what they're calling it.

"When we played the Entry, it felt like we didn't have to prove ourselves," said Anatomy (Stephen Lewis), one of Oddjobs' two DJs/producers. "We've done so much of that lately, proving ourselves, it was great to be there and have it just be more of an entertaining, fun kind of thing, which is what it's really all about."

Talking to all five Oddjobs members by phone -- they share a two-floor apartment in Brooklyn -- also can be pretty entertaining. When I ask one of the MCs, Advizer (Adam Waytz), if they're like a hip-hop version of the Monkees -- living and playing music together -- he said, "It's more like the house in 'Fight Club,' with things falling apart and dirty like that."

As one member handed the phone off to another, it became clear how Oddjobs have benefited from their move out east. Never mind that there is a strong business infrastructure for indie hip-hop in New York -- although the group did land a record label, publicist and booking agent there that acts in the Twin Cities would envy.

The move clearly has shaped Oddjobs into a tighter unit. Instead of five individuals, it sounded like one collective voice coming over the phone. The voice talked about building a studio in that borough burrow, which the members call the Blue Lounge. It mentioned doing little else over the past year besides making music there. It brought up the good-natured "us vs. them" mentality that has bonded the group against barbs about being from the tundra/farmland.

Mostly, though, it boasted of the overall group effort that went into "Drums," which indeed is the rare hip-hop album to have a "band" kind of feel instead of the usual ego-laden, individualized sound.

"We're constantly surrounded by each other and by our music out here," explained Deetalx (Devin Callahan), the other turntablist and mixer. "I'm not going to lie and say it's day-to-day, constant harmony, but I think we at least sound harmonious on the record."

From 'Playtime' to full-time

Even before moving to New York, the five Oddjobs -- also including MCs Crescent Moon (Alexie Caselle) and Nomi (Mario DeMira) -- were good friends.

They're close in age, from 21 to 22. In high school, they formed an axis between Minneapolis South and St. Paul Central, the two schools that also birthed acts such as Kanser and Heiruspecs, respectively. They all fell in with a group of rappers, DJs and break-dancers that would become known as the CMI (Cases of Mistaken Identities) crew.

"It started out just a lot of friends hanging out, nothing too serious," Anatomy recalled. "But that soon changed."

By the time they were seniors in 1998, they had solidified the original Oddjobs foursome lineup, recorded their first CD ("Conflict and Compromise") and developed a live following at all-ages venues such as the Intermedia Arts Center and now-defunct Bon Appetit.

Things changed the next year when Advizer and Deetalx went to college in New York. The group stayed together and even recorded a 10-song EP, "Absorbing Playtime." The disc had a few strong tracks but felt too piecemeal.

"We made 'Absorbing Playtime' literally by sending each other tapes and talking long-distance," said Deetalx, who, like Advizer, has since quit school. "After doing it that way, it was clear we needed to all be in the same place to make the kind of album we wanted to. There has to be a lot of back-and-forth and long, drawn-out debates with us.

"So we basically went from one extreme to the other."

The best tracks on the new CD -- particularly the slyly funky "Dry Bones" and free styling romp "Blue Collar Holler" -- feature input from all five members and capture Oddjobs' live spirit. A similar collaborative quality was heard on last year's "Live at the Bryant-Lake Bowl" CD, recorded with Heiruspecs and Typical Cats just before Oddjobs officially relocated to New York.

Even before the release of "Drums," Oddjobs was making itself known in the Big Apple. "Blue Collar Holler" was released as a 12-inch single early this summer and became the group's first hit, reaching No. 6 on the CMJ college radio hip-hop chart. A remix of the track featured guest appearances by Aesop Rock, Vast and Kimani, all figures in New York's indie hip-hop scene, who are all affiliated with Oddjobs' new label, Third Ear Music.

"We recorded ['Blue Collar Holler'] as our sort of calling-card party track, the ear candy that will get you to taste the rest of the album," said Crescent Moon, who also helped bring attention to Oddjobs when he served as backup MC in Atmosphere on tour this spring and summer. He credited Atmosphere "for helping me develop my stage presence" and for "changing people's perception of Minnesota."

With the release of "Drums" -- a title that reflects both the heavy use of live drum tracks and the recording's drum-circle-like group approach -- all five Oddjobs members sound confident that they, too, will bring respect to the Twin Cities hip-hop scene. So far, though, there's no talk of them moving back.

"So far, it's been like a kitsch value, novelty thing when they learn where we're from," Advizer said. "But that's definitely about to change."

IF YOU GO

Oddjobs CD party

Opening: Typical Cats, Eyedea & Abilities and Heiruspecs.

When: 5 p.m. Sun.

Where: First Avenue, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

Tickets: $7 advance, $9 at door. 612-338-8388. All ages.


-- Chris Riemenschneider is at chrisr@startribune.com.

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