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BLK ODYSSY Talks About Male Vulnerability, His Album 'Diamonds & Freaks', And World Building [interview]

Taken by bethany r reed

Sometimes when you first listen to an album you are enticed by either A the sonics or B the story being told and BLK ODYSSY has a project that opens the imagination, and allows you to live with the authentic characters that have spawled from his sesoSsus narrative


Uniquely, the experimental project unfolds like a novel exploring themes of addiction and its many forms. The victim is humanised rather than condemned, and the decisions and choices he makes are never judged harshly however like all novelists, he indirectly provides reasonings for his protagonist's decisions, whilst giving an empathic reading.


In the very first track 'DOPAMINE & HENNESSY’ a female voice warns,“Don’t let your demons get you fucked up around me”


New Wave and BLK ODYSSY discuss the meaning of his second full-length album Diamonds and Freak, the art of storytelling, the sensitivity of male blackness and the future


You mentioned before that this is only your second time in London, how was your first last October?


“It was surprising. I knew that we had a really solid fan base out here because of the streaming numbers, London’s always been one of our top City’s, so we knew we had something going on here but to hop outside and see a line going for three blocks outside the venue when we played was incredible


Diamonds & Freaks is such a rich and spiritual experience. There’s so much expressive instrumentation in it.


“ It was one of those records where you want to continually layer and layer the project in a lot different ways. Instrumentation way one of them, the storyline another.



The whole project has been described as an erotic novel and as the narrative progresses you meet so many interesting characters. What was the thinking behind the project?


“ I think in general when it comes to BLK ODYSSY tracks, I think of the music as a movie or even like a film score and I like to make the music very immersive so when people listen to our music they feel that they can escape into this world for however long they’re listening to it. Even if it’s a 30-minute drive from work to home, you know? I want them to feel as if they’re in that world.


I remember growing up there were certain movies that I would watch, and when I was watching them I would be in that world. I was transported there. We like to create these worlds with different characters so that people are attached to them.


There’s one protagonist in particular who’s journey of addiction you chart in Diamonds & Freaks.


“Yeah, that’s correct. That’s definitely the theme of the record and the main character is kind of going through that in different facets and I think what kind of made it more surreal or provocative was the two characters who sort of narrated this the entire time, which was funk legend Bootsy Collins and Keyshia Plum.


Plum “does a lot of poetry on the Giselda record – I thought that the pairing was really interesting and fresh, a fresh take on modern-day hip-hop.”


They’re narrating the main character through it in a very psychedelic and poetic way, that’s kind of like the afro-surrealism we wanted.”


Can you unpack what you mean by Afro-surrealism?


“I think that with the music, and the films that I like there’s a lot of afro-surrealism you know black art existing in that surrealist world. Jordon Peele does it and there are a lot of people nowadays – when I was working on this record I was watching a show on Amazon Prime called 'Them', it’s an incredible show, sort of like horror.


I’m not gonna lie it’s crazy. What I liked specifically about that one is that the devil on his right shoulder sort of existed only in his head but it was being personified in real life and as far as Ashley (Thomas) was concerned that person really existed and he was dealing with it. I thought that was a really interesting concept that the director used and I started to play with that a bit in Diamonds & Freaks but more so in this new record, of creating a character in your head to justify what your conscious wants to do but you don’t directly feel like it’s you doing in. ”


It makes you question if you're responsible for your own actions


“Of course, I would say so for sure yeah. It’s like people with addictions or any sort of issue in that world sometimes look for scapegoats and that’s the easy way out for them. In the case of Diamonds & Freaks, the main character was constantly looking for ways to justify his actions.


In Diamonds & Freaks you explore black masculinity, sexuality and sensitivity in a very honest way and in response to the character's experiences


“One thing with Diamonds & Freaks that I knew would make it a very detailed listen rather than something which is easily digestible was the amount of vulnerability and things that particularly in my male fan base would have to listen to and come face to face with


I know that there were a lot of things in there that a lot of guys and girls could relate to and that, it was one of those things that I had to get off my chest and have one of those taboo conversations that people don’t normally have. I guess I like to push the needle by putting those topics and conversations to the forefront in music.”


Honesty is something that is absent in male music at times


“I think in hip-hop culture in general it’s not really the thing to flex. It’s more possessions and things that make you look good. I don’t know if honesty and vulnerability are at the forefront of hip-hop culture. I would it be be something different to do that. There’s more vulnerability in R&B but I thought that this particular project got really deep to that stage of vulnerability


How would you classify this album in the genre of music? Because listening to it I get the sense of Erykah Badu's On and On and Curtis Mayfield and the whole Pusherman vibe


“Yeah absolutely I’m a huge fan of Eukya and Curtis. Those are the two sonic styles that exist in our music pretty heavily all the time.


What was the creative process like making the album?


“When I was working on the record, I was executive producing Rapsody’s album and I was having some troubles at first with the sonics of it. The theme was there, and it was really reflective of my life and the things that I had gone through. The issue was how do I write it and how to put it to music.


It wasn’t until I had a conversation with Raspody after we completed her record and I just asked her how do I flesh the sound out. And she said the way that I think is very cinematic and you’re more of a film guy, so when it comes to the things that have happened in your life and the things that have inspired these songs think of it more as a score instead of a song.

After she told me that it kind of changed my perspective on how I can approach it sonically and we kind of breezed through it. I think that’s why the album sounds so immersive and really focuses on creating emotion with all of the different instruments. So when a saxophone player comes in, rather than giving him sonic references I would say if you could sound like this emotion how would that sound on a saxophone and they would play


That’s a very jazz-influenced approach, isn’t it? Favouring Improvisionation and self-expression


100 percent because Jazz is a very big thing for us, even on this new album that exists in this anxiy alternative world but still has elements of the album.

Your new single ‘XXX’ featuring Wiz Khalifa, what’s it about?


‘XXX’ is such an exciting track to me because it’s reminiscent of a really cool time in culture. It reminds me of early 2000's blink 182, but also weirdly early 2000's era OutKast. We love to bridge genre gaps, so having wiz on the track to bring modern day hip hop to this world feels special.


The new project has taken roughly five months to make, when’s it out?


We’re looking out July.


Did the creative and recording process change for this one?


Oh yeah 100 percent, I mean the thing about this new record is that I had to really forget everything I knew as a producer, vocalist and songwriter that I knew because when you have certain tendencies in the studio, there are always intentions behind that.


In Diamonds and Freaks I was trying to achieve a character with a certain feel, whereas in this one I’m trying to achieve clarity. I want people to hear and know exactly what I’m saying. There’s a lot more focus on the song, rather than building characters in each song.


What pushed you to gravitate in that direction?


One of the things that pushed me to do something new was working on Duckworth’s new record. We had done a bunch of sessions and traditionally I produce in a more mid-tempo but when I was making beats for him at the spot in Mexico he kept pushing me to make something faster.


And I enjoyed that process because it pushed me out of my comfort zone and I always thought it couldn’t make fast and up-tempo stuff but he pushed that out of me, opening up a new world for me.


What will it sound like?


I ended up getting into a more alternate rock voice to achieve what I wanted to do, which was surprising to me. It felt weird at first because this was like nothing BLK ODSYY people have heard before and it will be off-putting to a lot of people for sure, but you know, it’s a part of the journey of developing as an artist and I need to learn how to live and love it


Listen here




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