HYPEBEAST: AMIR OBE'S TALENT TRASCENDS RAP AND THRIVES ON ARTISTRY
Amir Obè's Talent Transcends Rap and Thrives on Artistry
Amir talks creativity and his approach to expression in this exclusive interview.
What sets an artist apart from a rapper? Is it a diverse body of work? A vision that’s conceptualized and brought to life on an album? Film-like music videos that invite viewers to dream up their own personal interpretation of the work? Maybe it’s all three, maybe it’s none, but when a true artist comes around, they’re easy to single out.
Amir Obé is an artist.
Amir Obé is a jack of all trades — rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer, which serve as outlets for his creativity. Brooklyn-born and Detroit-raised, he established his career as Phreshy Duzit during his time with After Platinum Records. After a while, he signed to Atlantic Records, and subsequently began collaborations with PARTYNEXTDOOR.
Three years after the debut of his 2011 EP Brave New World, Obé parted from the label, deciding to step back from projects, change his stage name, and make gains in his own lane. He felt the label was more focused on hit singles and money-making records instead of putting out music that created a story–a standard he keeps consistent in all he creates. Obé’s brief hiatus allowed him time to adjust his sound, meanwhile growing his fan base as a result of his unique style and songwriting.
Following his split with Atlantic, Amir launched his own independent label Neighborhood PHCK$ and released the mixtape Detrooklyn. The artist’s second solo EP caught heavy traction from not only fans but also Drake’s manager Oliver El-Khatib. This lead to a co-production with Drake himself on Amir’s debut album None of the Clocks Work in 2017, his first LP released under Neighborhood PHCK$ and Def Jam Recordings.
Amir Obé’s principles have effectively allowed him to take one step back to take two steps forward by dropping a label, moving forward as an independent act, and jointly releasing his debut album under his own label alongside Def Jam.
We were able to catch Amir during his first tour in Europe to learn more about his artistry and his approach to expression.
You’re in the middle of touring in Europe right now, how’s the experience been?
I just love European culture. And the fact that we had people showing up that knew all the words from different language speaking countries, seeing the youth out there and the energy and the way they took in the music was a great feeling.
Expression seems to be one of the most important things in the world to you. I know you’ve gone to say you’d be a designer if you weren’t rapping. What were some of your earliest outlets of expression?
I always liked creative writing when I was a kid. I liked writing stories. I was always credited to being a good writer growing up. Aside from that, I did a lot of drawing and abstract art. Then I went more into finding “how do you take this into a career path” so that’s when I started looking at fashion design and architecture. I was doing graphic tattoos in high school.
Did you have any favorite brands as far as designers go?
It varies. You know growing up it was always the high fashion stuff, but trends fall off. Gucci was cool for awhile, and then it kind of fell off, then it came back and now it’s like the hottest shit out right now. But it’s always been high fashion mixed in with a little skatewear and streetwear.
When expression becomes a job, do you still have as much fun as when it wasn’t profitable with strategic marketing involved?
Yeah. I didn’t change much with the business model. The good thing is I always record freely at home, like a lot of product are solely made in the crib [...] when it has to be presented, you have to take that into account. But maintaining a discovery process… I like my music being discovered, not force-fed, it’s more about refining how it’s presented and how we can keep [strategic marketing] cohesive across the board aesthetically. Aesthetically, everything has to always be put ahead.
You went against the marginalization from labels and put your craft first. How do you go about taking a break to self-reflect?
As far as scheduling goes I like having a lot of time to work on a project. Then it goes into the prologue, so after the U.S. tour it’s kinda like diving back into just being back at home, or even traveling, and then just soaking up all the experiences that happened to me months, possibly even years prior, like being in Europe and headlining my first tour out there. There are a lot of things I picked up along the way that’ll come out in music. So taking that break and just finding that inspiration that can happen during that whole time, and focusing that energy on making the music.
How did you and long-time collaborator NYLZ, who produces most of your track, first link up and discover your processes?
I mean he actually talked me into making my first record. I was like shy at recording stuff, I was recording with a computer mic, doing freestyles and just putting them out on MySpace, and when he came across it he was making electronic music and wanted to take a stab at making more of the rap stuff. Ever since then it’s been a comfortable environment. We’ve just been growing and learning and defining our process. We have a very similar vibe on how we want our music to sound and we’ve always shared that growth so I’m very comfortable working with him.
Having one of the biggest names in hip hop like Drake co-producing your project has to be validating on some level. Was there anything you learned and how different was the process opposed to what you’re used to?
The thing about that, I was still in my environment, I was in the midst of working on my music and we started sharing ideas back and forth through text and email and just vibing, and basically trying to hear what I was working on. He liked certain beats, he liked certain ideas, just being collaborative. He didn’t really change the vibe.
The cinematography for “Wish You Well” is breathtaking and has a snuff movie VHS aesthetic. But the video itself doesn’t answer too many questions about what’s happening, leaving interpretations up to the viewer. In that way, you treat a lot of your projects like art. Why this approach, especially from someone so expressive in their work?
My music is so introspective but it’s never fully directed at a certain thing, it’s always kind of just conversational. People apply music to their own life or their own situation. It could be about a relationship but it could be about somebody’s business. I want them to answer that question, that’s up for the listener to interpret or the viewer. Like the way I interpret the video is kinda like people being fake and then the innocence of the girl, there’s a lot going on. And a lot of people were confused that the song sounded so happy and the video seemed dark. But it was really about finding that balance between the youthful innocence and growing up starting to deal with a lot of fake people and digging up the past. Like towards the end it was kinda like bodies being uncovered but they’re all mannequins. It’s just a lot of juxtaposition going on and I want it to be open-ended where the viewer can create their own assumptions.