There is that unique and limited time after an artist has toured the country, worked with impressive names, accumulated a loyal following, and recently signed with a major label. Amir Obè is at this unique milestone.
After nine years in the game his “melodic”, melancholic and in-your-feelings sound makes you want to cry and mosh at the same time. It’s been over a year since the EP ‘None Of The Clocks Work’, so we caught up with Amir ahead of his latest project release.
Inverting the usual artist trajectory of moving to New York and then staying put once you’ve got your break, Amir Obè moved back to his hometown: “I moved back to Detroit about a year and three months ago. For this project that I’m about to release, I just wanted to go back home and work with my original collaborator. Go back to the roots, I guess.”
After initially moving to New York for design school, his recreational music-making “started picking up a lot of momentum”, and his priorities switched. The “original collaborator” is producer NYLZ. Like any great artist/producer duo, there’s a feeling of mutual understanding that cannot be fully articulated but can be clearly heard through the final product. “I feel like the music that we make collaboratively is just the output of both of our influences. It’s really genre-bending. As far as NYLZ, he’s more of a jazz musician, but he had an electronic phase, and he recently got into hip-hop. It just comes out naturally.”
He also gives an unprompted shout out to London and his European influences at home: “A lot of songs have pop undertones. I’m a very big fan of London sound, as far as back in the day, Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. I grew up on that thanks to my mom.” Amir even hinted at recording his album here. Although NYLZ comes back to mix, engineer, and generally “bring it all together”, Amir has been working with a few different producers lately including Stwo, Felix Leone (of Travis Scott’s Butterfly Effect) and J. Pounds. However, he’s acutely aware of the downsides of collaborating with shiny new people too soon: “I think it’s a little premature to start bringing in too many collaborations and confuse the message.” He’s very specific about building on the sound he’s successfully ridden thus far: “It could’ve easily taken on a different direction if I kept collaborating with certain people. I want to keep refining and establishing what I have to offer. Then once I’m a staple, we can take that route.”’ This self-discipline and self-awareness are refreshing in a landscape where artists scramble for virtual views and followers. Perhaps after honing his sound for so long, Amir is resistant to change it.
Signing to an indie label is one thing, signing to a major label is another. But signing to the most legendary hip-hop label of all time? Most artists only dream about being in Amir’s position. He does see the upside of having access to industry expertise: “It’s not as simple as just finishing a song and putting it out. There’s a lot more structure involved. It benefits to have a release with support around it, as far as doing press in advance or shooting videos.”
For his previous project, he only shot one video and then couldn’t do any more while on the road, in contrast to now where he’s shooting several in advance. Def Jam isn’t his first experience with major players. Amir worked closely with PARTYNEXTDOOR before he went by that name, originally connecting over Twitter before it became the norm: “I always knew him as Jahron. He was still an artist before, but he just went ghost for a minute. When he re-emerged, he had no image behind his music. I was like, “Who is this guy? Because he’s dope”. When I got word from a mutual friend that PARTYNEXTDOOR is Jahron, we remade that contact.” This relationship was very fruitful, with tracks like ‘Truth For You’, and one of Party’s classics, ‘I’m Good’.
Amir isn’t sure if Party put him on, but it wasn’t long before Drake’s camp made contact via Oliver El-Khatib: “He was being cool, and we were just sending ideas back and forth. That led to us working together.” Amir has a writer’s credit for ‘Star67’ on ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’, and was supported by Drake publicly. Asking Amir what he thinks of OVO and Drake’s global notoriety now, he says without hesitation: “I think they’ve established something that will be a staple in music history, in hip-hop history, forever. What they’re doing is very tactical and refined.” Although there have been no OVO-tinged tracks of late, one can hope that he and Party collaborate again soon.
But all that OVO work feels a long time ago, as Amir has just dropped his first track this year, ‘Holy Shit’. It has the darker, indie vibe of previous work, but with a stronger visual accompaniment than before: “I feel like the fans just need to learn the identity more, the creative side, visually. It basically depicts what’s going on in my mind. It starts with a very mellow, solo take of me, and then it goes into all the madness, and it ends kind of solo again.”
But this is just the beginning. Amir has a ten-track project releasing soon, with more videos to come: “The next ones we’re releasing are very narrated and more story-driven than this one.” You can see where the Def Jam strategy comes into play, as he succinctly describes the plan for release: “The project drops in three chapters, and this is part of the first chapter. The two songs that support this chapter are actually more uplifting. One of them sounds like a very friendly pop tune, but it’s called ‘Welcome to Rehab’, which I’m a big fan of.” This track dropped last Friday as part of Can’t Be A __Here, with the lyrics and melody sounding as jarring as Amir hints. It’s a cohesive chapter starting with a spoken intro, ‘Masquerade’, before transitioning into ‘Don’t Belong Here’, which is an alter ego talking to Amir about the mess he’s in.
In terms of an album, Amir has already begun recording. He’s very clear on distinguishing this project (“more of a reintroduction”) from the album, both in terms of content and how he is approaching it: “Your first album is a big deal, so I wanted to tell a huge story on that. I want to get the collaborations, I want to get some artists, I want to get the strings involved. I want to approach it like a real album.”
Amir Obè has been a product of himself and a tight inner circle. Using the same work ethic and focus but with a whole team behind him is only going to create great things. “Our mission always is to just keep refining, keep growing.”
Expect to hear much more of Amir Obè; his patience and conscientiousness have paid off, and his vision can be expressed on the scale it deserves.
Words by Nicola Davies