There’s a consensus in hip-hop that you only get one chance before that ephemeral thing called buzz dissipates. But then there’s Amir Obè, who proves there are, in fact, second chances.
It’s a rainy Tuesday at the World of McIntosh on Lafayette Street. The invite-only townhouse — funded by the luxury audio brand — features five sprawling floors that include an indoor pool, gourmet kitchen, and outdoor terrace. Tonight, Def Jam Records executives and staff have gathered media and scenesters to celebrate None of the Clocks Work, Obè’s first EP since signing to the label in December 2016. “I really want to thank Def Jam for supporting the vision and really seeing things that might have seemed far-fetched,” Obè says, introducing his new work.
For the 27-year-old rapper-singer (born Amir Obeid), the pomp and circumstance of the evening must feel like a déjà vu of sorts. Back in 2009, Obè was in New York City, deciding between the Fashion Institute of Technology or Parsons School of Design for college, when Atlantic Records signed him based on the MySpace presence he’d created under the moniker Phreshy Duzit. “I got a deal pretty quickly, so that switched my route [away from college],” he explains on the phone a few days after the Def Jam event. But things never really panned out with the label, and Obè retreated to the indie scene for years.
It wasn’t until 2014 that he got his next break, when he dropped his stage name and released the mixtape Detrooklyn. Named for both his native Detroit and his new home of Brooklyn, the tape featured several nods to the five boroughs, such as “Jay Z, Kanye, Esco” and “Drugs & Cam’ron.” It also nabbed the attention of Drake’s manager, Oliver El-Khatib, who linked Obè with the superstar.
Drake’s co-sign came at an opportune time, just when Obè was considering ending what was, at that point, a fledgling career. “We were trying to get over a hump,” he says of himself and Detrooklyn producer NYLZ. “We were a little frustrated, just how we weren’t being received. It could’ve been my last project. . . . It was big for my confidence that Drake reached out at that time, like, ‘I love your project.’ ” Eventually, connecting with Drake brought Obè a higher profile: He coproduced the track “Star67” from Drake’s 2015 release, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, and opened for the rapper’s protégé PartyNextDoor on the road.
Two years later, Obè’s finally emerging as his own artist. “It’s all been a growth process,” he says, “as far as, like, learning new things melodically and sonically [and] being in a way more mature state.” Despite his now-sizable Rolodex, Obè decided to rely solely upon original collaborator NYLZ to write, record, and produce his new EP. “We knew exactly what we wanted to create when we went to the studio,” he says.
The seven-song project oozes with dark synths and drowned-out vibes. “Wonder why you ain’t called yet/Borderline alcoholic/I’m trippin’ but I ain’t fall yet,” he moans on the opener “Free”; later on the track, he puffs out his chest: “Privacy, I just need privacy/None of you bitches acknowledge me/I’m still waitin’ on apologies.” “Naturally” is an airy passive-aggressive breakup song: “Tryna find some songs to relate to/Tryna find excuses to hate you/Ain’t no makeup out here gonna make you/And ain’t no breakup with me gonna break you.”
A palpable melancholy courses throughout the EP, but Obè won’t cop to any one thing—or person—having inspired it. Instead, he wants listeners to go on their own emo trips. “I don’t like telling [people] what the songs are about,” he says. “People have their own relationships and the songs can hit so close to home for them. I want them to apply to [them] their own lifestyles and create their own narrative based on what they feel.”