“Anyone that puts raw emotion into their music, that’s what I like,” 27-year-old singer, songwriter and producer extraordinaire Amir Obé states, as he takes some time to chat in the midst of his busy schedule in our capital.
After a false start under the guise of Atlantic records signee Phreshy Duzit, Obé went back to the drawing board in 2011. Since then he’s founded his Neighborhood PHCK$ collective and released a number of acclaimed mixtapes that would lead to a new record deal with iconic label Def Jam in November last year.
“Their cultural relevance and the fact they’ve been so selective about which artists they have on their roster,” he says. “Just being a part of that rich history is definitely inspiring, and they’re always so supportive of me which is great.”
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Amir was born in Brooklyn, New York, before spending the majority of his years in Detroit, Michigan, and music was always an important part of his upbringing. “My parents were playing a lot of Motown, Phil Collins and The Police, but also artists such as Lauryn Hill and The Fugees” he remembers. “So as a kid that’s what I was enriched by. Growing up, I didn’t really pay much attention to the lyrics, but melodically and sonically I was intrigued by people who put real feelings into their music.”
The sound he’s forged within his own career undoubtedly draws from the rich tapestry of influences weaved by his parents, but also from the music that he discovered for himself as a teenager. “I’m from the era of Pharrell and Kanye,” he says. “I think that’s a huge part of where I get my melodic sounds from.”
After announcing his Def Jam debut, ‘None Of The Clocks Work’, by sending fans digital clocks that counted down to the project’s release, he delivered a concise, seven-track offering that demonstrated further artistic evolution.
“I think that [‘None Of The Clocks Work’] is a lot fuller sounding, there’s more raw emotion in there and it dives a lot deeper than previous work,” he says, explaining that he took a more experimental approach, recording much of the release himself.
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Everything is a ground up process.
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Despite running just over twenty minutes, many have commented that the project has a lingering feel that exceeds the expectations of an EP. “A lot of people were saying that after they’d listened to it, they felt like it plays out like an album,” Obé reveals. “They said that a statement was made on that project, that it sounded much more than just seven songs.”
Much of Obé’s evolution is owed to his close bond with NYLZ, who is responsible for the majority of his production. “The way I approached ‘N.O.T.C.W,’ there are only two people involved: me & NYLZ,” he says. “We’ll sit in the studio, and improvise, there’s no samples, it’s all played by us and we only abandon it when the song feels complete. Everything is a ground up process.”
The support the Detroit wordsmith has had from his peers within the rap and R&B world has been astounding: support from Drake and PARTYNEXTDOOR even lead to rumours that he’d signed to the 6 God’s OVO Sound label. Relationships like these are hard to come by in the industry, and that’s something Obé doesn’t take lightly. “The gratifying part of that was the validation, that artists of that magnitude are fans of what I’m doing as well,” he says, adding: “It had to be an organic relationship, nothing forced.”
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I always like making each project subtlety different from the last one...
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This is a sentiment that extends to collaborators. “It’s all about being selective, and not just doing it for a look or an accolade” he explains. “I feel like theres a special cohesiveness with the sound. We’re really onto something and typically I’ll always work with NYLZ cos he knows me best.”
With six months still left of the year, you won’t catch Amir Obé simply basking in the glory of releasing his best work to date. He intends to spend his time juggling shows and working on his debut album. “I actually do a lot of the writing and recording on tour, especially here in Europe” he reveals. “I’ve begun plotting it out already, as far as the direction I want to take and how I can sonically be a little different from the last one – I always like making each project subtlety different from the last one. I think sonically we have a lot more headroom to push my sound further with my debut album.”
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'None Of The Clocks Work' is out now.
Words: Mike Wood