When Heiruspecs bassist Sean McPherson went out to Brooklyn over spring break to visit his friends in Oddjobs, he was sick for the duration of his stay, and threw up 15 times in the upstairs bathroom. Other than that, he said, New York was great.
His hosts were cool about it. They're used to living in uncomfortably close quarters. And after a roommate moved out (it was her bathroom), all five members of Oddjobs spent the summer living and recording together in that same two-floor Fort Greene apartment with no air conditioning and a single fan (which later broke). The result is Drums (Third Earth Music), a new album of hip hop so loose and weird that you half expect the rappers to pass the mic out the window to a jogger or a talking police horse.
"I think that's a dope way to make music," says DJ and producer Deetalx about the basement-studio vibe. "Now when we're on the road, it's not like we're learning about each other's personalities for the first time. Everyone's used to it if I make noises in the middle of the night."
And what sort of noises does Deetalx make?
"Sometimes I go into a delirium and make scratch sounds."
As the DJ says this over his cell phone, Oddjobs are in a van headed for Dallas, Texas, on a desert highway 150 miles west of El Paso. Nomi is driving. Fellow rapper Crescent Moon is lying in back with his feet on the ceiling. Anatomy, the other turntablist and producer, is taking a quiz in his music-theory text. Only Advizer, the third MC, is absent, having flown back to Manhattan to attend classes at Columbia. He'll rejoin Oddjobs in Austin to finish a dream gig that the others couldn't pass up: a short tour with DJ Shadow. These shows promise to deliver the quintet to a receptive new audience (the group's astral funk owes an obvious debt to Josh Davis's psychedelic hip hop).
Oddjobs opened for their Minneapolis friends Atmosphere in Phoenix the night before, thanks to a confluence of schedules. And they'll swing through the Cities to perform at First Avenue on Sunday, October 13. But the highlight of their fall so far is the kickoff show with Shadow in Las Vegas. The Hard Rock Hotel audience was conspicuous with high rollers in suits--"old people," Deetalx says. The boys are barely drinking age, you see, even if Nomi and Deetalx are gamblers (or liars) enough to say they left the blackjack and craps tables up $220.
Oddjobs are on a roll this year. Having formed in the mid-1990s out of two local high schools (Minneapolis South and St. Paul Central) and a 30-person crew (Cases of Mistaken Identity), they spent several seasons building scene support in the Cities, and played one-shot gigs in such odd spots as Baltimore (City Paper exclaimed, "Some guys from Minnesota took the bus down here and blew the place up"). Then they decided to start over from scratch in hip hop's birthplace, moving to New York in two shifts. Deetalx and Advizer left first to attend university (which Deetalx quickly lost a taste for), and proceeded to record the 2001 Oddjobs EP Absorbing Playtime via mail and commute to the Cities. By late August of the following year, the others had joined them.
Crescent Moon hadn't even unpacked before he hit the road again as an auxiliary MC to Eyedea and Abilities, joining El-P, Cannibal Ox, and Atmosphere on the seminal Who Killed the Robots? Tour. (He was in Montreal the morning of September 11, recovering from a late-night celebration of his 21st birthday.) Now 22, the rapper born Alexie Caselle is the most road-schooled Oddjob, having lent his head-cold flow to Atmosphere on two separate tours, and appearing with them at the All Tomorrow's Party's festival in England.
New York itself has been the real education, though. "Every time I leave my apartment I feel like I learn something," he says. "It just puts me to a test. I completely submerged myself in different cultures here. I'm definitely going through a transition."
In other words, aside from the good fortune of befriending bohemian rap totems El-P and Cannibal Ox, Oddjobs are basically just off the boat in a big city. A sort of loneliness pervades Drums, with its longing references to "Shots Paul" and Minnehaha Creek. And even its most playful track, "Wolves in Wool," mingles Minnesotan stoicism with braggadocio. "You could be like Tony Allen/For phony styling/ My persona embodies the 1930s Coney Island/I'm only smiling because I know how lonely I am," raps Advizer.
Then the album's comfy middle-school funk and neo-Native Tongues chant-alongs give way to something else--black-light reggae, eerie jump-up, echoing guitarscapes. Even the comforting presence of McPherson on bass can't obscure the fact that Oddjobs are way across state lines. Lucky them.