If there’s one truth about second chances, it is that the encore can lead to even bigger opportunities for fulfillment. Rarely in music do fans talk about an artist’s third or fourth chance in their careers, yet here’s Amir Obè thriving well into his next chapter after a musical pivot from Phreshy Duzit to his actual name, Amir Obeid. He signed to Def Jam Records in December 2016 after a run as an independent act, and some would consider that a victory lap.
On a rainy day in March, the 27-year-old rapper and singer invited media and tastemakers for a listening of his Def Jam debut, None of the Clocks Work (stylized as NØTÇW), at World of McIntosh in Soho. Hor d’oeuvres and specialty song-themed drinks are the norm for these experiences, but it’s reading who is in the room that shows how far Obeid has come. Def Jam’s top brass (Steve Bartels, the CEO; Chris Atlas, Executive Vice President of Marketing, and the label’s publicists) were all there to support his fourth extended play.
Once listeners sat in bean bags and lounge chairs facing a McIntosh theater system, Bartels gave an impassioned speech about Obè’s music, telling the audience to pay attention to the “sonic quality” of these “gems.” He wanted everyone to get the same feeling he’d felt when he heard Won’t Find Love in the Hills and tracks from NØTÇW, emphasizing Obè’s focus on detail and songwriting.
Then it was Obè’s turn to give a speech. He spoke about how he recorded, wrote, and composed the project with just his producer NYLZ in a little house in Detroit. “I really want to thank Def Jam for believing in the vision, just supporting everything that might’ve seemed farfetched in my mind, they met me halfway. I feel like we executed [my vision] fully,” he said.
A few days after NØTÇW’s release on March 30, Amir tells me Def Jam has been courting him since his first headlining show in Manhattan at Highline Ballroom last August. After Bartels saw his show live, he met with Amir and his team in September and then again in December to finalize a deal. “He could understand the music on the level we created it. He understood it fully,” he says of his decision to sign with Def Jam. “He was wowed by the production value and the attention to detail. That meeting, it was a big step.”
But his fans know his history with major labels, specifically Atlantic Records, which he left in 2014. As Phreshy Duzit, the Brooklyn by way of Detroit artist made atmospheric, melodic music about relationships, the ethos of his output mirroring a So Far Gone-era Drake. He dabbled in production and rapping, but mostly worked with NYLZ who has been collaborating with him since his early project like Brave New World and The New Religion. He says of his time on Atlantic: “I feel like they were way more driven toward singles and having big records instead of pushing for a story. They didn’t care for me to have a sonic experience. They just wanted the big records.”
From 2014 to now, Amir Obè went through an artistic rebirth. Sometimes you need to get rid of your distractions to find your purpose, and Obè spent the better part of 2014 on a journey of discovery. He says Phreshy Duzit was “a contrived character who was making cool music for MySpace,” forgoing his former moniker so he could have “everything to feel authentic” and “feel 100 percent me.” Freshly removed from his Atlantic Records situation, he debuted as Amir Obè on Detrooklyn, a whimsical tape with hard raps and choice influences from the city’s boroughs: Harlem – “Drugs & Cam’ron”; Brooklyn – “Jay Z, Kanye, Esco,” as well as Detroit via “Detroit Cartier.”
Of course, you can’t forget about the time Drake’s manager Oliver El-Khatib personally reached out to tell Obè that he was a fan of Detrooklyn. When collaborations with PARTYNEXTDOOR hit SoundCloud, OVO stans believed he was the newest artist on the roster. Their work on songs like “Truth for You” and “I’m Good” fueled those rumors, while his appearance on Drake’s “Star67” from If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late gave the illusion he was one of those tent writers in Drizzy’s studio camp. But Obè says his relationship with PND goes back to their Atlantic days when he was known as Jahron B. “We always talk so I know we’re going to link up soon and share ideas and see where it goes,” he says of working together again. “I know we have huge songs that we never released, but yeah, we’ll definitely work in the future. I’m sure of it.”
What did he think about those OVO conversations? “I think just me being close to them, showing up in pictures, and the collaboration with PARTY, people had their own assumptions. It never was on that level as far dealing with business. It’s more about just being good friends with these guys and linking up when we can link up.”
An everlasting friendship it seems, as OVO continues to show Obè love: Oliver premiered his song “Naturally” in his mix on Noah “40” Shebib’s birthday episode. It’s because the songs on NØTÇW not only fit the darker shades of Drake’s color palette, but Obè’s lane of emotionally-charged rap ballads is clearly his own. “Wish You Well” is a bye-bye haters anthem for the Snapchat generation, and “Cigarettes” is the anxiety-reducing record about indulging in vices that you need in a dystopian America.
Amir Obeid spent significant years as Phreshy Duzit and you can’t erase history. However, you can certainly rewrite it. Obè has built enough of a foundation as a trendsetter to be a diamond in the rough among his peers. A pending album with Def Jam is in the works, which will naturally write itself as Obè lives his life.
“With the album, I really want to experiment for myself. Do some songs where I can rap on. Melodically, take it somewhere else,” he says. “I know NYLZ has different ideas. It’s all about from now until then what my experiences will be. What memories I can create now to speak on when it is album time.”
For more music features read our profile with rising Korean singer Oh Hyuk, which appears in issue 14 of Highsnobiety Magazine.