For many artists it’s hard to find that perfect balance between reinvention and consistency. On the one hand they aim to be recognized as staying true to themselves, but on the other they operate in a very competitive climate and changing things up can be creatively very fulfilling. There’s a fine line between innovation and change; between a coherent brand, and boredom.
Someone who appears to have found that perfect harmony is rapper Amir Obe. Previously known as Phreshy Duzit, Amir divides his time between the city he was born in, Detroit, and Brooklyn, New York, where he moved when he was only 17.
Ten years on, he has toured with PARTYNEXTDOOR and collaborated with Drake on Star67 which ended up on If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. In March this year he released his EP None Of The Clocks Work and the music video for WISH YOU WELL just came out. Now he’s working on his first album too.
But if that sounds straightforward, Amir’s progress hasn’t always been smooth. “When I first got to New York, I wasn’t fully matured,” he says. “I just wanted to be known or heard. I was making music for an audience.
“I did an early deal which was based on numbers only,” he explains. “It happened too prematurely; I didn’t go through that discovery phase yet.”
And so Amir decided to head back to Detroit for a time, and escape the hurly-burly of New York’s fast-paced creative scene.
“It was my moment to discover myself, create freely and do what I felt was natural.” This was also when he changed his name and when he reinvented his sound – and it worked.
“The tipping point – when I started to get recognized for the art – was when I took control of my identity and what kind of music I wanted to make,” he says. “Just being attentive of how the visuals look, how the artwork looks, how the music sounds, how it’s mixed, everything.
“When I was making for this crowd, or this executive, or this label, or whatever, that’s when nothing was happening. Things only started moving for me once I made music I could enjoy and that I could be impressed by.”
Back in Detroit, he also produced his EP Detrooklyn, which explores his connection to the two cities he calls home. The record caught a lot of people’s attention, including Drake who got in touch off the back of this release, leading to their collaboration Star67.
Whereas Detroit offers him the peace and quiet he needs to create, Amir loves New York as it gives him access to some of the biggest record labels. “I always kept that back and forth relationship between the cities. I’d always come home and slow things down and find my inspiration,” the rapper says. “Just hone in on that energy that Detroit has to offer. It’s always there, you just have to tap into it.
“Being from Detroit is way more slow-paced,” Amir says. “I got to be a child; I got to be imaginative.”
Another cord linking him back to Detroit is his producer NYLZ. The two met when Amir was young, and NYLZ took him under his wing. Together they produced his first track Step Your Swag Up.
“I was just a shy kid in New York, recording by myself with beats that weren’t even mine – just ones that I downloaded online. He gave me the opportunity to go into the studio and record something. That was my first take at a collaborative process.”
Ever since, the two have been working on all Amir’s projects and have developed a shared style. “We came back to the same vibe – I always have to go there to record to have that organic chemistry. It’s the easiest way for me to work.”
Interestingly, even when Amir collaborates with others, he lets NYLZ refine it. “Opposed to it just being a quick song I did with somebody else, we still have to make it feel like it fits in the body of work or the aesthetic we’ve maintained the whole time,” he says. “We don’t want to confuse the message, we still want to maintain that cohesive aesthetic.”
“We always have a very strong awareness how we want to be presented and what we want to sound like,” Amir continues. “But we also want to be progressive in the sound – it’s about taking it to the next level and outdoing the last song.” Again, it’s finding this perfect balance.
His recent EP None Of The Clocks Work features a mix of styles. “I started off just rapping, I didn’t explore melody. But as the content became more introspective, more vibe-y and more moody, I felt like it was better to articulate that message through melody.”
Needless to say, Amir’s influences include some of the rap scene’s biggest names – Drake, Frank Ocean, A$AP Mob, Kanye and Tyler, The Creator. But he also looks to talents from a completely different genre. “A lot of my inspiration comes from 1980s and 90s UK pop, like Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Sting, The Police,” Amir says.
“What I like about their music is – even hearing it in today’s climate – it feels relevant. Lyrically and melodically I still enjoy it; it sounds like a song that could come out today.”
And that timelessness is what Amir aims for too. “I wanted to challenge myself to make music that would sound cool maybe 20 years from now. The name None Of The Clocks Work is saying that it’s timeless.”