The 1990s saw hip-hop's influence extend well beyond the confines of the traditional large metropolitan areas (New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta, et al.), initially spreading into the suburbs, where it infiltrated every socio-economic strata and crossed every cultural boundary, then ultimately found its way into smaller regional niches, such as, in the case of the progressive rap combo Oddjobs, Minneapolis and St. Paul. With the equally forward-looking artists of the Rhymesayers Entertainment enterprise, the group not only helped to put Minnesota on the hip-hop map but, inspired by previous mavericks like De La Soul, the Beastie Boys, Hieroglyphics, and Freestyle Fellowship, also helped to tie rap's coastal-based, old-school past with its visionary, postmodern, untethered future.
The individuals who would eventually form the official Oddjobs lineup originally came together in 1996 as members of the 30-odd-strong Cases of Mistaken Identity (CMI) collective, a rotating cadre of rappers, DJs, b-boys, and graffiti writers drawn mostly from a pair of local high schools. By 1998, Minneapolis MCs Advizer (Adam Waytz) and Crescent Moon (Alexei Casselle), and St. Paul producers/DJs Anatomy (Stephen Lewis) and Deetalx (Devon Callahan), had gravitated toward one another and began performing together at all-ages venues as Oddjobs, occasionally backed live by local band Heiruspecs. Not long thereafter, the group released its first tape, Case Studies, with CMI and began to earn a measure of local exposure. The foursome's entrée into more widespread underground circles came the next year with its debut indie full-length, Conflict and Compromise. They attracted even more notice within the hip-hop community after Crescent Moon's strong showing at the battle competition of the 1999 Scribble Jam, and via his frequent spot as an auxiliary MC for Eyedea + Abilities of Rhymesayers fame. Advizer and Deetalx made the move to Brooklyn in the fall of that year to attend college, but the members kept Oddjobs alive via tapes, telephone calls, and commutes, resulting in the 2000 EP Absorbing Playtime. At around the same time, the Funboy EP was pressed in a limited edition of 5000 and officially released only in Japan. (It quickly began making the rounds in the United States as a bootleg.) Across the Tracks, a Deetalx mix CD, and Live at the Bryant Lake Bowl, with Chicago's Typical Cats and Heiruspecs, both appeared in 2001.
The full CMI crew -- by that time down to Oddjobs and MCs Nomi and Naimles -- had planned to follow with a full-length project. Instead Nomi (Mario Demira) joined as an official member (CMI Productions became the business front for the group), and the three remaining Minnesotans made the final move to New York the following autumn. Success and respect came surprisingly quickly for the quintet in the Big Apple. Its 12" single "Blue Collar Holler" rose to the sixth spot on the CMJ college radio chart. (A subsequent remix of the song attracted guest appearances from Aesop Rock and Vast of Cannibal Ox.) Oddjobs shared stages with or opened for De La Soul, DJ Shadow, Blackalicious, El-P, and Atmosphere, among others. In 2002 the crew released its first nationally distributed full-length, Drums, on its own indie startup label Third Earth Music. The album was lauded by fans, fellow rappers, and critics alike. They briefly partnered with Eyedea for the extremely rare toss-off cassette Whereabouts of Hidden Bridges. The collaboration also accounted for a track on the next official Oddjobs recording, the six-song The Shopkeeper's Wife EP, released in the spring of 2003. ~ Stanton Swihart