Among dozens of CDs, birthday cards, and posters, a few hats hang on Capital Ode’s Far Rockaway bedroom wall. “Every single place that I’ve been in really contributed to who I am in some way,” says the rapper and DJ, pointing to a few hats that stand out to him. “There’s a Toronto [Maple Leafs] hat up there, there’s a Marlins hat up there – Florida Marlins, not the Miami Marlins.”
Only a true Miami fan or resident would make the distinction. Ode, born Odelle George-Perreira, only lived in Florida for a few years, but he hung the Marlins hat with as much honor as the others.
A constant change in scenery, and headwear, has always been part of his life. He was born in Toronto and spent his first 10 years in Canada until moving to Broward County, Florida in 2001, then Alabama, then New Jersey, and, now, New York. I couldn’t help but compare his situation to that of Vince Carter, whose mid-dunking face looked on from a poster. The NBA star spent his first six seasons on the Toronto Raptors, was then traded to the New Jersey Nets, and has since been on six different teams. Unlike Carter’s, Ode’s move wasn’t heavily publicized, probably because he wasn’t a former Rookie of the Year, but also because he came in illegally.
As we’re talking, he sits comfortably in a tall black office chair in his bedroom studio where he records his music – inside was a professional-looking microphone, isolation shield, and impressively sized speakers. Growing up, Ode went to Bedford Academy, an above-average high school school in Brooklyn where the main focus was, according to him, sending students to Ivy League schools.
As a member of the golf team sporting a 1700 SAT score, Ode looked like a perfect candidate for college. But his citizenship was still in question, and according to Ode, the process isn’t easy. “I know it’s long, it’s expensive, and if you mess up that means you’re starting over from the beginning,” he says. “My mom had been filing for us since I was in the 8th grade and I didn’t get my green card until two years after I graduated high school.”
He leans back, arms folded, in a gray sweater and a classic navy blue New York Yankees hat possibly meant to let everyone know where he currently lives (although Far Rockaway, Queens is a ways from the Bronx), and starts talking about “Live Illegal.” In late spring of 2018, Ode released the song, in which he documents the adversity facing undocumented residents in the United States. Ode later ended the year by dropping his “Canadian Bakin’ Freestyle,” where he raps about American’s ignorance towards Canadians.
When he first came to country, Ode wasn’t afraid to tell his classmates he was from another country, but once he got older, he started to realize the consequences of being a foreigner. “When I lived in Alabama, there was this one girl who was half Mexican but born in California,” he recalled. “I remember she told me that when she first moved there somebody called immigration on her and she had people show up at her family’s home.” Nothing happened to her, though, because she was an American citizen. If Ode was in the same situation, he would’ve been sent back across the border.
As someone without much guidance on how to maneuver undocumented, Ode treaded carefully for his middle and high school years, mostly fending off any threat of deportation by telling people he was from New York, where he had family; he feared that any little slipup could cost him, so he kept his country of origin a secret from most. “My mom always instilled in my head that ‘your friends might get in trouble and whatever might happen to them, they’re going to be good, but if you get in trouble, you’re out of here,’” he says. “For us, we couldn’t tell everybody [that they were from Canada] because you never knew what somebody might try to do.”
Ode rifled through some folders on his Mac and started playing some tracks from his upcoming album. He usually masters his work at home but decided to mix this project at Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan (the studio where Tupac was shot, in case you were wondering) and have it mastered at Downtown Studios. You can tell – it sounds a lot more professional than his past work.
If you were to try and guess where Ode is from strictly off of his music, you’d have a hard time. He sometimes raps with a punchy flow reminiscent of an old-school New York rapper– but may adopt Florida vernacular. Or maybe he’ll slow himself down like a southern artist – but use New Jersey slang. In some of his earlier songs, he points out, he had a southern drawl that he couldn’t recreate today even if he tried. Think Nas if he got lost south of the Mason-Dixon line.
In his more recent songs, Ode has more actively represented his Canadian roots (“Nappy head, head honcho reppin’ Toronto”), but while he was living in the States illegally, he merely alluded to it. “For a while, until I got my green card, I was always hinting at it in raps,” he says. “There were a whole bunch of songs where I hinted at it going back home [Canada]. I was trying to do something while I pass the time.”
He’s now selling shirts to promote the song “Live Illegal”; a percentage of the proceeds go to United We Dream, an immigrant youth-led organization helping out those who are in similar situations to Ode. His life and identity have adjusted over the years, as has his music. “It’s a journal,” he says. “It helps me be able to document my life, in a way.”