Recent Oakland Technical High School graduate Nathaniel Oda, also known as lil ricefield, burst onto the music scene in 2018 with hit single “Trapanese.” The song racked up over 15 million plays on Spotify alone and landed him a verified spot on Genius. Oda’s signature style blends riffs reminiscent of traditional Japanese instruments with trap drums and 808s, and the typical braggadocious lyrics of the trap genre with humor about the Asian American experience and stereotypes. (“These suckas wanna test, but I’m Asian so I passed,” boasted Oda on “Trapanese.”) Oda returned this year with an EP entitled Omakase.
The first track of the EP, “LMK!” brings darker production than any track on the album, with low, booming 808s and high pitched vocal samples. Oda leans into the scratchy and low pitched aspects of his voice, giving the delivery a raspy and raw feel. Lyrically though, the song contains none of the humor of a typical lil ricefield song. The track is not bad, per se, but lacks originality or interesting lyrics.
The EP then continues on with “Neji.” Titled after the name of a Naruto character, the song brings back Oda’s signature style of Japanese-esque samples and trap drums with mocking references to Japanese American culture. Featured on this track is Oda’s brother Seiji and fellow Oakland resident 247zé. Everyone on the track sounds comfortable with the genre and the song plays just as well as their hit song “Trapanese.” The song was accompanied by the release of a music video where lil ricefield trains in sword fighting with the help of his brother and a stoned 247zé.
Perhaps the most surprising song on Omakase is the third track “¡José Cuervo!” Backed by flamenco guitar and blaring Latin horn samples, Oda peppers Spanish words into his rapping. The subject matter mainly rests on the number of women he is sleeping with and the annoyance he feels at those same women, but Oda’s focus bizarrely turns in the chorus to proclaim his hatred for Trump and that “It’s a revolution, so it’s fuck the gobierno.” The samples in this song are probably the most interesting on the EP and Oda’s humorous and fun-loving rapping fits nicely on this track.
On the other hand, the fourth track, “Appetite,” featuring the most famous artist, is the worst of the EP. Bay Area rap star P-Lo joins Oda and his brother for a sentimental, melodic track. While there is no problem with artists trying to stretch their comfort zone, P-Lo and lil ricefield are clearly not up to the task. The melody contains all of two notes and the word play gets very lazy, especially in P-Lo’s verse. (“I ain’t stupid but I’m going dumb with it,” P-Lo sings at one point.) The song ends up sounding like a lyrically lazy knock-off Drake.
In the fifth track, “Symphony,” Oda brings back the Japanese-reminiscent samples. He does not, however, include his trademark humor or references. The short track moves nicely, but without the typical ricefield charm, it feels unoriginal. Closing out the EP is a remix of “Trapanese.” The difference in the remix is two extra verses, one from Cash Kidd and one from DaBoii. Both seamlessly fit on the track, and although neither make Asian references, their own sense of humor shines through.
All in all, while Nathaniel Oda undoubtedly has a feel for rap and a sharp sense of humor, it seems difficult to see him moving beyond mockery-music. The more serious songs on the EP fell flat, and the joke songs didn’t feel very different from his debut. While a lil ricefield song is undoubtedly preferable sonically compared to other jokey music that has come up in the past decade (Berkeley High alumni Lonely Island comes to mind), Omakase doesn’t prove his ability to move farther towards serious music or even just comedy. Unless something changes after this EP, Oda doesn’t seem able to diverge from the formula he found on “Trapanese.”