Esau the Anti-Emcee
The Drum N Bass Album…The Farewell Tour
Three years ago, Esau released his first and only record. I never heard it, which puts me solidly in the majority of humanity. I’d kinda like to, after hearing this complete d’n’b reworking of it, but I’m not holding my breath.
For one thing, I suspect that this is the better record. The drum’n’bass stylings of Curtis Bay (The Unoriginal) Mike D (85% of the record), Gnonsense (10%) and Tek (5%) are all nimble, classy, just-as-low-tech-as-they-need-to-be. Whether they frame or partially obscure Esau’s rhymes, these producers really have some original ideas and some knowledge of how to do them.
And Esau isn’t a bad MC, or even an Anti-Emcee. His voice is passionate and political and personal (how many other rappers talk about having genital herpes? TWICE on the same RECORD?) all at the same time, and these new backing tracks take him seriously as a lyricist.
This is good in tales like “Me and My Baby,” where Esau does a Common-like spoken piece about The Worst Girlfriend In The World Ever — she gets pregnant by someone else, cheats on him with both genders, steals his money, leaves him. Actually, this is more about being the poor schmuck so in love with this horrible person, but I don’t think Esau even knows this. The skittery track is perfect for this, making the listener nervous and disoriented while we try to follow the complicated story through the busy track.
Songs like “Boo” are dubby funk; songs like “U.R. Destene” are downtempo bubblers; songs like “Independence” are sci-fi hardcore burners. But all of them still hang together, even though the songs are all out of order from the original, and even though Esau is still rocking the same rhymes for the last three years. Still, it sounds great in my car with the bass settings all the way up, and that’s all that really matters.
Am I in love with Esau’s constant bitching about how underground he is and how he’s proud to be that way? Naw — even though he admits that you can still be “underground” with a hit record, I never buy that he means that, and I’m not so sure that he’d say that now in 2003. But it’s kinda funny how he calls out everyone on “You Ain’t Fly” to detail their sins against “real” music — Jermaine Dupri is skewered (“Solo record with no solo songs?”), as are P.Diddy and Ma$e, and I have no problem with any of those assessments. But the slams on Master P and Mystikal and Silkk the Shocker are just dated, and who the HELL thought it would be a good idea to diss Mya on a rap record? (And, for the record, Mya IS fly.)
But overall, there’s some gold here that the listener will come away with. First, the confluence between drum’n’bass is fascinating all the way, just like it always is. (You gotta hear the way the place thumps on the 2-step dilly “That’s Real.”) Secondly, the idiosyncratic flow of Esau, which goes after greedy employers and messed-up governments the same way it goes after shameless ex-girlfriends and inferior rappers.
Plus, here is an added benefit: “I’m Going to Hell” is the kind of thing that will freak out your snooty super-Christian neighbors, a chuuuch song that doubles as its own self-destructive impulse. You don’t get that every day, people. Esau has fun on this album de-constructing the stuff he’s learned (Christian doctrine, rap stereotypes, etc.) the same way he spreads the fun along to his producers.
If Esau just didn’t rap about other rappers at all, or like only once or twice or something, this record would go down a lot more smoothly. But there’s something to be said for “rough” too, and there’s summa dat here as well.
Overall, a very good record. Not classic, not earth-shaking–just good, and brave, and cool.
Mends Recordings: http://www.mendsrecordings.com/