Finding creative DNA with ESQ
ESQ is breaking out as an alternative hip hop lyricist, music producer and dancer. He separates himself from the game by claiming he is hip hop without the sex, drugs and violence. Instead, he focuses on the 80’s elements of music. Originally from Kansas City, LA artiste ESQ recently dropped his EP “The Anti-Mannequin Movement.” We chat to ESQ about his follow-up EP to the “The Anti-Mannequin Movement,” titled 'Davinci' the possibility of having hip hop with out sex, drugs and violence, and his dream to collaborate with Janelle Monae. Margaret Tra writes.
For people that don’t know about you, describe yourself/style.
Well, I am an alternative hip-hop lyricist, music producer, dancer and visual designer. More importantly, I guess I would say that I’m a scientist who studies and explores the creative arts, attempting to find the creative DNA that resides within all mediums. I love the arts with every fiber of my being and hope that my fans see, hear, and experience that within my music. My style is a blend of 80’s hip hop with elements of funk, spoken word, and dramatic film-score undertones. In a nutshell... it’s just dope. (laughs)
When did you realize you could rap?
Rapping wasn’t my first go at music actually. Since age 10 I was on a path to be a singer, which I’ll start showing tidbits here and there on future mix tapes and LPs. But, the hip hop artist in me emerged after listening to Andre 3000’s “The Love Below.”
It’s funny, because he didn’t rap much at all on that album, but he got my attention and I began following him, and loved how he blended singing, rapping and destroyed the mould of what people expect. On my first LP “Urkel” (when I went by my former name "Wonkachild")I recorded the album’s title track as a humorous but metaphorical nerd-core anthem - but everyone loved it and how I didn’t sound like the average street rapper.
Every since then I have been a ‘hip hop’ artist. It’s also neat because many hip hop artists don’t dance, and because I was originally on a path to sing, I learned how to perform and dance at the same time. Now, as a hip hop artist, I still dance and perform at the same time and it stands out. Also, my younger brother, Jermaine Marqwan (who performs "Glamorous" on my album), was a big influence as well. He is an award winning spoken word/slam poet. Watching him develop has helped my growth greatly in blending music and conscious spoken word.
You have mentioned you are hip hop without the sex, drugs and violence, how do you rate hip hop today?
Art is a form of subconscious therapy that can influence and manipulate our likes, dislikes and decision making process without blatantly doing or saying so. Have you ever heard a song that you thought you didn’t know the words to only to catch yourself saying them word for word in your car while driving or multitasking?
Even if you thought you didn’t know the lyrics or was moved by them, you still think that bottle of alcohol, that outfit that X brand is the best one because X artist said so. When you brag only about the need or obsessive desire for sex, drugs, violence, and materialistic things, you are potentially pushing many listeners to actively engage in what you are saying. I read in a Spiderman comic (I love comics) the famous phrase, "with great power comes great responsibility." That stands in music. I would rate music today as a 5 out of 10 (10 the highest).
There are a ton of catchy, club-ready tracks that have been climbing the charts and staying there for weeks. However, many of them aren’t talking about anything beneficial and are largely degrading, insulting, and a straight-up smack in the face to progress. There are many artists who are truly expressing themselves with their music and some of it is really touchy - I can't argue with that as arguing with that is a smack in the face to authentic artistry (look at Picasso, DaVinci, Basqiat etc, they have some vulgar work). But to create downward-intelligent records that aren't at least for the sake of expression I have a big problem with. It’s not about the art but solely about the money. By all means I still need work too, but my direction is not toward being a wealthy king in culture full of brainwashed zombies I helped make.
My aim is to create commercial/mainstream music that is catchy and bold that deep down within the context of the music, the lyrics and arrangement are transparent and honest to who I am. Who I am is a very flawed imperfect artist who dreams of motivating others and leaving this world with a lasting dent or thumbprint of positivism. I am working on myself and on inspiring others to dream bigger. Yes, I’ll talk about heart break, pain, anger and let who I am be transparent, but I can’t be upset that my little sisters like music that tells them they are sluts if I am making the same tunes. If your presence can't add value, then your absence will not make a difference.
Your song “I don’t know” is beautifully truthful in the industry today, how did this song come about?
When I approached the Da Internz [producers of Big Sean, Rihanna, etc] with the idea to create an old-school song that was humorously honest, we round up with a story about trying to get a girl and all the extravagant lies and unnecessary posing a guy does to get her and show her a good time.
The funny part is that I used many elements of my actually situation at the time, such as expired tags, riding dirty around the cops, etc. The humor of the song is not entirely in the context of the story but the fact that everyone can relate to faking it till you make it, such as: borrowing a tie, a suit, or a friends car for a job interview; borrowing money to take a date out to a restaurant that you would never go to; or breaking your wallet to keep up an image. I don’t know about anyone else, but I have done that many times for the sake of appearing better than I was and suffered consequences for each one. Still! (laughs)
What are you working on now?
Aside from teaching dance and working on a major literature project. I am currently and near-obsessively working on a follow-up EP to my last project, “The Anti-Mannequin Movement.” I am currently being inspired by oscar worthy soundtracks to some of the best films of the last decade and the dramatic undertones of international high fashion runway - there is something sinister, sexy, meditative and addictive to both mediums. I am currently trying to add my funk meets old school flare to that style and create something exhibit worthy with it. And rock a few clubs and parties. (laughs)
Since moving to LA last February, I have been in the studio with some of the industry ‘greats’ soaking in all they have to share and teach on music, mixing, and the “IT” factor in records. Prayerfully, something magical comes out that you all can clearly see my growth in and be inspired.
Tell us about “The Anti-Mannequin Movement”
When you look at mannequins in department stores, they are given clothing, forced to stand here, pose there, and tossed away when they can no longer be controlled or serve a purpose... We have let ourselves become the makers and molds of mannequins - then tossed away as unimportant when uncontrollable. With the help of some of the industry's emerging and established talent, I wanted to break the mould of a commercial record. Start the Anti-Mannequin Movement.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Janelle Monae. We grew up from the same city, same church, and her family has been one of my biggest supporters in my talents and individuality since I was a toddler. They have always heavily encouraged and pushed me to be ‘better’ for as long as i can remember. Growing up, Janelle and I crossed paths many times but never directly enough to know one another as close friends, but working with her on a few records would still feel like working with family, and our friends and families back in Kansas City would love that. Aside from that, she is the main artist I identify with in making positive, funky, music.
On another note: Andre 3000, Santigold, Danger Mouse, Jack White, John Mayer, Adele, Kanye and Nas.
You are an artist, music producer & dancer. Is there one you prefer more than the other?
They all are one to me. Can't have one without the other two, I would feel lost or incomplete. Performing for the fans is amazing.
Do you write lyrics yourself? Walk us through the process.
Yes. Sometimes I'll get help on a story-line or hook, but my process has changed dramatically since January 2012. At first, I waited for my lyrics to come organically and I would sit with an instrumental and listen to it over and over until I felt something. However, now I create or receive a track and records gibberish on it immediately until I find a great melody, once I'm done with that, the organic mood that I use to wait for comes instantly! Now, my melodies are a lot better, process is 80% faster, and my flow is smoother. This I hope you all catch soon.
What stimulates your soul?
Clean contemporary design, innovation through art, and that undeniable great record. Music to me is equivalent to going to an art exhibition and seeing pieces on a wall. Each album is an exhibition; those recording artists who treat their music like that are amazing!