THE MOTOR CITY HAS AN ACE IN THE HOLE IN ESHAM. HE’S BEEN PUTTING IT DOWN
ON WAX THE INDEPENDENT WAY—AND GETTING PAID DOING IT—FOR A DECADE. AND IF YOU AIN’T KNOW. ESHAM AIN’T ONE BIT SHY ‘BOUT CALIING IT LIKE HE SEES IT
106 THE SOURCE JANUARY 2000
Detroit’s Esham is a tad upset. Not necessarily pissed off, mind you. but just a little perturbed. The kind of feeling you get from the permeating funk of day-old trash. But this here’s a bit more serious. Throughout our interview, Esham’s done his best to hide his anger, but one question too many on a certain subject has quickly turned his amiable linguistics into slight exasperation. “You know, I wonder if people ask them that question about me? ‘Cause all them cats know me,” he says in response to a query about some of his hometown’s finest—the great white hypes of Eminem, Kid Rock and the Insane Clown Posse—who are blowing up to the tune of fame and ringing cash registers.
You can’t blame Esham for being irritated by his lack of fame. After all, there’s slept- on and then there’s Esham—he’s written songs for Kid Rock. There’s overlooked and then there’s Esham—Eminem, on “Still Don’t Give A…,” refers to himself as “a cross between Manson, Esham and Ozzy.” There’s work ethic and then there’s Esham. He’s only written, produced and engineered 12 full albums and five EPs in the past 10 years, including last year’s NATAS release Wicket World Wide.com. on his label Overcore/Gothom. There are legends and there is Esham—the Insane Clown Posse used to open for him.
He’s Detroit’s best-kept secret. Rapper. Producer. Label-owner. A self-made millionaire who’s sold over a million records. Been doing the rhyming thing since 10 years of age. The inventor of “acid rap.” But. he’s from Detroit, where hip-hop music gives way to the stylings of jazz and remnants of Motown.
How does a 10-year-old get into rapping?
We got introduced to rap just around the time when it really started happenin’. I was born in New York. My grandmother stayed in New York and we just started rapping ’cause that’s what all the kids where we was from was doing—like break dancing and rapping. Everybody had little crews, and we did that whole thing around the time when Run-DMC. Fat Boys, Doug E. Fresh and them was coming out. We had moved to Detroit when we was real young, but we had commuted back and forth. We’d go to New York in the summertime, and we’d go to school in Detroit during the rest of the year. Around the end of the ’80s, about ’89. I had just started high school and I didn’t have no records out. but I was still developing my skills. By the time it was. like, ’90, we had put our first record out.
I want to get into your work ethic.
When we was releasing those records, even the majors wasn’t doing it like that. Some of the things that we did as an independent and just being an underground label we kind of filtered the market for all the people out here today that’s putting out more records in one quarter than they would’ve in one year. It’s like we opened it up. The only thing that inspires me is trying to make people aware of what we doing out here or in the Noah. They had everywhere—they had the East, West, even the South. That’s what really inspires me to be on the lookout. We the pilgrims over here.
How did you get into the whole “horrorcore” genre?
Well, horrorcore was the Flatlinerz and the Gravediggaz. What we do is called acid rap, and we’ve been blazing the trail for so long. Everybody at one point in time has heard some of our material. So when they bite records…’cause people still was biting records. A lot of people bite records nowadays, and some journalists are afraid to say who biting records and who not. They bit our style and that’s what they called it horrorcore. But it was so hard to duplicate that that shit
didn’t work right. They wanna stick that label on me, but that ain’t even the style of music that we do. Our shit is acid rap. It’s modern- day blues. It’s the real shit. Heavy metal shit.
Did that piss you off at first?
It pissed me off every time somebody associates us with that because I ain’t have nothing to do with that. And if you go back and look at the record companies and the record labels who co-signed that son of music, you’ll get to the bottom of who really was biting the style and trying to keep the little man down. You know, we a small company going through time battling monster companies.
When we was releasing those records, even the majors wasn’t doing it like that. Some of the things that we did as an inde.
You think there might be something else going on?
I do. I really do. It’s all a conspiracy.
Can you be more specific?
It’s all a conspiracy within the workings of the whole machinery within Black music. And it’s greeted like that, and that’s all I got to say about that.
How does that make you feel?
It doesn’t make me feel like nuthin’, because I’m an American, and America is diverse like that. I’m the diverse part of America that they don’t want accepted in the Black population. Even with them magazines. they overlook a lot of things, but at the same time, they need people like us and other people to even sell they magazines. The people who buy my records know that.
Talk about your next album.
Straight-up tongues. I’m coming speaking tongues. Some crazy shit. I’m just going in and just busting all out. like, in two days. I got all of the material up in my daddy’s
But you’ve been in it for so long.
I know, but it’s certain magazines that I’m wiping my ass with. I’m just like a tropical storm. I can’t deal with it some days, so I don’t want to put a time limit on that. Who knows? I’m like Y2K—you’ll see what happens.
What are your feelings on the upcoming millennium. You think we only got two months left?
I control all of that. I determine everybody’s future after that For real, all the magazines, all the MCs—I determine everybody’s future after Y2K. That’s how I feel about that.
And how are you gonna be controlling things?
You’ll see. I’ma call you.
Talk about your group, with TNT and Mastamind, NATAS.
First of all, NATAS stands for Nation Ahead of not those cats, because my answer would be, “I represent Detroit the hardest, because Detroit has one of the largest populations of Black people.” You know how much Black people you can find anywhere in America. And all those cats you said, they not Black. You ain’t no Kennedy, so how the hell you inherit my style?
Is that how you really feel?
Yeah. Everything ain’t all good. But I ain’t even saying nothing. Everybody got to get they little time to do they thing. I wonder, do people ask them the same question? That’s all I’m saying. Do they say, “Hey, what about how you feel about Esham?” And would they say anything?
How would you feel about recognition?
I care. I would be doing them bumping chests around this bitch like an NFL player when they score a touchdown. You know banks up in Manhattan. And that’s how I’m able to make all those records. I got over. like. 3,000 songs.
Are other hip-hop artists just lazy?
Nope. Because that’s them, and that’s the difference between them and us. And that’s why I love them because when they’re not working, we are.
How long you see yourself doing this?
I don’t know. I’m not gonna put a time period on that because, right now, I’m still battling that. I’m constantly wanting to get out of the business.
Just the conspiracy, man. Blatant disrespect from whatever.
Time And Space And you don’t really go through life reading thngs backwards. You don’t look at the word “live” and see “evil.” You see things for what they are, and some people might get something negative from that . But for all the people who really understand the music and get that surge of energy, we put out what it’s about—they know what it’s about. It ain’t have noting to do with Satan.
What are your feelings on the Detroit hip-hop scene and all these cats like Eminem and Kid Rock blowing up? And they’re mentioning you, so you must have some opinion. Everybody has they time to do they thing I feel like we never got to the point where it’s in our time, so to speak. I don’t even know if that’s a fair question to even ask me and what it’s about—a Super Bowl ring, so to speak. And everybody that’s not on our team is playing against us and that’s how we do our business.
Well you got a lot of so-called underground cats who talk about just being satisfied with respect and stuff.
Well that’s them. I’m the new millennium kid. I was raised differently. We just keep focus, doing what we doing, and along the way, we just happen to notice how music has changed, how styles have changed, the industry has changed. When once they went one way. now they all realty kinda kick the shit we been kicking 10 years ago and even up to this day. It’s like, our style never changed, it’s always been there. Every time I hear our style out there, I be like. “Ouch!”G
“I’M THE DIVERSE PART OF AMERICA THAT THEY DON’T WANT ACCEPTED IN THE BLACK POPULATION. EVEN WITH THEM MAGAZINES, THEY OVERLOOK A LOT OF THINGS, BUT AT THE SAME TIME THEY NEED PEOPLE LIKE US TO EVEN SELL THEY MAGAZINES.”