Wordplay, Not Radio Play

Esinchill represents a mood swing toward more substance in local hip-hop.

The next movement in Bay Area hip-hop will likely revolve around lyricism. Past eras have tended to focus on the beats. The golden days of Yay Area mobb music saw variations on an uber-regional, neighborhood-oriented sound primarily associated with a particular turf, i.e., HP, Fillmoe, E.P.A., Vallejo, San Jose, Richmond, East Oakland. Most recently, the bay garnered considerable national attention for a certain dread-shakin’, purp-smokin’ subgenre that was predominantly producer-driven.

But since music goes in cycles — it’s been said that hyphy was really just mobb music on steroids — we could see a return to the unique diversity the area once had, when artists were more distinctive and less imitative. And with a seeming lull in local hip-hop — at least until hot new albums by E-40, Lyrics Born, Del, and Keak Da Sneak drop — now is the perfect time to get back to basics.

Enter Esinchill. The extended member of the Digital Underground posse has been kicking around locally for a while; his name first started buzzing in the late ’90s, after he appeared on DU’s slept-on Who Got the Gravy? Esinchill followed that up with a solo album, Everything to Lose, which he put out on his brother’s label, RCeason. This was followed up by Choice Cuts, a collaboration with King Beef that reveled in boom-bap fundamentals, yet had the misfortune of being released during the height of the hyphy movement, when er’body and their grandma was clamoring for club- and radio-friendly, uptempo turf music.

Now that grandma’s finally traded in the multicolored hoodie for a sensible sweater, Esinchill is leading a charge toward a style whose primary goal isn’t radio play, but wordplay.

“It’s not difficult to pull out ‘A, B, C, 1, 2, 3’ songs or rap about the club or my shoes,” he concedes. “To me, that’s not appealing.” Hooks are important, he says, but he wants people to actually listen to what he’s saying: “I welcome the challenge. I don’t feel like it’s impossible.”

A word of caution: Esinchill’s next album Vigilantism isn’t for fickle trend-hoppers looking for the Next Big Thing. It comes with no pre-F.A.B.-ricated catchphrases, no flashy fashion accoutrements, no bobblehead dolls, and no claims of being the Bay Area’s answer to anything — except of course, the need for quality hip-hop music. “I consider myself to be different as well as innovative,” the rapper says, adding, “I refuse to cheat my fans.”

That’s not to say that he doesn’t have plenty of game to spit, just that his punchline flow manages to be clever, witty, and frequently socially relevant without repeating the same six phrases over and over. Instead, while remaining PC he references the P.I. code (short for pimp), and turns controversial epithets into a jump-off for a broad discussion on the sociocultural implications of language. “I like to wake people up, give ’em a jolt of lightning.”

There’s plenty of shock value on “Nigga Bitch Hoe,” in which Esinchill uses hot-button words in order to make a larger point about hypocrisy: Picture the most extreme sophisticates, A-1 diction, stuck in they own convictions … sitem in a room with somebody poverty-stricken.

The emcee admits these taboo words are in his vocabulary, yet, he says, “I don’t just flagrantly use them.” He doesn’t go out of his way to say cusswords just to say them: “It can get tiresome to the ear.”

Esinchill’s favorite song on the album is “I Feel You,” a pastiche of three separate scenes: a father whose daughter becomes a victim of domestic violence, a college student who becomes a dope dealer because he can’t get a job post-graduation, and an abused altar boy who retaliates against his molester, a priest.

“Everyone has their breaking point,” the emcee explains. He says he wrote “I Feel You” because he wanted to address “issues that get swept under the rug.” His role as an artist, he adds, is “opening people’s eyes so they can see what’s really going on.”

The album is finished, but contractual details are still being worked out; apparently, negotiations are underway with a local indie with major distribution. In the meantime, Esinchill is stepping up his visibility game.

A recent Friday night found him first at 1015 Folsom, where he opened for Too $hort, and then at the Red Devil Lounge, opening for DU. Sharing the bill with two legends on one night would seem to be a symbolic omen, yet even for the non-spiritually minded, such a feat represents a lot of hard work, at the very least. Esinchill points out that his time with DU helped him learn the ins and outs of live performance: what constitutes a good live show and what doesn’t.

He was put to the test during his set at the Red Devil when technical difficulties arose. While the sound system was being repaired, he was forced to kill time. Yet instead of angrily walking offstage or making derogatory comments about the soundman, he smoothly made the most of his situation, calmly cracking jokes like a stand-up comic, and asking if any beatboxers were present in the house. Such composure is generally the mark of a veteran artist, but Esinchill remained unflappable, and when the sound was finally fixed, he picked up right where he left off.

Esinchill is very much rooted in the Bay Area, but he also spends a considerable amount of time outside the bay. He’s got family in San Antonio and a fiancée in Atlanta, where he’s been quietly working with the famed Dungeon Family on various projects.

“I’m trying to be bicoastal,” he says, adding that Southern ears are more attuned to the repetitive, less-substance-filled nature of local crunk than straight-up lyrical hip-hop. Yet he promises, “They’ll come around, just like Oakland has. It’s just a matter of time.” After all, rappers come and go, but lyrical emcees are forever.


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