“You got to ask my mother that. You wanna call her? Come on, let’s call her.” It’s a rain-sodden Thanksgiving’s eve and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire‘s goddaughter has just turned up at his Crown Heights apartment. Her appearance prompts the question of what the rapper himself was like as a kid — to which he’s deferred to the wisdom of his mom.
Put on speakerphone, eXquire’s mom says, “I’m not saying this because I’m biased, but actually he was a wonderful kid. He was extremely intelligent; you’d tell him something once and he had it. He liked to write — poetry, rhymes — and he did a cartoon series when he was about six-years-old, I think. I forget the name of it.” Then, before hanging up, she says to her son, “Don’t ever do anything like that again!”
The comic strip, eXquire recalls, was “about this dude that was like a space adventurer and he went to this planet and everybody’s got a butt on their head!” As a kid, he wanted to be an artist. He used to “get girls by drawing their faces for them.” But, he says, “I ended up not doing it; I ended up kinda rapping.”
Today, eXquire is held in far loftier esteem than being known as someone who can “kinda” rap. His mixtape Lost In Translation, released back in September, is an off-kilter gem that harnesses the uncompromising attitude of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (more on that later) with the chops of someone who can rhyme his ass off. It’s book-ended by the “Huzzah” songs: the first, eXquire’s solo ode to excess in the name of liquor; and the remix, which spawned features guest verses from El-P, Das Racist, Danny Brown and Despot and was re-christened “The Last Huzzah.” The remix — which has a video that parodies the cameo-studded clip for Craig Mack’s “Flava In Ya Ear” remix — has boosted eXquire’s profile to the point where he’s considered one of those New York City rappers tipped for wider success.
Looking around eXquire’s apartment — which verges on the ramshackle and is filled with trinkets (a Pin Pression toy, Marlon Brando’s face covering the peephole to his front door) — one thinks that he’s been traveling a straight line to this point since his school days. Stacked neatly on his coffee table is a pile of coloring books (eXquire’s somewhat expert at not going over the lines); his apartment walls are adorned with hand-crafted collages. In the corner is his lab: a microphone, speakers, and a computer that, he says, he only knows “how to press record on — I did my whole album just pressing record and delete; I don’t know how to do anything else.” Plastered above his work station are a series of motivational slogans (“Fuck egos”), a list of ten steps to making great decisions, and a large cutout of a female Grand Theft Auto character. On more than one occasion eXquire, suffering from a nasty cold verging on the flu, picks up a large light-blue towel off the floor and blows his nose in it.
eXquire’s type of musical creativity on a budget has drawn comparisons to NY’s last great rap character, Ol’ Dirty Bastard. The original “Huzzah” video, which features eXquire and a girl frolicking in his apartment while drinking (and spilling) a 40-ounce bottle of St. Ides, comes off like a continuation of ODB’s break-out days when he’d brag about having to leave his dairy on the windowsill as his fridge didn’t work. You can definitely detect something of ODB’s unrestrained attitude in eXquire’s raps: On “Cockmeat Sandwich/Pissin’ Between Train Cars,” from Lost In Translation, he unleashes this brilliantly unbridled barb, “Niggas stop me in the streets like, ‘X, I knew you from back in the day’/ I be like good for you my dude, now get the fuck out my face.” It’s the energy of ODB’s “Brooklyn Zoo” channelled into two lines. And when eXquire brags about “pissing between cars on the C train at Euclid,” it’s hard not to imagine a pre-fame Dirt Dog relieving himself with similar abandon.
As a rapper, eXquire cops to being influenced by Ol’ Dirty in some ways — he added the “Muthafuckin'” to his moniker “partially ’cause I’m an ODB fan, like I didn’t really care what people thought of me so how do I express that? Well, ODB had “Bastard” in his name, so “Muthafuckin'” is more extreme.” But he also came to the Wu-Tang party late, admitting that at age eight, “I didn’t like it; I didn’t know what the hell they were talking about.” Instead, he was first drawn by the music of Jay-Z, Fabolous and a “Pump It Up”-era Joe Budden; once he took the decision to take rap seriously, he vowed to write a rhyme a night every day before bed. (He says he kept up this writing spree for three years.)
This studiousness and dedication have been overlooked, and he says that people have the misconception he’s “ignorant,” in part because of his MC name. But he notes that his name juxtaposes the obscene with the lawyerly for a reason: “Life is good and bad, there’s the yin and the yang, and a lot of people live one way or the other, but I try and represent the duality of the two by living both ways.”
In more straight-up rap terms, eXquire’s music also suggests he’s listened to, absorbed, and understood a hell of a lot of rap music. He admits that “The Last Huzzah,” with its higher-profile guest artists, has been the most beneficial moment of his career so far. But, holding down the closing verse on the remix, he begins his rhyme by quoting a line from Biz Markie’s “Vapors” — a song about those people who are only moved to pay any attention to you when you start to find success. It’s a wry — and possibly prescient — move.
Early next year, eXquire will release a collective project with his crew; then will come his next solo effort, which he says will be based around “how being in the music industry has affected my life and my thoughts and how do I proceed now that I’ve achieved what I was bitching about not being able to achieve?” But despite saying that he’s already had major labels “waving a bunch of money in my face,” eXquire is content with his career’s progression. “I’m not cynical,” he says, “I’m like… you know how you can be a glass half empty or half full person? Well, being in the music industry makes me just happy there’s a glass.” And with that, he releases an infectious laugh.
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire performs at Glasslands tonight with G-Side and Cities Aviv.