Live review: The Brooklyn bodega rap of eXquire
“Brooklyn rappers don’t go 'whoop whoop,' they rob.” If there was any doubt about the stickup bona fides of the borough that produced the Notorious B.I.G., the Boot Camp Clique and M.O.P., Mr. MFN eXquire educated the Echo crowd shortly after midnight on Thursday.
After all, Jay-Z jacked “going ham” from Atlanta. And Big Daddy Kane might have been the suave silk-robed sultan of rap, but one of his most iconic tracks was “Raw.” That was the way the Ol’ Dirty Bastard famously liked it, and though the majority of the Clan hailed from Shaolin (Staten Island), ODB developed his drunken tiger style in Fort Greene. One of the clan’s other Brooklyn natives, GZA, once explained: “if it ain’t raw, it’s worthless.” It’s a lesson that’s seeped down to Mr. eXquire, one of the borough’s best hopes of recent vintage.
The evening was sponsored by local promoters Ham on Everything and featured a closing performance from “based” co-creator Young L, but eXquire was the butcher knife slicing through lunch meat (an impressive earlier performance from Inglewood’s Skeme was similarly ferocious). Earlier this year, his single “Huzzah" became a minor YouTube and blog hit, with a video featuring a scantily clad and stacked dancing woman, off-brand vodka, a hook about drunk driving on a Wednesday, and the leering, smirking, charismatic eXquire.
“Publicist asked me, ‘What’s my gimmick?’ I said, ‘Going in,'” eXquire slurred at the Echo, while performing the lone song the audience knew from his forthcoming debut, “Lost in Translation.” It spoke to the clogged state of the indie rap miasma, in which whoever screams the weirdest usually wins. Indeed, eXquire’s style harkens back to his Crooklyn roots — a beer-and-blunt-blazed baritone that alternately conjures traces of the ODB and Biggie. No-frills bodega rap. And in conversation, eXquire cites the late Ol Dirty Bastard as one of his favorite rappers. The title of a previous singles collection, “Bootleg Liquor on a Sunday Night,” finishes the portrait.
But while his Brooklyn forebears are the most obvious entry points, eXquire has aligned himself with the new weird underground. A forthcoming remix of “Huzzah” finds him joined by Das Racist, Danny Brown and scene older god El-P. “Lost in Translation” finds eXquire rhyming over the dusted cosmic filth of the greater Def Jux world circa 2001, including “Chicken Spot Rock” that recasts Cannibal Ox’s “Vein.”
On stage, the 26-year-old Crown Heights native exhibited a crowd command often alien for new artists who first received attention on the Internet. A hulking 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he performed largely unheard material, including instant standout “Lou Ferrigno’s Mad.” Rocking a Mishka fitted cap, enough medallions for a Native Tongues video and a New York Rangers shawl draped across his shoulders, eXquire kept the raps bludgeoning and the banter blue — often devoted to eXquire’s favorite subjects: women, drugs and liquor. But there was a thoughtfulness and creativity beneath the bluster. One of his new songs, “Maltese Falcon,” finds eXquire in film noir storytelling mode — a Sam Spade in street wear.
The last year has seen the rumblings of a New York revival, from swag-rap fusionists like ASAP Rocky to the throwback jersey rocking of Action Bronson and Mayhem Lauren. eXquire fits somewhere in between, unmistakably current but building on the backs of his borough forebears. In conversation, eXquire seems acutely aware of the expectations, noting the unfortunate fates of Max B and Stacks Bundles, two recent New York rap hopes lost to death and jail sentences. It remains to be seen whether the eXquire will turn out to be the region's next ruler, but judging from his performance, it wouldn't be wise to cross paths with him in a dark alley.
-- Jeff Weiss
Photo: eXquire at the Echo. Credit: Mr. MFN eXquire Tumblr