REAL TALK On Saving Seamus Ryan, Esoteric composes cuts about big-box stores and domestic normality that target the conflicted fool in all of us.
Hip-hop is faker than Vince McMahon's business plan and tan combined. Pussy-whipped MCs who sling Whoppers rhyme about bagging blow and smacking ho's; even cats who actually do poison their communities exaggerate their hood credentials. That can't be said for Boston producer/rapper Esoteric. By crate-digging and scripting double-barreled layman rhymes, the proud new dad and dog lover composes cuts about big-box stores and domestic normality that target the conflicted fool in all of us.
Signs of Eso-lution first surfaced three years ago, when he and long-time confederate 7L (also of the Bladerunners) snapped free from the battle-rap establishment. Their 2006 triumph, A New Dope, was one of modern hip-hop's first indications that the genre can mature without plunging off creative cliffs. Eso's work since — four solo outings including compositions hinged on Asian pop and Gary Numan samples — displayed his ability to entertain and play provocateur at the same time.
Now, one decade after entering the rap gantlet as a starving, salivating Salem State grad, the animal-rights spokesman and Spider-Man fan born Seamus Ryan offers his intimate portrait of the artist as a grown man. Three years in the making, Saving Seamus Ryan isn't merely an adventurous passion project — the meticulously crafted book-on-mixtape is a bay window into the life and psyche of hip-hop's most socially situated sonic savant.
"The album is based on a dream I had four years ago," says Eso, who plucked and placed hundreds of carefully manipulated samples, sound bytes, and snippets to illustrate his saga. "It's not a direct retelling. There are a lot of twists and turns in a David Lynch kind of way, but some of it definitely also comes from real life, like the part where I put my dog to sleep. I can trace my lineage to Sigmund Freud, but it goes pretty deep, and you probably don't have time."
Theme albums are hardly a new phenomenon in rap music. The idea of weaving plotted narratives through entire track lists can be credited to beat genius Prince Paul, whose work with De La Soul and Gravediggaz showed that boom-bap songs need not be self-contained. With his latest, Eso pays subtle homage to Paul's seminal A Prince Among Thieves, which details the everyday morass through which even well-known rappers trudge. As for subjective authenticity, Saving Seamus Ryan conveys the story of a conflicted thirtysomething protagonist who's torn between the rap life and a girlfriend who can't believe he still collects Air Force Ones and comic books.
"It's based on a dream, so that leaves a lot of open doors," Eso says about his seamless yet non-linear approach. "But the songs about my wife — that's reality rap right there. Overall, I took some risks that might come to bite me on the ass, like the song about euthanizing my dog — that hasn't really been done by other artists. So far, some guys have told me that it brought tears to their eyes, but for every tear, I'm sure it made a thousand people laugh out loud. That's how I feel, though. Humans are disloyal ? with animals, you know where they stand."
"A New Dope was my hip-hop mid-life crisis, and this is just expanding off of that," continues Eso, who's already four tracks deep into another spread with 7L. "If you have it in your blood to do this like I do — and trust me, it's kind of a curse — then you just have to keep on rapping about what you know. I love my dog."