There are significant moments where hip hop lovers have to sit back and remember how hip hop was born. Hip hop gives a voice to the voiceless, and in times of dire social and political strife, it's one of the most important outlets to unite the world and evoke conscious thought amongst the masses. It's underground emcees like Canadian rapper Es who bring forward these ideas and remind us of critical thinking and what direction we need to move towards as a society. His latest track Fact Remains acknowledges the difference between races and the varying viewpoints of racial profiling and police brutality in a way that offers next level intelligence and awareness.
We chat to Es about the concept behind his latest album Aspire To Inspire, the growth of the hip hop community in Canada, and the change in hip hop over the years. Ayla Dhyani writes.
You just dropped Fact Remains, taking on varying viewpoints on police brutality. What does the track mean to you?
That track was more of a reflection on what’s been going on in North America. It’s becoming a lot more rampant – these cases of gross injustice towards people of colour. It's just weird the way that different people react to some of these situations. You could have two people look at the same piece of information or look at the same footage and see two totally different things. Some part of what inspired me to write that song was just scrolling through the comments on Facebook or on YouTube and seeing the divide between different ethnic groups on what’s considered justified on force and what isn’t. It made me reflect on the fact that we’re not the same. Even though our forefathers fought for us to be able to live equally. Even in 2016 it’s still not the case. There’s still such a racial divide. So that’s what really inspired me on that one.
Tell us about the concept behind Aspire To Inspire.
Yeah, that’s the title of my latest album. Basically there are two different meanings behind it. The first part is just to take pleasure in being the best that I can be, and hoping that the people around me will be inspired by positive energy and want to do the same for themselves. I've always been the type of person who’s been into mentorship and inspiring people to be better. So that’s one angle. Then the second part of it is just by progression. Being a fan of hip hop and watching my favourites and being in awe of what they do to get to being where I am now. Being the artist on stage or in the studio, and people vibing and being inspired by what I’m doing. So it’s the whole aspire (me wanting to be them) to inspire (where I’m actually the one making music and I have people looking up to me). So there’s really two meanings to that title.
You're inspired by the golden era of hip hop…
Yep definitely… A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang Clan , EPMD, KRS-One. I grew up on all of that stuff…
And what do you feel is the biggest difference between emcees back then to emcees today?
Well back then, I feel the rappers had a bigger focus on originality, being yourself and representing who you were or where you’re from. Individuality was huge back then. Not so much now. A lot of stuff that people give passes to nowadays would have been frowned upon back in those days. It kind of goes with the territory with the way that technology is these days. It’s a lot more accessible. There are a lot more people who would rather be artists than fans. If we had more fans than artists, the quality scale would be a lot higher. The internet is kind of a gift and a curse. It’s created a level playing field where any and everybody can put out music and I think with how tough it was to put out music back in the day, you really had to invest in yourself and your craft to really put out music. So I think that’s the biggest difference.
Do you have a significant moment in your life where you realised you wanted to be an emcee?
I’ve been a fan since probably the early 90s. I’ve always been dabbling and messing writing rhymes a little bit and freestyling with my friends or going to open mic nights. But as far as recording material, I would probably say 2006 was probably when I took it a lot more seriously. I met a lot of people on MySpace - back when MySpace was the social media of choice (laughs). I got a lot of good feedback from the first recordings I put on there and developed a great network of producers and other emcees from different parts of the world. Then over the years I slowly grew that support network and fan base and built up my confidence levels. I got a lot of positive and encouraging feedback, and it’s what inspired me to keep going. And here I am 10 years later from that point, and the feedback continues to be positive. So I’m just so appreciative of that support.
Any new projects you’re working on?
I’m hoping to put something out later this year. I don’t have a title or a due date yet, but I have some stuff in the works and I’m hoping to put an EP out soon. But just plugging away and putting out a few singles here and there and collaborating with some other artists and keeping my name out there while I work on this project. I'm trying to do as many shows as possible and expand my fan base outside my immediate city limits.
And how do you find the current hip hop scene in Canada?
It’s really good. There's a lot of amazing talent out here. I think the world was kind of slow to catch on that there's a lot of talent out here in Canada. I think Drake was the "break-out artist" that everybody knows about now, but I think slowly but surely, people outside of Canada are starting to recognise that theres a lot more to Canadian hip hop than just Drake. But in due time, I think a lot more names will surface. A lot of good tours come through here as well. A lot of amazing independent and major label heavyweights come through, so theres a lot of opportunity for up-and-comers to get stage time. It’s a good scene.
What’s the main thing you hope for people to take away from your music?
I think the biggest thing would be for people just to not be afraid to be themselves. What I stand for, isn’t necessarily the popular "flavour of the month," but for people who know me, I've been rapping this way for years and I’m still here and doing it. Slowly but surely, people have respect for what I do, how I do it and for as long as I have been doing it. When I get validation from certain indie-heavyweights, that really speaks volumes. It reassures me and the people that support me that I'm on the right track and going about it in the right way while doing it on my terms. If theres anything to take away, it’s that you don’t have to follow the band-wagon to make noise – just be true to yourself and if the music is good, people will come to you.
What moves you?
I guess with music, it’s something that I can feel. I can feel the passion and when the music is coming from the heart and is genuine. That's the stuff that I like. I like the stuff that has meaning. There's a lot of really good technical rappers that don't really say a whole lot when you actually sit down and decode what they’re actually saying. There are technical aspects to whatever it is that they're saying, but they're not really saying a whole lot. So I really respect the guys you do both. If they can deliver the technical side of things and there's actual meaning and substance behind what they’re saying, that’s what really moves me.