Album Review: Mr. MFN eXquire – Power & Passion EP

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Album Review, Best of 4th Q 2012, Hip Hop
Tags: , , , , ,

The art of creating a memorable EP is a difficult task, especially in an era where music is consumed and left by the wayside at such a breakneck pace.  For one, the brevity generally means that in order for it to be a truly successful product there can be absolutely no filler.  If an artist attempts to make the product too cohesive it can end up sounding like one long song, but if an artist tries to showcase his versatility it often ends up sounding like a mess.  Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire has dropped some high quality mixtapes over the last few years, which seemed to showcase an unprecedented potential to occupy a space somewhere between Kool Keith and Jay-Z, Gucci Mane, Ghostface, and El-P as eX has dropped allusions to Clockwork OrangeWeird Science, and Philip K. Dick novels right alongside references to Cari Zalloni frames and Maison Martin Margiela kicks over everything from pop/r&b instrumentals to spaced out Def Jux type beats and somehow manages to make his approach appealing to a fairly wide array of fans.

Coming into the game on the heels of the most substantial drought of talented New York rappers in rap history, there are many who have, or will place, high expectations on eXquire merely out of a desire to see NY return to a place of prominence in the music industry.  Be that as it may, there is an ease with which eXquire navigates the rap world that is definitely unusual.  Few artists can pull off collaborations with trap rappers and nerd rappers, and seem perfectly at home with both camps.

One factor that seems to increase the ease with which eXquire collaborates with El-P, Killer Mike, Gucci Mane, Despot, SpaceGhostPurrp and others is that he is seemingly an authentic embodiment of New York’s cosmopolitan sensibilities – a bohemian hustler/multi-cultural street poet.  Whereas in the past many New York emcees were often hyper-regionalists – often repping a specific part of a specific borough so heavily that it made die-hard NY rap fans debate even the validity of inter-borough collaborations, not to mention collaborations with artists and producers outside of the region – eXquire openly embraces the language and imagery of many cultures.  The New York regionalism was of course exacerbated by the attitude among many of New York’s rap patrons that NY, as the birthplace of rap, had a birthright to the direction and development of the music and culture as a whole.  When the West and then the South initially put their footholds in the rap game, they were often dismissed by New Yorkers as hokey upstarts, when the South began its dominance of the rap game, NY rappers often either tried to drum up 80’s/90’s “real hip hop” detritus, or tried to inauthentically duplicate the sound of another region (mirroring the same mistake that early rappers from other regions often made by trying to bring a New York sound to their own regional outpost).  While much of this cosmopolitan post-regional rap personality is merely a natural and logical evolution of the new generation of emcees – like the members of A$AP Mob, Raider Klan, Black Hippy and others – who grew up in a much more global rap game than their predecessors and have more global influences as a result, there is no doubt that eXquire’s presence and style art distinctly New York.

Power & Passion contains a couple of perfect examples of eXquire’s unique positioning in the modern rap world. First there’s “Telephuck,” a track that left some nerd rap stalwarts with their heads spinning as the combination of an El-P beat, eXquire in all of his debaucherous glory, and the Gucci ‘Trap God’ Mane.  While it may seem like an unusual collaboration on the surface, eXquire has that ability to bridge these worlds by keeping a foot in both.  Like Gucci, eXquire takes pleasure in the use of words often outside of the common rap lexicon, as well as in manipulating their meaning.  Of course the fact that both artists embrace the hustle as well as the vocabulary of excess, doesn’t hurt the success of the collaboration either.  The concluding tracks of the EP, which are produced by SpaceGhostPurrp and Blue Sky Black Death respectively, also are nice eclectic mixes of historically New York elements with southern ones.  “Aggin Laer” slowly builds from drumless rough guitar haziness to something that would be more comfortable in a southern strip club.  “The Message Pt. 1 & 2,” also occupies both worlds with bouncy keyboard and bass samples going head to head with a snappy snare and stabby scream sound, which eventually gives way to a couple of harsh spaced out guitar notes – lying somewhere between classic Def Jux production and raw 80’s NYC minimalism – surrounded by trap drums.

While “Cari Zalloni” and “Cheap Whores & Champagne,” are both solid cuts and fit very nicely within the small scope of the brief EP (which is less than 20 minutes in length), the whole product is really nothing more than something for fans and potential future listeners to wet their appetites.  While it’s nearly impossible to tell these days what is a legitimate rift between an artist and a label, and what is a clever marketing ploy, eXquire just recently released a mixtape The Man in the High Castle seemingly against his label’s wishes.  While the Power & Passion EP is clearly the more polished, grandiose, and refined product here, The Man in the High Castle serves as an excellent companion piece, a more expansive introduction to eXquire’s work and personality for the uninitiated, and one of the better mixtapes of 2012.

As promising as eXquire is and as solid as Power & Passion and his recent mixtape are, there’s still some room for artistic development and growth here.  This is style over substance rap to be sure, and that’s not to say that the content isn’t intelligent – obviously eXquire is well read, has a unique way with words, and puts his historical pop culture knowledge to good use – but just that when all of the references and wordplay are taken away a greater purpose isn’t generally apparent.  Perhaps Mr MFN eXquire explained this best by stating on that he seeks “enlightenment, but all I found was debauchery. And truthfully that ain’t that bad to me.”  There is no doubt that eXquire has made strides to put it all together and derive greater meaning in the world around him through various means, but at the end of the day he frequently comes off like a bit of a hedonistic nihilist.  None of that stops eXquire’s music from being thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you’re into highly stylized and intelligent crude rap anarchy.  There’s also plenty of things that suggest that eXquire will continue to grow as an artist, as his music has developed over the last couple of years that he’s been in the public eye.  Either way, the course of a 5 track EP is generally to make an impact, and there’s no doubt that Power & Passion serves as a fitting formal introduction to one of rap’s strangest and most intriguing figures.

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