By Heather Wall
UK based rapper, Essa, signed to First Word Records, chats with us a bit about what he’s up to, where he’s come from and what he’s looking at for the future.
Essa, there’s not a great deal of info out there on the WWW about you!
Tell us about your background and how you got here?
My website is http://www.e-s-s-a.com and you can check out my background and
download lots of my back catalogue there. I started out under the
name Yungun doing tracks on iconic UK hip-hop labels Low Life and YNR.
My first album The Essance featured Harry Love, Lewis Parker, Braintax
etc. Then I did a collab album with Mr Thing called Grown Man
Business. I started working as a lawyer and took time out for that.
Now I’m back with a new name (“Essa”) and a new album (“The
Misadventures of a Middle Man”).
You went to Eton?! Not many rappers went to Eton. What was your
experience like there? Were you just one of the guys, or were you
different, being interested in hip-hop?
It was an amazing school but I was from quite a different background
compared to most of the kids I was there with. And most of them were
into Britpop and trance at the time, whereas I was heavily into
hip-hop. So it was hard to fit in at first but then I found my way. I
got an amazing education and studied drama, which helped lay the
foundations for what I do now as a musician. It was a bit of a sink or
swim environment. Luckily I swam!
Why the change from ‘Yungun’ to ‘Essa’?
Times change, people change, music changes. Yungun doesn’t really suit
me so well any more so it was time to switch. Essa is my nickname,
it’s what my mates call me. It just felt right. Actually I wrote a
track callled “Call Me Essa”, which explains it all:
Your lyrics are often about power within people, such as your lyrics
on D.ablo’s Fire and The World Belongs To You. Where do these
empowering lyrics come from? And what inspires you to write like this?
On a skit from the classic 90s hip-hop album by Group Home, Jeru the
Damaja says something like “Soon we may not be able to say anything at
all. So when you have the power to say something, SAY SOMETHING!”
That really struck a chord with me. I like to write songs that have
some kind of a point to them, but without being too preachy. There’s a
lot of quite shallow music out there. I’m not judging that. But
sometimes we need a little more depth to balance it out and I’m happy
to provide that.
What inspired the track, ‘Prayers of a Non-Believer‘?
I used to have religious beliefs and at school we went to chapel five
times a week. But the more I studied religion, the less I believed in
it. So now I’m not religious really, but does that mean I have no
belief? I wanted to write a song about the differences between belief,
faith and religion. I’ve tackled some pretty weighty subject matter on
my album – religion, mixed race identity, class stereotypes etc. But
I’ve tried to do it in an honest and straight-up way that isn’t boring
or snooty. It’s meant to be thought-provoking but above all an
enjoyable listen. I’m interested to see how people react.
You’ve done some great collaborations and had some great remixers, LV
remixed ‘Panache’ – how have these come about?
They all come about in different ways. LV are friends from Uni. We
did some tracks together back then and we always wanted to do more.
Most of the other collaborations have come about in a similar way –
I’ve known Eric Lau for about ten years, for example. I’ve known
Waajeed for ages too – I reached out to him when he was DJ’ing in
London many years ago. Tall Black Guy is also on First Word so the
connection was there. The collaboration I’m most proud of is the track
I did with Guru a few years ago. He actually reached out to me for
that, which blew my mind as he’s one of my musical heroes. He was an
absolute gentleman, a very kind person and an inspiring artist.
What young and emerging talent are you especially excited about at the moment?
A producer called MWJ and an MC called Brotherman, both of whom are on
my album. I’m a big fan of fLako who did a track that’s going to be
on a b-side to one of the upcoming releases off the album. I’m
feeling S-Type, Sivey, Hawk House … so many good things happening in
music right now.
What’s next after ‘Misadventures of a Middle Man’?
Touring! I’m looking to tour accross the UK and beyond. We’re in the
planning stages for that now. There will be some more singles and
videos from the album so the album project spans much more than just
the album itself. And after that, it’s back to the studio to cook up
some new treats!
The World Belongs To You – single released 24 March 2014 on First Word Records
The Misadventures of a Middle Man – album released May 2014 on First
Live album showcase at Jazz Café – 23 April 2014