Latest PSU Rapper Produces “Elaborate Sounds”
It seems like everybody and their brother at Penn State has been picking up mics lately and trying to spit rhymes. First, Primary Element came on the scene. Then there was U, Greg Falatek, and Chewi. Even Kevin Newsome has tried his hand at the rap game. And let us not forget the unfortunate slough of “Blue and White” Khalifa remixes.
It’s time to add one more name to that list. But before you roll your eyes this time around, give a listen to some of ESQ’s tracks to find out what sets him truly apart from the rest.
Penn State senior Nick Sylvester, better known by his stage name, ESQ, released his first demo this week. It’s called Elevator Music: Dormitory Thoughts. You can hear it on his Facebook page or ReverbNation profile.
But don’t let the name of the demo fool you: this is far from what you’d hear on an elevator. I wasn’t expecting much based on Penn State’s recent history of good-but-not-great rappers, but I have to admit I was very impressed.
Sylvester’s stage name has two meanings. It’s short for Esquire, a nickname friends gave him for his resemblence to the character of the same name in the movie ATL. The nickname was also fitting because he plans on becoming a lawyer, so it represents where he is going in life.
ESQ also stands for “Elaborate Sounds of Quality.”
“I feel like the industry right now lacks that,” he explained. “Everyone sounds kind of the same, it’s just a monotone sort of direction they’re going in. I mean, it’s starting to spread out, but I still feel like people need more elaborate sounds of quality.”
And his attempts to stand out with a thoughtful, creative sound show.
Songs like “Ready” and “Smile” are vaguely reminiscent of early Jay-Z. That should come as no surprise, considering Sylvester comes from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, which produced the Hova, along with other Hip Hop greats like Biggie and Black Star.
And growing up in a place that, as he puts it, “wasn’t the greatest neighborhood” impacted his music, including the title of the demo.
“Life is kind of like an elevator,” he said. “You’re trying to get to the top, but you’ve got to stop at certain floors.”
That’s why many of his songs follow motivational themes, he added.
“Most of my friends on my block, I don’t see them move off the steps,” he said. “So just the fact that I did that, I feel like I have to make songs that motivate people to get up from where they are, to make some movements to where they want to be, or where they’re supposed to be.”
The music is meant to appeal to a wide audience in both that respect and musically. While he prefers an old school sound, he is also trying to branch out to incorporate new directions into his music, including influences from R&B, soul and jazz.
For example, while he lists hip hop artists like Big L and fellow Brooklyn natives Jay-Z and Biggie as influences, his face lights up when he mentions the impact musicians as diverse as Sade, Stevie Wonder and most importantly Nat King Cole have had on him.
This shows in his tracks. “Ready” gets off to a slow start with a 30-second intro that led me to doubt how good it would be. But it picks up as soon as he launches into the verse, with a very soulful beat and backing vocals with occassional trumpet. It has a slow, smooth old school rap feel with a tinge of soul.
“Smile,” on the other hand, modernizes that old school feel while directly addressing the college audience. It relates to the stress of schoolwork and balancing that with a party scene that takes the edge off, but at the same time criticizes self-pity and reminds us why we’re here in the first place. Meanwhile, the background sample from Bill Withers’ “Make a Smile for Me” gives the whole thing a Citizen Kane feel, with some beautiful backing vocals to round the whole thing out.
And still other tracks ditch the older sound for a more contemporary hip hop tone. “Mighty Healthy” channels Eminem while “Determination” sounds more like Kanye. “Do My Thing” switches things up as a heavy rap with splashes of jazz thrown in. And behind all of this, he is thinking about how to reach his audience.
“I strategically think, what will people like and how can I put it on this track so people can understand where I’m coming from?” ESQ said.
“There’s two different types of crowds,” he said. “There’s going to be crowds that are hip-hop lovers and then there will be crowds that listen to hip hop, but after the first time they listen to you, it’s just the beat they’re listening to.”
He may have started out simply messing around on hooks and choruses in his basement with friends in high school, but it’s developed into a passion and now he’s taking it seriously. And it sounds pretty sweet. So check it out.