Struck by the beauty of his latest album Bianca, we had a talk with Italian rapper Esdì. We got into his thoughts on rap and rock, urgency of rapping, sweetness and roughness. Check the full streaming of the album and his answers below.
In “Bianca” your rhymes speak about communal sharedand failures, and there’s a sense of the collective dimension that is missing in most of today’s rappers. Where does this attention come from?
Hip Hop is all about the local community as a major point of reference. I found this music in the social centers, in squares, in the local jam sessions; in these contexts you had the opportunity to meet people you would have never met because they were coming from another district, out of your circle of friends. Even today you can see “a movement” that has fun and breaks the mold of a stereotypical life with creativity. Thanks to Hip Hop I’ve met people who became my best friends and these are also the people I’m rapping for, for our shared dream of getting a message from the underground to the surface, without being obliged to enter the rules of the system. Hip Hop is collective redemption!
What does it mean for you to express yourself through rhymes?
You can be so much more incisive with rhymes. The “punchline”, the closed bar with a rhyme effect, suddenly shakes up the image in your head by getting across, in an absurd way, the same very message in a way that’s so much clearer. Rhymes, wordplay, and this original investigation of flow are all like guitar solos in rock: a demonstration of style that also drives home a message. Doing it in rhyme also allows you to say things that in prose would not have the same effect: for example, saying “I confess it makes me sick that dirty way you play; but I keep coming back the same so that the last will be the first some day! “hits so much harder than “yours is a dirty game, but I keep playing because sooner or later we’re going to win “.
What kinds of music have influenced you the most and what at the moment is really getting you excited?
When I was a kid I used to listen to the Italian music from my parent’s generation. Since the late 90s I’ve listened to all Italian rap: Sangue Misto, OTR, Articolo 31, Bassi Maestro, Club Dogo. Every album has given me something. A record that changed my life was “Turbe Giovanili” by Fabri Fibra: an existential album, a personal one but also a story where you can find problems common to many young people. As for American rap, the list is really long: as a teenager I was into Mobb Deep and the Queensbridge rappers. Today, beyond having come to understand “the treasure” in Nas’ music, I’m been hooked on Kendrick Lamar, who for me is like one of the ‘enlightened ones’.
Considering the sound you’re coming from, what’s your relationship with rock music?
Rock is a genre that I still have to take a deeper look at. When I was younger, I excluded it because it was “white people music”: I was so absorbed in exploring black culture that I had even forgotten that I was born in Rome! I’ve listened to all the great rock classics, but lately I’ve been fascinated by punk, something that’s very close to my way of making music.
Your rap is hard and raw, fast and sharp. What’s the degree of responsibility for the things you write that you feel personally?
People who listen to me are part of a niche. I’m not popular, I don’t have to worry too much about the things I’m saying. What I want to do is spread a constructive message: I am raw, sure, but then I’m also tying to say, “there is a solution”.
Over the years, rap has supplanted rock in being able to tell real stories about life and creating empathy with young people. What do you think about and what’s your relationship with the Italian rap scene?
The peak of popularity for Italian rap has coincided with all these empty cultural projects coming out. Even in our rap, we’ve wound up only trying to “fill the cinema” with “blockbusters”. It is not surprising to hear “look at me counting my money, check out my rolex, and I’m the better than the rest”, because we’re in an idol-worshipping age, and young people only look for validation. It is absurd for me that as a kid I listened to Public Enemy and went around with baggy jeans just to feel different and figure out my identity. At the same time, the attention on shitty rap has given visibility to some great artists, revolutionaries in their way of thinking and addressing all of today’s topics. Rap is being understood not just as “for kids”, but as one with great cultural and artistic value. The conscious-thinking public is the minority, but things will change because a madman is going to come and rap “television drug of the nation” and shake the sedated masses awake giving rise to a cultural revolution. Maybe I’m an idealist but harmless rap does not help anything and people will notice it.
Finally, let’s go back to “Bianca”. One of the most striking things is the contrast between the artwork and the title, both symbolic of the delicate and the rough side of your flow. How did this choice come about?
I conceived this album as a “light-dark” musical. There are carefree moments and also reflective ones, some rough tracks while others more relaxed. I’ve given the story of who I am: I hate the world but at the same time I think the best way to defeat hate is love. I wanted to represent this duality also on the cover: a woman (love) that’s emerging from a sea of sharks (hate). Bianca is the name of my girlfriend, who helped me to understand this concept by having been by my side in moments that were dark and full of hate. She drops so much love in every single thing she does that inspired me and gave me the courage to try to be a better person, even in music.