It’s hard out here for an MC these days. Between declining sales, the ever-cheapening of “ringtone rap” productions, and the bitter backlash from the “Hip-Hop Is Dead” movement, where do you turn? Any aspiring underground MCs could do worse than look at the track record for Esham, the pioneering Detroit horrorcore rapper who drops his 15th solo album, Sacrificial Lambz, this month. A solo project in the truest sense—written, performed, and produced entirely by Esham—the album is released on Esham’s own Gothom Inc. label; a hungry independent response to a bloated, ailing mainstream.
Rounding out his second decade of dropping the “wicked shit” (having debuted with his first album at the tender age of 13, in 1990), Esham’s usual blood-guts-sex fantasies are spiced up on Lambz with a new focus on politics—both of the U.S. and the hip-hop world. The latter is front-and-center on “U Kill Me”, one of the album’s best cuts, in which Esham parlays his macabre lyrics into a paranoid statement about violence and martyrdom (and the convenient marketability of dead MCs) in hip-hop. On “Garbitch”, Esham spits venom at flash-in-the-pan pop and hipster rappers, calling out both 106 & Park and the ironic MCs “wearing tight-ass sweaters”. Perhaps most disturbing is the nightmarish acid trip of “Unholy Knights”, in which Esham plays the role of a disturbed U.S. soldier in Iraq: “automatic weapon requires / murder for my country hired / I didn’t mean to set that little boy body on fire!” For an even sicker bent, the beat on “Knights” features an angelic choral rendition of “Silent Night”.
A native son of Detroit, Esham doesn’t have to move far to see prime evidence of urban decay, despair and desperation in America. “Levies Broke” compares the crack epidemic—what Esham calls a “hurricoke”—to the Motor City’s own Katrina, a catrastrophe from which the city has never really recovered. Moving from political to personal, album-closer “Substance Abuse” looks for some kind of redemption. Lambz features its share of Esham’s usual violent fantasies and horror-movie theatrics, but there’s an element of responsibility, and—dare I suggest it—hope, this time around.