Relevance in broader hip-hop culture is good. Less obvious art is okay.
However, Eshon told Rapzilla in an interview before the release of his new project, The Passover, that the idea that fewer faith-related lyrics are necessary for relevance in hip hop is “ignorance.”
“I don’t think that was ever a mandate from hip-hop culture, ‘That in order for us to accept you, you have to drop whatever themes you’re running with,’” Eshon said. “I think that’s something Christian artists have put on themselves.”
Eshon speaks from experience.
In 2007, he was featured on The Return of the Magnificent, a compilation album by DJ Jazzy Jeff, who with Will Smith had formed the two-time Grammy Award-winning duo DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. The Return of the Magnificent also featured one of the most influential emcees ever in Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul member Posdnuos, Wu-Tang Clan member Method Man and long-time Kanye West co-writer Rhymefest.
Eshon shared a platform with hip hop’s revered again in 2012 when the Snowgoons, a celebrated underground German production team, featured him on its double-disk LP Snowgoons Dynasty. Alongside Eshon’s song “Prayn in the Rain” were appearances by Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah, Slaughterhouse member Joell Ortiz, Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest and D12 member Bizarre.
These are just two examples of numerous cosigns that Eshon’s music has earned from hip-hop influencers. And Eshon’s music is overtly Christian.
“I just feel a responsibility to give away what’s been given to me and what’s actually saved my life — the responsibility that I have to tell people about Christ and to share the word of God,” Eshon said. “One of the things that I hate most about regular hip hop is, a lot of songs, they talk about pain, they talk about hardships ... but they never have an answer at the end of the record. There’s never hope. It’s just, ‘This is how it is.’ I think as believers, we have an opportunity to give an answer, to give a reason, to give hope … so how could I not?”
To Eshon, the key to winning hip hop’s respect is not to make art that is less overtly Christian, but rather to simply make good art.
“You have to know the ins and outs of being an emcee,” he said. “You have to know about wordplay. You have to know about double entendres. Your skill and your ability has to be on-par with your message.”
And part of making good art, he said, involves being authentic to its culture.
Eshon is so hip hop that, mid-interview, he went off on a disappointed tangent about how lyricism isn’t as valued in the culture as it once was.
“I listen to how people talk about my lyrics, and I really don’t get it,” he laughed. “I don’t understand how you got 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds who hear an Eshon Burgundy-song and they say, ‘Ah man, this is … this is too much.’ They can’t rock with it. They feel like it’s too heavy, it’s too thought-provoking. They want something simpler. … When I was around 12-13, I’m listening to Illmatic. I’m listening to Reasonable Doubt and a host of other heavy lyricists, so now … it’s just crazy how it’s not as embraced now by the masses. ...
“I know I kinda got off your question.”
An emcee since age eight, rapping was how the South Philadelphia native spent most of his teenage days. And his experiences rapping explicitly Christian since around 2000 are why The Passover is explicit.
“As a teenager,” Eshon said, “I would spend hours upon hours in downtown Philly with artists like a group called The Lost Children of Babylon, a guy named Stephen Williams who’s a famous skateboarder now. We had a guy named Chief Kamachi, another dope hip-hop artist from Philly who toured the world, a guy named Last Emperor — just a ton of hip-hop artists who came out of Philly. I would be out with these guys almost every day rapping, and I was a Christian at the time, and I would include my beliefs in my music and I never got outcasted for that. ...
“Never being judged by the world, I never had that apprehension about myself. I had opened up for a number of artists. I got accolades from Method Man, Redman, Raekwon, Black Eyed Peas. I rapped for all these people. They always just showed me nothing but mad love, and they never said, ‘Yeah, but you talk about Jesus.’”
Buy The Passover on iTunes.