Lady Essence released her first solo album, Right Now, this past August. Essence is channeling the creative aspects of rap, and addressing a lot of relevant social and political issues while delivering strong insight into herself as a person and an artist. Don’t get caught up on the arrangement of her chromosomes or you’ll be missin’ the point.
I’d imagine being a female emcee in such a male dominated scene could be frustrating and a bit absurd. It might be a bit like a person of average height trying to live in a home that’s structure was built by a team of height challenged people. Or…if you showed up to football practice dressed to play soccer. They’d inform you that you’re not equipped properly and can’t participate, without any knowledge of your ability!
Luckily, the scene in Maine is pretty awesome, and stays quite open minded and supportive.
I sat down to chat with Lady Essence about the album and her involvement with P. Dank, as well as things like sexism, cultural regression, and the importance of balance…you know, girl stuff!
TWLSB: Tell us more about P-Dank. How did that come about for you?
Ess: “When I started my album, Ghost from Educated Advocates got at me and said Spose wanted to talk to me about maybe releasing the album on P Dank. I talked to Spose a couple weeks after, and he was so helpful. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think the album would have come out. Well, I know the album wouldn’t have come out! I didn’t know how to do almost all of the shit I needed to do. He got the bird pictures on there for me, got the lyrics and everything, I just paid for it. Every insight that he gives me on his business is really helpful because I don’t really know that side of things at all. So when he tells me what’s goin’ on at Universal or anything like that, it’s really cool. He helped me get the album pressed, I brought it to Bullmoose and put it on Bandcamp and stuff, but he was the one who really put everything together. I don’t necessarily feel like I’m signed with them, though…I don’t think I’m even on the website! But the logo is nice to have. People can be like, “Oh, P Dank, that’s cool, she’s affiliated with Spose, EA and all them.’”
TWLSB: In terms of your content, you’re bringing something a bit different to the table at P Dank. Do you feel that once someone sees that label they have certain expectations for you as an artist?
Ess: “Well, I’m white, and I’m a girl, so usually the only expectation they have is that I’m going to suck. Then when they hear me they’re like ‘holy shit, you can actually rap?’ So for the most part, people are just initially shocked that I can rap, and then maybe they’ll be like “nah I’m not feelin’ this, it’s a little too serious…” They might not understand some of the political jabs, or get into the social commentary going on…
I feel like the most hate I do get is from females who are like “why is she doing this, why isn’t she dressed more…scantily clad…and abiding by the female norms and gender roles?” Once in a while I’ll look into the crowd and I can just tell when I’m getting that look. But for the most part it’s been good love and good reviews!”
TWLSB: Were you hesitant about putting 18 tracks on this album?
Ess: “I wasn’t hesitant at all. I thought 18 was a great number, considering the amount of work I’ve done in the past 4 years or so. The only other thing I had really put out was with In The Attic, so I had a lot of material and I’m really glad that I put that much into Right Now. I’d say the downside is it’s hard to figure out if there’s a real direction to the album, but it wasn’t meant to be a narrative. It was meant to be kind of like a diverse array of political and social standpoints.”
We’re glad she put that much into Right Now, too! The range of subject matter is rather vast, but her focus on each subject is clear. The album also has 8 featured emcees: Decompoze, One Be Lo, Cryptic Wisdom, Envy, Ryan Augustus, Spose, Shane Reis, and O*Zee. The 18 tracks on the album includes an intro, and 2 interludes.
TWLSB: Can you tell me more about the interludes and their weight on the album?
Ess: “Well, after Higher (Track 6) the first interlude comes in. In Higher, the end of the hook says “We gotta get our priorities straight.” Right after that the interlude (Musician-Track 7) comes in with “sometimes I need to take a break, just prioritize…” So I was trying to emphasize the priority thing…we need to be putting more valuable concepts in our songs. I’m not sayin’ all the time, but umm..it might be better if we educate people. I’m not tryin’ to preach, but let’s just grow a little more. Higher is like a tribute to emcees that are doing that. I was trying to bring in some diverse subject matter. It’s not just a social thing that could apply to the world, but a personal thing. Musician was more of my own personal emotional stuff that I was going through at the time…with music or people or whatever. I thought it correlated well. It’s about trying to prioritize your life with music and everything else.”
One of the tracks on the album that I really got into was Sarah vs. Ess. It addresses the struggle of how one balances the person they are with the artist that has been created…
Ess (On Sarah Vs Ess): “If someone says the word ‘fag’ around me when we’re rapping, I’m more apt to let it go because I’m in rap mode. But it’s still difficult. How do I pry those people (Sarah & Ess) apart and bring them together at the socially acceptable moments? How do I make that etiquette work, how do I balance it all? What do I get mad at, what do I not get mad at? Because I have a personal belief in this…but I also know what has become a part of this culture. I personally clash with what this culture is now. I’m not cool with constantly bashing on people and calling people ‘homo’ or whatever. It’s not at all progressive from where hip-hop started: reporting police brutality and reporting how bad the streets are. It was used as a form of journalism and now it’s used as a form of hate. And it’s completely contradictory to why it started…it makes me so mad. It’s like, how did we have all these female emcees in the 90’s? How did we have all these women being strong and talking about unity and how we gotta come together…and look at where we’re at now, and what’s on the radio. It’s mind boggling for me at times. Sarah can try to change it by writing papers about it. Or Essence could write songs about it.”
I hope to see combined forces. I think a well balanced idea will make etiquette irrelevant. Well..that’s not necessarily true, but I’ve never been a big fan of etiquette anyway.
Ess addresses her roots, and seems to step carefully around the topics she brings to light. This aids her in having a clear vision of what’s relevant while tying her opinion in there too. These are the things that make an artist valuable. If you start to lose sight of the reasons you were doing something in the first place, it’s a slippery slope. The regression of this culture is something to be addressed, and dare I say…be sensitive to? (Rappers are sensitive, they just need some redirection at times.)
I hope to see more artists looking to see why the path has been laid out the way it is, where it’s going, and whether or not they are directly contributing to the degradation of a culture that has some very meaningful roots. (If you are not able to rap about things other than weed and boobs, please email me and I will send you a book!)
TWLSB: Female artists seem to be judged on a whole slew of things that don’t seem directly relevant to their art. Much of it based around physical appearance and whether or not they can be considered a role model for young women. Do you feel male artists are judged in the same manner, or have to worry about whether they are inspiring young men?
Ess: “Women are definitely criticized differently than men. It’s a huge double standard and it sucks, because men basically get to do whatever they want and they don’t have to worry about whether or not they’re inspiring someone. If they want to call someone a ho, they call them a ho, even though it’s blatantly wrong. I don’t like that women seem to be doubly scrutinized if they do something wrong. I’m not saying two wrongs make a right. I just think we’re better off if we’re all being more progressive, all on the same team. If you can’t be on the same team, at least do what you know is right! Look at the media around you and try to challenge it a bit more. I want more women to get into hip hop because I feel the female voice is crucial, as it is in any field. If we just have men in the science field, and all they’re doing is examining men who have heart attacks, what are we going to know about females that have heart attacks?”
TWLSB: Would you rather your listeners put aside the fact that you’re female, and just listen to what you have to say? Or is the fact that you are female an important part of what you have to offer?
Ess: “We are the minority in here and we are kind of pivotal in the sense that there’s not much of a woman’s voice in hip hop. I can understand that people might want to be looked at as just an emcee instead of a femcee, but I don’t want to be looked at as just gay, I don’t want to be looked at as just white… We don’t want to be addressed as a lot of things, but we have to work with them in the best ways we can.
So as far as people paying attention to me being a female, I think it’s a good thing…I think it’s a really good thing. It works to my advantage marketing-wise, and it works to my advantage in the sense that people don’t really hear females in hip hop. And when they do, it’s some big sexualized experience. They’re thinkin’ about Nikki Minaj’s ass. Not her words.
Trying to explain the female experience while saying ‘don’t look at me as a female’ is contradictory for me. I guess what I’m tryin’ to say is…balance it out. Don’t just say ‘oh she’s a femcee, get in the kitchen’ Don’t just compare me to other femcees. I can spit a bar just like you, it doesn’t mean you have to objectify me when I’m on stage and worry about what my hair looks like or what I’m wearing. Take in the value of why I am a female expressing myself, and what I’m saying about it.”
And she says a lot! Lady Essence is a sincere artist, and created a very respectable album because of it. This album should be taken into consideration by many artists, but especially up and coming artists that are trying to find their sound and their place within a scene. Essence seems to have quite the insight to where she stands as a person and an artist, including the fact that she is constantly growing and working to find her sound. I value an artist that is honest to themselves as well as their audience, and this is an attitude that can be hard to come by in hip hop and rap..
Ess: “There are 2 things about hip hop that make me really negative, and almost hopeless: Ignorance and Arrogance. There’s so much of that in hip hop, and it gets discouraging at times. That’s why I like rollin’ with people who know they’re good, but they’re very humble. If you can’t be humble, I don’t really want to work with you…and you’re probably settin’ yourself up for failure.
When I became more comfortable with myself, I became a better songwriter. I was writing about more important things, and had some weird/abstract, introspective stuff that started to come together and make more sense the more I accepted myself. I really grew a lot, and I’m still growing!”
I hope you took notes! Lady Essence’s album “Right Now” is available for free streaming Here. You can buy it there too! Just sayin’
Heads Up: Essence is teaming up with Shane Reis and releasing a mixtape within the next couple of weeks: “We’ve known each other since we were 13 and always wanted to do a project together just the 2 of us, it just never happened until now! So, it’s called Rain Delay.”
It’ll be available online, so keep any eye out on Ess’s Facebook Page!