THE ESSENCE OF ESSAYEM

 

 

Certain words in the vocabulary in recent years that were previously reserved for god-tier scenarios, have now entered the slipstream of the internet’s – and, therefore regular vocabulary, almost rendering it useless. Or at the very least ironic. Words like iconic, culture (yes we know) even rockstar. These are terms that may once have carried weight but have now become somewhat generic. However, every once in a while you see or hear something or even meet someone that puts you at a loss for words, leaving that as the only description you can afford them because they so clearly own it.

  

WHAT DEFINES A ROCKSTAR?

 

 

Charisma? Talent? Authenticity? Showmanship? Memorability? It’s tough to say. But at their essence, they're really just talented artists who are just cooler than everyone else. Pure and Simple. But the tricky thing is, how do they do that? You could argue it’s not teachable, it’s like an instinct, it’s natural infallible expression… the kind that makes you feel as though they are the very walking and talking embodiments of their own music. And in our opinion, Essayem is the coolest artist in Nairobi right now. And he’s been so... for quite a while now, we just haven’t realised it yet. In his case, calling him a rockstar is not just empty flattery or banter… it’s an undeniable fact. His thirst for music and his versatile nature could in some ways deem him as a borderline polymath. Because the difficulty with categorizing Essayem isn't that he doesn’t fit in anywhere... it’s that he fits in EVERYWHERE.

  

 

 

Unlike most artists, his music is essentially like trying to decode a goliath algorithm. It’s always growing, changing, churning out new information from it's data bank. You just never know what to expect every SINGLE TIME. Yet, there is an underlying variable to connect each one. If you delve deeper into what his songs speak on, we are privy to an artist who is fearlessly and unapologetically eager to reflect on his flaws, his experiences, his thoughts, his emotions, his beliefs and express them in such a way that moves you to your core. All this by being so painfully raw and honest without making any false steps in between. It’s as though he finds inspiration not necessarily in the pain itself but in the possibility for invention and recreation through those very reflections of himself.

 

 

By this we mean, he constantly walks the spectrum between being self-aware and being constantly reflective, with heartfelt inflections making each track more resonant. His Soundcloud is sprinkled with inspiring songs like “AfterLife” and gut wrenching songs like “No More Rain” where he’s constantly flexing his vocal range and dedication to pushing sonic and genre specific boundaries. So, while all his songs differ greatly, he continues to reveal dimensions of himself and his own thoughts, constantly becoming more vulnerable to add another level of depth and transparency to his sound. But the wild part in all this, is how he makes it feel so effortless. It’s as if it were second nature! Where some may hesitate or fear jumping into the unknown and perhaps falling, to him it’s no different than walking a tight rope, all while maintaining incredible and flawless balance. He’s done it so much, it’s become pure instinct all the way from start to finish. It’s like he says on his song Things I Need, “Lately yeah you know that I’ve been feeling so inspired, and you know I'll never kickback never let this sh*t backfire...” As you listen to him you simply get lost in the melodies and chord progressions as though he’s pulling all your personal hopes, fears and thoughts along with him. And so far, crazily enough, he has yet to miss his mark. So, rather than clinging to the goal of being simply recognised as a rapper, clearly Essayem intends for his music to be constantly rooted in fluidity.

 

 

He has a really contemporary mode of working, as well. Being able to stay flexible, stay agile, and create a framework for himself to just do whatever he’s into at the time. He is so openly, visibly and unapologetically himself, he’s very clearly only interested in representing himself, spreading positivity and just constantly making music. Seriously, it's like this dude is on his own island where ALL he does is make music. Frankly speaking, whether it’s online or offline, it’s hard not to like him and what we personally learned about him is that he has quite the candid perspective on why other young people should not only feel empowered to be open and not settle for what’s available to them... but to reach further and achieve their dreams no matter how wild they may be.

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What was the genesis of Essayem? At what point did making music become your path?

Man, I kind of always had the idea in my head of wanting to do music but I fully realised it when i moved to the UK and started college. Because in my first year of school I was like 'yo man, this sh*t isn’t really that fun'. I wasn’t really enjoying myself so I needed to make a lifestyle for myself that isn’t normal, like something i actually enjoyed doing. So I thought, now I’m old enough to start establishing the dreams that I had since I was a kid. So I just started looking for some beats… and I found this one fire beat, I just started recording and the rest is history. I had to hop in. I just had to hop in! [Laughs]

Did you always know what you wanted to do? Or what is just a process of finding something that clicked?

Always! Bruh… this is something I always knew I wanted to do, like as far back as I can remember I always knew, because singing is just fun as hell, music is dope… I’ve just always loved how that sh*t sounds. You could say I was touched by it in a different way and I’ve just always wanted to create something for people the same way it touches me, so I was like yeah… let’s do this!

 

 

 

Did you have any influences, or anyone you were especially intrigued by that encouraged you to start?

In terms of influence and overall sound, I definitely looked up to X and Juice Wrld... RIP to both of them which was just really unfortunate... But yeah, I did look up to them both for a really long time. When I first started making music I knew that was the type of sound I wanted to go for. Actually, I think the main reason I really liked X so much to begin with, was because so many people told me, “yo man you look like that XXX guy”…

Charles: Ooooh! I thought about it when I saw you!

[laughter in the whole room]

Yeahhh! That’s what I'm saying… I was like bro, I need to see who this guy is man, and i went and checked out his music, it was just too fire! Too fire, too versatile… I was like this was definitely what I aspire to achieve with my music.

Actually, you know every time someone asks me about who Essayem is, the answer is always, that dude's a freaking rockstar…

[complete agreement in the room]

Trust! But that’s what I'm going for, f**k a trapstar! I’m a rockstar! I'm tryna be on stage with my guitar and just like smash that sh*t you know [Laughs]… but yeah, that would be dope.

 

 

So, in terms of self-identification, what kind of person or artist do you view yourself as?

As a person, that’s a tough question to answer. As an artist… versatile. Like I wouldn’t tie myself down to one genre… it’s just not who i am. Because I listen to lots of different types of music. One day I'll make a rock song, move on to some trap sh*t... I have some house beats that I'm actually working on right now, so all sorts of stuff.

Speaking of versatility, that’s actually the most evident thing about you. Because there’s really no telling what you're going to do next, every song is different, there’s almost no way of ever predicting how it’s going to sound…

[Shouts] Yessss! Exactly!

 

 

It’s like you’re in a constant state of experimentation and variation. Is it something you feel you have to do is it just part of you and your natural makeup?

Yeah, that’s actually the exact mindset I have when I'm making music... because I usually listen to the next song I'm dropping and I'm like, nobody is going to expect this from me.

 

 

So it’s definitely something you’ve always strived to do…

Yeah. Because in my head I'm always like, ok, I did this and it was fire but what else can I do that’s even better? Because the way I see it is, if I haven’t tried out everything then you won’t know what you’re good at… not until you try EVERYTHING. In fact, what happens is… I would try out every sound imaginable, and the song I release that everyone thinks is fire, I’ll be like yeah that’s the one. I’ll focus on that sound a bit more but it also doesn’t mean I’ll give up on the rest either… I'll always make all sorts of music for everyone, that’s the goal.

 

 

I personally feel versatility is such an important thing… especially nowadays where almost everyone is always maybe expecting you to make some trap music or something, do you agree?

Yeah man… that sh*t gets boring. I mean it’s cool, but sometimes you just don’t want to hear that. Sometimes you just want to hear something new, something different...

[agrees] even if it’s rough…

Yeah! Exactly! Like, trap is fire, but damn bruh, you really going to wake up to that sh*t everyday… like first thing in the morning… nah fam. Sometimes you just need to chill. Sometimes you just need some new vibes. But I don’t have a problem with it. I also love trap, sh*t goes hard. In fact, I’ve tried to implement myself into that sound and I think, if anything, making trap music is probably where I've struggled the most. Because in making trap music, it’s hard to find something that is crazy and that EVERYONE is in TOTAL agreement with… I think that's where I've struggled the most.

 

 

But then isn’t that the issue that comes with experimentation? I would say from the outside looking in, I suspect sometimes it can be hard to like get that piece of work or music finished cause you’re constantly in an uncomfortable state. Do you enjoy that part of the process? Is there joy in the torture of trying to make something new and completely different each time?

Yeah, because I kind of take myself out of my comfort zone. But at the same time, what I do is, I take the principles from previous projects to further progress with whatever it is I'm currently doing. So yeah, it’s hard to adjust all the time… but at the same time, it’s interesting because it allows me to teach myself more, to learn new things. That’s what makes it fun! Like if I've come from just making say an Afro beat and now I'm trying to shift into making a trap beat, it’s super hard. Because now, I have to go listen to hella trap music… study the drums… just to get that afro sh*t out of my head man {Laughs]. Cause like I need to now focus on this. It’s hard sometimes to just switch your mindset from one thing to another, you know.

 

 

Actually you know who you remind me of… Grimes. Like just based off how you go about your music, because she basically writes, produces and engineers all her songs... she even masterminds the videos and artwork... just like you! It’s crazy but it's so mad respectable at the same time. But how do you balance all of that responsibility? How do you carry all of that weight and not like, feel overwhelmed?

Man I don’t know. Some people say it’s because I'm a Taurus and we prefer to just do things ourselves. [Laughs]

Facts! [Laughs]

Yeah, but personally, in my head, I just don’t like leaving things for other people to do. I just do not enjoy that. Like, if I need a cover, if I need a song, a beat, I just absolutely cannot leave it to someone else because you’ll probably do it and maybe even do it well, granted all of that... but you’ll just bring it back to me and there'd be something I'll personally want to change anyway. Plus, I just think it will be way more rewarding in the end. Because when I reach where I want to reach… even though I’ll always be striving higher… but when that time comes, it'll be way more rewarding to know that I did all of that, myself.

 

 

On that note, what’s your writing process like?

Man, let me tell you... I don’t even really sit down to write. I just make a beat, go to the studio, I run it through then just freestyle to get an idea of what sounds good, then once I catch a vibe, I'll just freestyle some lyrics.

So it’s just always an organic process…

Yeah, but the beat always comes first. The melody, then the beat, then the bars. The bars come last…. actually no, the ad-libs are the last thing, yeah.

 

 

 

Actually, this puts us back into the context of authenticity… when was the last time you heard something that actually blew your mind?

Ummm, to be honest this may be a basic-ass answer... but that ASTROWORLD album was fire as hell! But that depends, is it the most recent project i’ve heard or of all time? Because that changes it and makes it difficult to answer… I'll have to get back to you on that. [Laughs]

 

 

Let's dive in to your songs a bit and start by talking about Game Over. In the song you sing, “I had to fight to expel her but now the wicked witch is dead”, that was such a vivid line. And it borders on the topic of depression. Was that song addressing something specific in your life, a person or a low point for you?

I mean yeah, it wasn’t necessarily about a person per say, it was just about anything in your life that’s putting you down. Something that you don’t really need in your life but you are keeping it there just because you’re establishing stability…

So, it does describe something in your life...

Yeah, kind of... because college had me in a low moment at that time and I didn't really talk to many people. So I was just in my head a lot. So like i just talked about wanting to expel that sh*t, just make music and enjoy it… you know?

   

 

So, what do you do nowadays when that feeling of sadness starts to set in? When that wicked witch tries to creep back in the house? How do you keep her at bay and try to stay optimistic and positive all the time?

Ahhh! That’s actually a really good question. I listen to my old music.

Really?

Yeah! Because when I listen to my old music I can hear how much progress I have made as to where I am now. So like, if I make a song and start to think, 'oh this is so sh*t... I just go listen to an old song and I’m like damn, you know what? This is pretty good! [Laughs] So like, it helps. I saw something on an Instagram post awhile back, it said, "refer back to where you started so you don’t get lost in thinking where you are is not good enough."

 

 

So, is that why when you’re on your Instagram you’re just channeling positive energy, wishing every one of your followers a good day? Which is pretty awesome btw… so where does that optimism lie for you?

That’s for everything! For other people’s sake, and for my own energy. It helps to keep my energy positive. Because I like to surround myself with a good energy and also just to try and spread good vibes to other people as well.

 

 

Everyone has their own opinion of social media. Is it safe to say you have a positive opinion on it?

I mean… yes and no. I like it because you could say it brings people together but then again, there’s that other negative aspect of it. In terms of like, say how people say it influences kids negatively and what not. But at the same time, it’s kind of just your own mindset that dictates how you behave, it’s not going to be that 100% factor that changes how you behave. So, like, I'm for it and I can understand why some people wouldn’t like it... but I don’t necessarily agree. After all, it’s a place to grow my brand so I just have to do it… it’s extremely necessary.

 

 

Okay, back to one of my favourite songs Afterlife...

Ahhh!!! That's a banger. I love that song.

In it, you speak time being a relative concept… like to you how do you define/divide time in your life? Be it in your music, your personal relationships, how valuable is time to you and how do you interpret it as well spent?

Personally I look at it in terms of the span of my whole life. For instance, a man's lifespan is like what 90 years?

[Charles interjects] Hold up, in today’s day I think we’re working with 70…

[Everybody Laughs]

Okay yeah! Like 70… but still at the end of the day, 70 is a long time so like, if you’re trying to achieve something, even if it’s taking five years to achieve it, time is relative. So, how important that thing is to you, will make that time less… taxing, for a lack a better term… it’ll be less of a chore and compared to that, 5 years isn’t that much to take away to do something that you love.

 

 

Tell me about the making of Aliens Exist, that is literally one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard and it’s your best song yet… it draws you in and just stirs up some sh*t. But you said before you were scared of releasing this song… why?

It’s because I say it’s my best song... you say it’s my best song... but not everyone would say that. Because it’s not like, upbeat, it’s not uptempo, it’s not hype. It’s different. It's not something people would necessarily listen to or even be into usually. Even though I personally REALLY like it. So that’s why I was scared. This isn’t really the mainstream genre that people listen to.

 

 

That song and correct me if I’m mistaken, addresses keeping negative energy at bay, basically?

Yes! Yes! Keeping negative energy at bay and far far away. But essentially, it’s a song that's kind of like a backhanded message to society. Because what it says is like, 'if the aliens existed, do you think they’d come over and pay us a visit? I wish it, even if we put out some milk and a biscuit … they still wouldn’t come and visit.' So it’s like basically saying our planet is so f**ked up that even if they existed they wouldn’t want to visit. Cause, they don’t need any of this bullsh*t. [Laughs] And, the milk and a biscuit reference, is funny… cause like it refers to Santa. And you know how when you get older he stops coming over to visit, because you start to understand how the world is and how f**ked up it is? Maybe that’s why he’s not visiting anymore… because he’s an alien!

[Everybody Laughs]

That song has a lot of weird sh*t behind it.

 

 

Charles: I mean he lives forever so…

Exactly! Like what?! Plus, apparently he only comes once a year and no one ever sees him… that’s hella sus man.

One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the term “coming-of-age.” On the song, One Minute... which btw you said you hated?

Yeah! Because it was like a freestyle and I didn’t put that much work into the lyrics…

But the intro conversation is particularly interesting, where you spoke about like your lack of desire for a 9 to 5. Everyone has their own reason why they don’t want to ever do it... I have my own, but tell me, what’s your personal aversion to it?

Because it’s f**king boring! [Laughs] And you only get one chance in life. I don’t wanna die and be like yeah I sat at that desk made this amount of money for my whole life and I was gucci! Nah man, I wanna be able to say, I signed that deal for 5 mill, went to the Bahamas for a month and bought a jet ski!!! [Laughs]

 

 

You definitely emphasize it a lot especially in Afterlife… speaking on the importance of chasing your dreams… like what are your dreams?

To be an influential person in the music industry or even in the world in general. To more or less, make an impact essentially. Just to make people know that I EXIST.

You speak on love a lot. So, I was just wondering how you define love in your own life?

My love? My love comes from my mama! I haven’t had a girlfriend in a long time! [Laughs] My mum is awesome, she supports me… and yeah, that’s what real love is... I know that's what real love is. And if no girl gon' love me like my mama, then there ain't no point! [Laughs]

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve experienced just by being an artist? Be it in your personal life or in general?

I think the biggest challenge I’ve experienced has been having to always try and be one step ahead of myself and always having something fresh and new like a Michu even or some sh*t.

 

 

Have you started working on a full length project yet? Or are you still in the experimental, having fun stage?

Kind of a bit of both. I’m having fun with it. But I have like three songs or four that I'm working on and i was going to drop them as singles but seeing as there’s 4 of them and they’re already good... I'm thinking, adding two more isn’t hard to turn it into an EP. So I was thinking about it. But I also think I still need to just keep dropping singles at a consistent rate to get more people familiar with my music before I put out a full project.

Crafting a successful music career depends on staying inspired and constantly producing, how do you make sure you’re doing that? You mentioned you had a crazy writers block recently yeah?

Yeah! I'm actually still kind of in it, in terms of making beats. But I think partially it's because I don’t really do that much sh*t. I mostly just chill at home, make beats, record... like I don’t really see new stuff to give me new inspiration to work with. But I don’t know… the creativity mostly just comes to me when I hear the right sound or the right melody, the right beat. So, the flow just comes, it’s not too hard if you can feel it. But like to maintain it, it's not that easy. 

 

 

Let’s take a minute to talk about anime because... I just want to.

[Everybody laughs]

Yeah! Let’s talk about anime!

 

 

What’s your opinion on anime?

Anime is SICK! And to anyone who doesn’t watch anime, you are missing out! You are missing out and you really need to hop on it. In fact, if you want my recommendation for a first anime to watch, check out Akame Ga Kill, that sh*t is fire. It’s short, it’s only two seasons and it will get you into anime straight. I just think in anime the storylines are way better and more interesting, the fights are better, the animation is outstanding… anime is just SUPERIOR. [Laughs] It really is just superior. What's your favourite anime?

Mine? Hunter x Hunter

Ahhh trust! Even for me that’s up there, either that or Naruto. One of the two.

 

 

 

 

I haven’t watched Bleach tho, I've been meaning to.

Bleach is insane, but have you watched One Piece tho?

Nah, that sh*t is too long bro! {Laughs] It’s like almost 1000 episodes!

You should still watch it…

How far did you reach?

Episode 800.

No f**king way! You’re actually in decent place. I watched 20 and I was out. But I think it’s because that was at the beginning when their budget wasn’t so big so the quality wasn’t that great. So those first episodes, they just aren’t that easy to watch.

 

 

 

Yeah, I get where you're coming from, but you just gotta push through it [Laughs]. Okay, so far what are you most proud of? Be it in your life or just music?

I think I’m proud of the fact that I took that step to just start releasing music. To be very honest, I’m most proud I did that. Because sometimes when i think about it now, like fam... putting it out is easy. But at the same time, it's nerve racking as well. So, taking that step to drop that first song, it was tough but I think that’s one of the good things I'm happy about.

 

 

What musicians do you really like right now?

Travis, Juice Wrld, X, you just put me onto Saint Jhn, shout out to y’all… Panic in the Disco, Falling in Reverse, Ed Sheeran, Post Malone… yeah.

What’s your favourite song that you’ve made?

Aliens Exist.

Which was the hardest to make?

I think DoYouLoveMe? I didn’t make the beat, but I rapped on it and it was really fast and so hard. I think that's the only time I've ever really written down my verse. Because I just normally sing or just do some silly sh*t. But this one was straight up bars. It was hard to deliver, but once I got it out... fire. It’s one of my favorites.

 

 

Which is the most emotional for you?

Probably still DoYouLoveMe… those lyrics really touch, everyone should go listen to that song.

What can we expect from Essayem moving forward?

In the future? A project definitely, the good vibes... as usual! [Laughs] Essayem WILL spread the good vibes. Fire photos and artwork, you know how we do! I wanna give people what they want. So what people want from me, I’ll try to deliver. I may not be able to do it straight away, but I’ll try.

 

 

Finally, any special shoutout you wanna make to your supporters or friends?

My G, Blue! His name name is Elvis William but his artist name is Blue. He just dropped a song called “Again.” He lives just around here too, so we work together, we bounce ideas off each other… yeah, that's my homie… everyone needs to go check him out now!

 

 

But also, I just wanna thank y’all for giving me this interview and for anyone else who supports me in what I’m doing.

ONE LOVE FAM.  ❤️🖤

 

 

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ECULTURE x ESSAYEM
Photographer: Charles Guthua (@s.afiri@guthua_ugo)
Profile: Essayem (@3ssayem