Sometimes the rap game reminds Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire of the craft game. “When I get stressed out, I do collages,” says the stout, six-foot-four MC. We’re lounging in his childhood home-turned-bachelor pad, a messy, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn’s Kingsborough housing project that was also the set of his low budget video masterpiece “Huzzah.” The walls are adorned with Scotch Tape collages, some framed and some stuck directly to the walls. Curvaceous women, Marvel superheroes, Carmelo coming to the Knicks—all of eXquire’s passions have their own meticulously designed collage, including one dedicated to hip-hop, featuring magazine cut-outs of everyone from gold-toothed Miami rappers to camo shorts-clad backpackers. “That’s rap,” he explains. “I made that shit.”
Raised Anthony Allison by his mother in Crown Heights, eXquire attended Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented until he got caught robbing kids for their basketball cards with an orange box cutter. He dropped out for good in 10th grade. “I had a really hard time when I was a teenager,” he says. “I was going through depression. My father moved away when I was 16—I just felt mad alone.” He found solace in music, especially the raw emotion of DMX, an influence that’s still apparent today. “That’s why I’ve got a capital X in my name,” he says.
eXquire’s debut mixtape, 2008’s The Big Fat Kill—a loosely defined Wu-Tang-style concept project—was unanimously ignored. The 26-year-old finally caught the attention of music blogs this past June with “Huzzah,” a track that transformed the obscure beat from paranoid New York rappers Goretex and Necro’s 2003 song “Scumbags” into a sing-along house party anthem—Drunk drivin’ on a Wednesday, with three bitches in the MPV. After seeing the video—in which eXquire rocks a dashiki, gold teeth and his X-Clan-worthy stack of bead necklaces—underground rap Svengali El-P tweeted at him: “Respect. I like that joint you just dropped” (eXquire keeps a photo of the message on his iPhone). “I was so hyped. Like yo, El-P talked to me!” he says. “I used to listen to I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead every day before work when I was a security guard in a school. If I didn’t listen to that album, I couldn’t go to work. I used to hate that fucking job so much.”
Despite making some talented friends, he continues the DIY approach from “Huzzah”—jacking an esoteric underground beat and recasting it in his rugged image—on his mixtape Lost In Translation, released in September. “I wanted to create a different sound for myself,” he remembers, admitting he thought so-called “backpack rap” was corny until his early 20s, when a friend put him on to Aesop Rock’s Bazooka Tooth album. Now he’s recording brash, witty hood anthems over underground rap touchstones like Cannibal Ox and Company Flow beats. “I read comic books—I understood what the fuck they were talking about. It resonated with me, just the way Beanie Sigel did.” Equal parts Def Jux and Def Jam, his music seems capable of opening rap’s insular avant-garde to the masses with a booming, melodic voice that draws easy comparisons to charismatic icons like Method Man and 50 Cent. A compelling collage of influences, it’s worth stepping back to see eXquire’s big picture.