DJ Esco spent 56 days in a Dubai prison after an angry airport security guard uncovered "like, a fairy dust particle of weed" (as well as 18 or so grams more) in his luggage. A week after he had returned safety to America, he called us from the studio where he was already back to work on a forthcoming Freebandz mixtape and thoughtfully detailed his experience for FADER—but for every insane and terrifying tidbit that made it into the story, there were many more that were cut for space. Here are a few outtakes from our interview.
1. How he learned to communicate when nobody spoke English:
"When they say whatever percentage of communication is nonverbal, that's really true. It wasn't about if he could speak English, it was whether you could communicate. You have to learn how to figure it out—some people get down and draw on the ground, or make shapes with their hands. There aren't many things you can talk about in there, so it's not as hard to figure out as you'd think. We got a whole lot of time."
2. The horrors of Dubai prison food:
"I wouldn't even feed my English Bulldog the food. First of all, everything is cold—nothing is hot, and all I wanted was hot food. I'm a vegetarian, too, which made it double worse. They are not catering to no vegetarians in this Dubai prison. They had some chicken with the skin and fish with skin, and it smelled terrible. They served these things called 'kaboose,' which looked like a tortilla without the burrito or anything, so I would eat those, which they serve you three times a day with some cold rice or some cold chicken. A lot of the food is from over there, and I'm just like, 'What is this?' Man, it was some weird stuff! They try to give you macaroni with red sauce and no one eats that."
3. That time they staged a food strike:
"The Egyptians and everyone got us together and said, 'When it's time to call for food, we're not gonna go for food—we're gonna go to the other area, nobody go to the kitchen. Not till they give us better food, 'cause this shit is not human." One of the Indians took his towel and locked the kitchen door so no one could get in. No one ate. We had this big riot about what food we should be getting—real food and real bread—and it actually worked. All the officers came in and didn't know what to do, so we were like, 'We want the chief!' The chief came down in his street clothes—it was a Friday, and that was his day off—and he added five items to the menu and told us we can have better food. People from the Congo in Africa were striking, that's how bad the food was!"
4. Thinking about what it means to be "African American" with Africans:
"They'd only seen Americans on TV, so there was a lot of things about me and America that they didn't understand. They don't understand how I can be considered black in America—they don't get that there's white, black, and Mexican. They just get that there's American, like, 'I thought y'all are all one?' The Africans made me understand that we don't know our history here. I'm talking to people who are from Nigeria that can trace their history, and that's why they can call themselves African. I call myself African American, but I'm born in America and I don't know what part of Africa I'm from. That confused them. They were like, 'Since they call you African American, where are you from in Africa?' I couldn't answer that question, so they were like, 'You're just American to us.' Black people over here, we don't know anything about our history."
5. He'll never look at TV news the same way:
"I see and read the news in a whole different way now. Before, I just didn't pay attention, but now when I see "SYRIA GETS ATTACKED," I think about how I was standing next to four dudes from Syria who were running from this. This one guy, his girlfriend and her younger sisters got killed because they were Christians. He was trying to escape Syria, and that's how he got caught and ended up in jail, just trying to escape that war."
6. He'll never go back to Dubai:
"Nah, no. No, Insha'Allah, like they say over there. I had my Dubai experience. I got the real down Dubai experience."