ABOVE: MR. MUTHAFUCKIN' EXQUIRE. PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER GABELLO
Crown Heights rapper Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire makes it clear in his SXSW diary doc [below] he doesn't like being edited down for decency. He doesn't like being abbreviated as "Mr. MFN eXquire," explaining how it sounds like people are calling him "muffin." Don't get it twisted.
The emcee burst onto the underground hip-hop scene after releasing his seminal mixtape, Lost in Translation, in 2011 to massive acclaim, and has been a voice for the "New New York" scene ever since. He made his mark crafting crudely intelligent rhymes about getting wasted (hear his breakout single, "Huzzah!," for example), eating fast food ("Chicken Spot Rock"), getting blowjobs, and watching stoner movies, atop assaulting backpack beats by El-P and Necro. The liquored-up mixtape's buzz garnered him enough mainstream appeal to get him signed to Universal; he released his first major-label EP, Power and Passion, last year. And then—suddenly—he took a break.
Interview chats with the Brooklyn artist on the eve of his return—his Kismet mixtape is coming at the end of this month, and we're pleased to premiere the new song "Draped in Gold" here—about his life-affirming hiatus, the pressures of going mainstream, and quitting the sauce.
MARCUS HOLMLUND: You toured with Killer Mike after the EP dropped, and then we didn't hear from you for a while. What's been up?
MR. MUTHAFUCKIN' EXQUIRE: My mother had waited 'til I got off tour to tell me she had cervical cancer. It was actually the day I got back from touring. It made me do a 180 and kind of look at my life. It was like an "outside looking in" type of thing, you know. And I needed to withdraw a little bit... needed to take a little time out.
HOLMLUND: Was this the same time you sobered up?
EXQUIRE: Honestly, when it comes to that—it wasn't necessarily that I had a singular moment of clarity, you know, like how people get in a car accident or something like that... it was more of a progressive change in me. But, yeah, around that time, I kind of woke up one day and realized I was living my life as a parody—a parody of myself. I just didn't like it. I'd come out every night on tour with El-P and [Killer] Mike and I just felt like I was imitating myself. It was then that I got to realizing I needed to withdraw a bit from what I was indulging in. I never really drank that much to begin with until I became a rapper and everyone was saying I should be drinking and I found myself drinking a lot to kind of be "the character" rather than be myself. I realized I had to go back to being me.
HOLMLUND: Recording and putting out your first major [label] release, Power and Passion... how was that experience for you?
EXQUIRE: I mean, honestly, Power and Passion was a reach for me. It was the first time that I ever wrote and tried not to be good. I mean, I'd look at it like I was on a major [label] now kind of thing. I'd look to other rappers to see what they'd be doing and they'd never talk about shit. So, I'd find myself trying to rap and not talk about shit on purpose. And that's really not me, you know. Around that time, I was still getting drunk and fucked-up and shit, but, after that project dropped, I kind of found myself saying I just wanna be in a different head state. And that's really what's reflected on the new mixtape [Kismet], just as the other projects reflect back to me and what I was like then. This mixtape reflects me in a different state, personally. It's the me I wake up to and look at in the mirror in the morning. It's just me. It's a nice feeling.
HOLMLUND: What is your relationship with the label [Universal] like now?
EXQUIRE: I'm still with them. I was just in the office the other day, and they like the [Kismet] record. They keep trying to get me to put out a full album, and I'm actually the one that isn't on that yet. I want to do this at my own pace. I'm the type of person that doesn't want to be forced into doing something if I'm not in the spiritual place to do so. I do records when I need to.
HOLMLUND: Tell me a little bit about the feel of the new mixtape.
EXQUIRE: Me and my friends, we joke around and say this is sort of like my "love album." It's not only about women—I mean, a lot of it is about women, but, it's really just about love for myself and love for my friends—it's kind of like my life story. It's really different from what I've done before. Especially with the topics lyrically, but, at the same time it's the same—it's just an evolution.
HOLMLUND: Any standout tracks for you?
EXQUIRE: I'd have to say "Paper Hearts," and a track by the name of "Noble Drew Ali," really define me at this moment in time.
HOLMLUND: What are some of the changes you've witnessed in your life post-Lost in Translation?
EXQUIRE: I have to ride the train to listen to every track I do—it's like a ritual I have. And since that first record, it's been hard, 'cause everybody be coming up to me, you know, recognizing me and whatnot. It's hard, because I'm a very introverted person. I am terribly shy. It was like murder for me going on those trains the first couple of months, you know... having attention is tough for me. I've never been used to having all that attention. It's difficult for me to accept it, I guess. And now people are surrounding me and they want stuff and girls want to fuck me and I mean, I'm not gonna lie, it's just different. It's kind of what this new record's about. It's me speaking honestly about my relationships with my friends and women and such... It sums up what I'm thinking and where I'm at right now.
THE KISMET MIXTAPE IS DUE OUT THIS SUMMER, AND MR. MUTHAFUCKIN' EXQUIRE WILL PERFORM NEXT WEEK IN NEW YORK AT THE DOWNTOWN MUSIC FESTIVAL. FOR MORE ON EXQUIRE, VISIT THE ARTIST'S WEBSITE.