When I think about Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire’s output, more often than not, the thing that strikes me as most distinctly impressive is his lyrics. For eX, storytelling with a thesaurus-like grasp of wordplay is paramount. But we don’t necessarily use the same yardstick we did in the past in regards to vocab wizardry and the playing field has extended to those who implore simpler language and easy rhyme schemes (Chief Keef, Rick Ross). Flow is seemingly of lesser value, as well, as rappers with static structures to their verses (A$AP Rocky) are still exalted. This isn’t a bad thing — it just means there are multiple pillars of judgment to use when an examining an rapper’s worth and extreme lyricism is no longer a laurel to rest on when it’s time to show and prove. eXqo has mastery of both of these things, but rarely do I hear his nimble lyricism and range of flows synthesize with a fitting beat. On a few occasions he’s blown me away: The El-P-produced “The Rocketeer” from Merry eX-Mas & Suck My Dick, “Dom Perignon At The Days Inn” produced by recent Big Baby Gandhi collaborator Yuri Beats, and the Mike Finito-helmed “You Have To Ride The Wave.” The third is from Heems’s Nehru Jackets — it’s not even eX’s own song! Something had to change. Enter Kismet.
When we posted “Noble Drew Ali,” the first offering from the tape, this is what I had to say about the track:
eX knows how to spin an emotional yet super intelligent yarn. He’s unafraid to punctuate his boasts with his own sense of malaise and his name-dropping tends toward listing out authors he’s into instead of the typical labels-and-famous friends fare. With this tape — some of which I unexpectedly heard when he DJed at Brooklyn bar Beloved last month — he’s continuing that same narrative with beat innovation that matches his dark tones, but feel fuller than what we’re used to from him.
Not only is this his most personal release to date, but its atmospheric sonic texture makes his narrative-heavy rhymes that much more illustrative. A lot of that has to do with the beats provided by “Noble”‘s producer, the Raleigh-based Constrobuz. With “Hoes I Don’t Remember,” eX sidles up as a rapper who can do R&B-infused tracks while rattling off a laundry-list of women he may have theoretically slept with (one I can maybe confirm as true from minor industry chatter). For “Cherry Raindrops,” Constrobuz has built a landscape for eX to journey across, from new romantic bliss into a gloomy, nebulous end. It’s their best work together on the tape, from the gauzy production to quips like “not some esoteric shit/ but you could be my Oshun.” Another standout is the StarKing-crafted “I Wrote This When I Was Drunk.” eXquire is sober now, as emphasized by the Martinelli’s in his video for “Nightfall At The Thames,” and the celestial, MPC-heavy song functions as a document for how one gets to where they go — and I believe a veiled jab at Trinidad Jame$ for his similar style of dress. So far, so good.
Halfway through the tape, there’s a jaunty and warped piano twinkler called “Chains.” It breaks out with the hook, “Motherfuckin’ chains / they brought us over here in fuckin’ chains / you’d think we had enough of fuckin’ chains / so fuck that, fuck your chains.” eX has had been given a fair number of comparisons in his short time in the blogosphere’s eye — most controversially to the Notorious B.I.G. by Danny Brown in an interview with XXL, which eX himself rebuked — but this is the first time that pitting him side-by-side with Kanye West doesn’t feel out of nowhere. It’s not just the thematic parallels between this and “New Slaves,” or that the two rappers’ style orientations have nothing to do with the status quo, but yet they both look well-planned, meticulous, and wholly themselves. What makes Kanye and eXqo kindred spirits is their propensity for exposing their insides in a way that makes people squeamish. While eX is rarely shy, lately he’s been a lot more emotionally revealing. Scouring Q&As with Interview and Noisey, you learn about his mother’s cancer, his spirituality, and his aforementioned halt with booze.
But for the most part, intimacy reigns supreme throughout the release. It closes with “Paper Hearts,” a skittering, flute-y, soul sample-laden mini-memoir. The track traces the relationship he entered during his post-“The Last Huzzah” ascent and the realities behind his braggadocio: “It’s not my fault/ I never learned to trust/ I loved you like I love myself/ it’s just I don’t love me enough.” It’s a powerful statement to make at the end of your most accomplished work. While it’s clear he’s talking about a woman, it almost echoes the sense I get from a lot of his earlier work — just enough care, but never a full polish. Kismet comes from a place of healing and eXquire’s newfound sonic lushness feels a lot like he’s figured out how to love himself.