UK emcee Essa (formerly known as Yungun) will be releasing his first full length project in eight years, The Misadventures Of A Middle Man which will be dropping soon.
Essa speaks to Rawroots about his upcoming album.
What made you decide to change your name?
I changed my name from “Yungun” to “Essa” over two years ago but some people are still a bit confused. DJ 279 suggested I should do a track to explain it all. That became “Call Me Essa”:
You perform all over the globe. Do you have a favorite venue or country to perform at?
Soundwave Croatia Festival – beautiful scenery, gorgeous weather and lovely people. Watch my video for The World Belongs To You and you’ll see what I mean. But my absolute favourite is Jazz Cafe. It’s in Camden, where I’ve lived for more than a decade, so playing there always feels like a “home game”. It’s a buzz to perform on the same stage as my musical heroes – Dilla, The Roots, De La Soul, Pharoahe Monch, Omar, Bilal …
If you could create the soundtrack to your life, which tracks/albums would be on it?
I’ve already created it! My own album The Misadventures of a Middle Man is as close to an auto-biography as I’m comfortable to get. But I don’t go around listening to my own tunes all day so, if I had to pick a soundtrack, I’d say my various Fela Kuti compilations, Illmatic by Nas, Here My Dear by Marvin Gaye and Back In The Doghouse by Bugz In The Attic.
You’ve worked with some remarkable artists. Do you ever get star struck?
People don’t believe this (especially my girl!) but I’m the shy type at heart. So I get awkward but not star-struck. The people I’m funny around are those whose work means a lot to me, not necessarily those who are famous. I was a little awkward when I worked with Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang and when I met Camp Lo, Elzhi and Pharoahe Monch. But I’ve met premier league footballers and formula one big-shots and have straight-face asked them what they do for a living without even realising who they are.
You know when you’re inspired by someone’s music and hope they’ll be that cool in real life? He was all that and more. So humble and friendly, he said such complimentary things and was so down to earth and kind. I grew up on Gang Starr so I still can’t believe he actually reached out to me to get me on one of his tracks. His passing was a huge loss, his legacy is a huge blessing.
Which up and coming UK artists are you championing right now?
I’m officially championing Brotherman, who’s on my album. I’m trying to help him develop and get wider recognition. I’d love to hear more from a grime MC called Rinse The Nerd. In hip-hop I’m feeling Hawk House and Frankie Stew. On a wider level I’m really feeling MWJ (he’s on my album too), Trudie Dawn Smith, Ben Khan, Andrew Ashong … loads of others too.
Tell us about The Misadventures Of A Middle Man
I’ve always been a Middle Man – blessed to be within widely different circles (racial, social, cultural, musical) but never quite feeling like I belong in any one of them. That’s a gift and a curse – I’ve written about both. Likewise the sound is hard to pin down: neo-soul, latin, afro-beat, electronica, hip-hop, spoken word … It’s my most personal work yet and also my most ambitious, not least because I created it all whilst working full-time as a lawyer.
How did you select the producers/collabs?
I brought a ton of tunes to DJ Gilla at First Word Records about two years ago and said – what are we gonna do with all this? We had some stand-outs (like my tracks with Waajeed) but we wanted to take it up a notch. He asked me to draw up a wish-list of collaborators and it included Eric Lau, Tall Black Guy, FLako, Ta-Ku, Kaidi Tatham … Somehow we ended up getting all of them to say yes!
The advice from great artists is often “be yourself”. I’ve taken that literally so this is the record of my life, in every sense of the words. I’ve condensed about a decade of triumphs, break-downs, epiphanies and mysteries into just twelve tracks, under 45 minutes. I felt as inspired as an artist on his first album, as accomplished as one on his third and as ambitious as one on his last. So I’m confident that it’s my best work yet and that people will find real depth in it.
What’s next for Essa? (vids/tours etc.)