Interview: Buffalo Rapper Billie Essco Is in a League of His Own

Billie Essco © 2021
Billie Essco © 2021
Few rappers can boast as prolific or dynamic a repertoire as Buffalo’s Billie Essco – a community builder, fashion designer and artist who has redefined his hometown’s music scene while growing stronger and evolving with every record.
Stream: “Pray for Me” – Billie Essco




Few indie rappers can boast as prolific and dynamic a repertoire as Buffalo’s Billie Essco. Also known as Uptown Chase, the 30-year-old rapper, fashion designer, and creative director has released five full-length albums over the past five years (he first debuted in 2010 with The Chase, featured on DatPiff), emerging as one of upstate New York’s most creative, if still vastly overlooked artists. Active within the music industry since 2005 and a pioneer of his local #BuffaloKids scene, Essco’s oeuvre touches on the personal, the social, the political, and more – and with every successive project, his production and sounds have grown more immersive, impassioned, and expansive.

Esscargot - Billie Essco
Esscargot – Billie Essco

“I think the first thing people realize.. is that I’m from Buffalo, New York,” Essco says of himself. “We are prideful about that, and it’s very prevalent in my references and accent. When you hear my music, it’s from a place and perspective you’ve never heard. My voice makes my music easy to listen to and my writing style paints a picture of me, even if you didn’t know what I looked like. That, and you’ll hear 100 million references about fashion.”

Following a feature on fellow Buffalo native rapper Westside Gunn’s Pray for Paris (327,” also featuring Joey Bada$$ and Tyler, the Creatorm currently has over 21 million global Spotify streams), Essco released his cinematic ninth album Esscargot in July 2020. Written during and in the wake of a 2020 trip to Paris attending fashion week with Westside Gunn, the record features guest appearances by CJ Fly, Stevie Crooks, Jae Skees and (natural wine ambassador) Clovis Ochin, and showcases Essco at some of his most visceral, heartfelt, and honest moments.


Esscargot was going to originally be Aesthetic Raps 2,” Essco tells Atwood Magazine – referencing his eighth album, Aesthetic Raps (released August 2019). “My trip to Paris in 2020 changed everything. The project started out as new songs. Esscargot was like the appetizer. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, so I felt like that set the mark for my celebratory arrival moment as an artist and creative. The realization of how far I’ve come, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, it was a full circle moment for me.”

“After I went to Paris, I came back super inspired and then bam, COVID hit. So the music was sitting for about 2-3 months; and after (Westside Gunn’s) Pray for Paris dropped, “327” started ringing off and I decided to finish the record. The political and social commentating undertones came from the energy in the air after George Floyd was murdered. I thought music was over and we were going to war. When I took that energy into the booth, it resonated more.”

Billie Essco © 2021
Billie Essco © 2021

The resulting music is as unapologetic as it is raw: A soundtrack to the modern day experience touching on everything from racism and inequality, to fashion and real human connection. Highlights include title track “Escargot,” “Mike at the Eiffel,” “P in Brazil,” and “No Dress Code” – a timely and defiant anthem that resonates with themes of racial prejudice, social justice, and self-empowerment.

“‘No Dress Code’ is my mantra, the Billie Essco anthem,” Essco smiles. “From the fashion, revolutionary side, social awareness; I think that represents who I am as a whole. The beat sounds very uptown and world wide. That’s the stand out song on the album. As soon as I heard the beat I immediately started writing. The skit was added later around the time of George Floyd’s death. It felt fitting to not only make it an anthem track, but to tie it into the social climate of the times.”

I’m a living legend out the section of my city
Who else you know go by 3 names from Bizzy F to Billie
To Essco still don’t give a fuck about your dress code
Cuz these guys almost turned Yves Saint to Ecko
And for the love of drug delearish fashion
We at the Casablanca show dripping in fabric
They use to call me Shabba now I’m Mister Boombastic
I’m known to make it stretch like I’m mister Fantastic
And I just cash in looking for a cashout
Im like the only plug in a bad drought
Connected for 30 yards on my last route
My Off White snorkel match the boards on a crackhouse
I spazz out like Beanie Mac with the mac out
They stack cards against me then I attack like I’m Stackhouse
Drive kick in piston’s like a mustang
Head high screaming Fuck The World and let my nuts hang
Clutch that Dior dust bag hold enough cash to get me there
And I swear that verse just sent me there

Essco has since followed-up Esscargot, releasing the smoldering standalone single “Pray for Me” in early 2021. “‘Pray for Me’ comes from a session of songs I recorded in October of 2020 on my first trip to Arizona,” Essco says. “It felt good to put out something just to let people know new music is coming. It was like entering the shoot around before the game. Everything I was trying to do outside of art, wasn’t working. And a lot of people gravitated to me because of my art. Everyone used to tell me how great I was. But, I was the last one to realize it. “Pray For Me” is an oath to all of those people. Continue to pray for me, I got the rest.”

Essco has more music planned for 2021. “I would like to tap into a whole other zone,” he says. “So that I can find a new aspect to make new music too. I need to start fresh and build on what I already have. A lot of new business endeavors that will take the music to another plateau.”

“We recently opened up the Buffalo Kids store, so a lot of energy will be directed towards bringing the world to Buffalo. Musically speaking, I’m going to go on a run this year. I don’t know when, but I’m prepping for a run and when I hit that stride, you’ll know.”

Billie Essco © 2021
Billie Essco © 2021

With nine albums under his belt and no doubt a tenth one on the way, Billie Essco has established himself as a mainstay of Buffalo’s growing music scene.

His music is full of depth, clarity, melody, and color; his lyrics are nuanced and thoughtful, pushing the boundaries and provoking listeners to think deeply about the topic at hand. In short, Essco’s music is so much more than meets the eye. It’s a full-on experience – a journey through the mind and soul.

A proud Buffalonian #BuffaloKid, Billie Essco is without a doubt an artist to watch – not to mention a pride of his own hometown. “Artistically I’m elevating my own lane of music,” Essco concludes. “I hope that people accept my take on my modern day sound, but still hear my growth. I’m Warhol and Basquiat in the 80s. My music ages not only with time, but with the underlying messages that can pertain to everyday life.”

— —

Billie Essco © 2021
Billie Essco © 2021



A CONVERSATION WITH BILLIE ESSCO

Esscargot - Billie Essco

Atwood Magazine: Hey Billie! First of all, it's a pleasure to connect with you. I recognize everyone's been experiencing this pandemic differently, so how have you been this past year?

Billie Essco: Hello and thank you for having me. This past year has been the weirdest but truest time I’ve lived through. As the world is increasingly going through turmoil, I’ve been in a very prosperous state mentally and artistically.

Who are some of your musical inspirations, and how have you strived to push rap and hip-hop forward over your artistic tenure?

Billie Essco: In music, I’m more inspired by objects or places rather than people but throughout my artistic development people like Pharrell, Curren$y and Kanye West have always been a big inspiration. Their approach to lifestyle outside of the culture of Hip Hop that influenced their music was what I grew attached to. Lyrically they mirrored what they articulated with the music.

Since you debuted in 2010, you've released music quite prolifically throughout the past decade. Esscargot aside (we'll talk about that later), do any of your nine records continue to resonate with you now in 2021?

Billie Essco: To be honest, all of them still do in some way. I was listening to The Chase the other day and I was shocked to see how well it sounded for something I recorded and mixed in my homie Jae Skeese bedroom back in 2010. On The B Word, the fashion brands I referenced are just now being worn by the masses and that record was made in 2012. I listen to certain songs and be like damn, when did I write this?

Billie Essco © 2021
Billie Essco © 2021

For those just discovering Billie Essco through this interview, what do you instantly want them to know about you and the music you make?

Billie Essco: I think the first thing people realize or will do, is that I’m from Buffalo, New York. We are prideful about that, and it’s very prevalent in my references and accent. When you hear my music, it’s from a place and perspective you’ve never heard. My voice makes my music easy to listen to and my writing style paints a picture of me even if you didn’t know what I looked like. That and you’ll hear 100 million references about fashion.

What are some of your proudest songs, and areas where you feel you've shined the brightest in your music?

Billie Essco: 327 with me, Gunn, Tyler and Joey is definitely number one in my book. It showed me that I can make songs with elitists. It showed me that I can stand on the same playing field with them but still have my own sound. It’s not really even because they are on it but how they got on it was the dope part. The vibe of the song is undeniable. I am blessed to have moments to look back on and smile. “PATTA” went the furthest and had the biggest impact. I was able to perform this song for years, especially writing it in 2016.

Can you talk about your experience in Buffalo, and how you've seen your local music scene change during your career?

Billie Essco: I’ve been privileged enough to be a pioneer of the whole #BuffaloKids movement and have been a part of the hip hop community since 2005. My mom used to own a community theater when I was younger and I had my first real stage show there at 15. The journey to make Buffalo’s hip-hop and arts overall respected within its own city has been a hassle turned triumph.

The scene has changed by making the culture more acceptable. Hip-hop has had a stigma because of the rep it had on the lifestyle of the industry; dress code and music. The talent here has become more exposed but still remains to be educational. We’re still learning.

I've loved diving into your catalog recently and experiencing the sheer breadth and range of your music. Can you talk about the succession of releasing CAFÉ, Summer's Over, and Aesthetic Raps back-to-back-to-back in such quick succession, and the inspiration that drove you during this time?

Billie Essco: It’s funny to me because I feel like I haven’t dropped as much music as other artists but my projects last a few years. CAFÉ marked the unveiling of the idea of my brand CAFÉ, and the music was supposed to follow. As I got deeper into the album, my life went through some turmoil and it spilled all into the music. I was super depressed at the time, so music was my only outlet to vent. That same summer I started working with a producer named Droyd; another local artist and acclaimed status as a producer. He had platinum records in K Pop and when we linked his sound challenged mines. That’s how Summer’s Over came about. Just being in the world, open and exploring. Aesthetic Raps was really supposed to be like two other projects but I got to a place of just wanting to make a point about my ability to rap. I felt like people were kind of sleeping on me, taking me lightly because of my demeanor.

During the same period, you've done more and more collaborations with indie and globally-renowned artists. What, if anything, have you learned about yourself from these collaborative experiences?

Billie Essco: I learned how gifted I am by interacting with others, how they view me and the things I bring to the table. It also teaches me to stick with my gut feeling and ideas to the end because some people won’t see the vision and some people recognize it before I do. I learned to trust my inner voice.

Stream: ‘Esscargot’ – Billie Essco

 



I was moved by Esscargot – an unapologetic record that highlights racism, freedom, injustice, and so much more. Can you share a little about the story behind this album?

Billie Essco: Esscargot was going to originally be “Aesthetic Raps 2.” My trip to Paris in 2020 changed everything. The project started out as new songs. Esscargot was like the appetizer. I’ve always wanted to go to Paris, so I felt like that set the mark for my celebratory arrival moment as an artist and creative. The realization of how far I’ve come, the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been, it was a full circle moment for me.

What was your vision going into this record? Did that change over the course of recording this?

Billie Essco: The record started out as loose songs I was working on in 2019 for Aesthetic Raps 2. After I went to Paris, I came back super inspired and then bam, COVID hit. So the music was sitting for about 2-3 months; and after Pray for Paris dropped, 327 started ringing off and I decided to finish the record. The political and social commentating undertones came from the energy in the air after George Floyd was murdered. I thought music was over and we were going to war. When I took that energy into the booth, it resonated more.

“No Dress Code” instantly struck me. Can you share more about how this song came about?

Billie Essco: No Dress Code is my mantra, the Billie Essco anthem. From the fashion, revolutionary side, social awareness; I think that represents who I am as a whole. The beat sounds very uptown and world wide. That’s the stand out song on the album. As soon as I heard the beat I immediately started writing. The skit was added later around the time of George Floyd’s death. It felt fitting to not only make it an anthem track, but to tie it into the social climate of the times.

I also love the intimacy of “Nebraska” - one of the things I'm coming to appreciate about your music is how up-close and personal you make every song, singing right into our ears and holding nothing in-between yourself and your audience. This song highlights that relationship with the mic; can you share more about it?

Billie Essco: I like the way you interpreted that. To me I write in two ways. One style is what I like to call “front off the brain” rapping which is very bar driven, quick, flashy to the point. And there’s  “back of the brain” rapping like Nebraska where I can’t even remember writing it or what space I was in but it captures a whole feeling.

Do you have any personal favorite songs off this album, and as a lyrically forward artist, do you have any favorite lyrics in these songs?

Billie Essco: I think Mike at the Eiffel because it was the last record recorded and I made the album complete in my opinion. My homie Wasabi is one of the hardest working and honest person I know. He worked through being out on his own, broke, depression and more and made art out of it all. I use that as daily motivation.

“Sometimes I sit back and think what would Sabi do/ probably roll another L and just work thru it/  we was raised by deacon and pastors but cant quote church music.”

What do you hope listeners take away from Esscargot? What have you taken away from creating it and now putting it out?

Billie Essco: That you can go from an unknown place like Buffalo and make it all the way to Paris where you make a profound impact. Also, artistically I’m elevating my own lane of music. I hope that people accept my take on my modern day sound but still hear my growth. I’m Warhol and Basquiat in the 80s. My music ages not only with time, but with the underlying messages that can pertain to everyday life.

Billie Essco: Pray for Me comes from a session of songs I recorded in October of 2020 on my first trip to Arizona. It felt good to put out something just to let people know new music is coming. It was like entering the shoot around before the game. Everything I was trying to do outside of art, wasn’t working. And a lot of people gravitated to me because of my art. Everyone used to tell me how great I was. But, I was the last one to realize it. “Pray For Me” is an oath to all of those people. Continue to pray for me, I got the rest.

What can we expect from Billie Essco in 2021?

Billie Essco: I would like to tap into a whole other zone. So that I can find a new aspect to make new music too. I need to start fresh and build on what I already have. A lot of new business endeavors that will take the music to another plateau. We recently opened up the Buffalo Kids store; so a lot of energy will be directed towards bringing the world to Buffalo. Musically speaking I’m going to go on a run this year. I don’t know when, but i’m prepping for a run and when I hit that stride, you’ll know.

Lastly, what artists local or otherwise are you listening to right now that you would recommend to our readers?

Billie Essco: Locally, it’s Ooze Gang (Skate and Gaines), Hitch Burney, Kane Wave and J Retro. Outside of the town, I just recently got put on to EST GEE and Larry June. I really like a lot of Detroit and Cali music.

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Pray for Me - Billie Essco

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📸 © 2021

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