With nearly a decade of albums in his wake, Bostonian emcee Esh is back from the lab with his newest solo offering, “Darwin’s Frankenstein”, and it is indeed a new breed of monster. A culmination of the evolutions of both his art and life, the new record is a testament to artistic progression and becoming comfortable in one’s own skin; he’s never sounded more natural on the mic. On his previous release, 2016’s collaboration with The Arcitype, “Death Doesn’t Want You”, Esh chronicled a thirty-something’s arc of finally saying ‘yes’ to life after years of debauchery and depression. But while that record was about the journey to a newfound maturity, the new one finds our protagonist coolly confident of who he is and the music he makes from the opening track onward.
It can take a lifetime for an artist to find their “voice,” to earnestly present their authentic self, especially in the hip-hop realm, where braggadocio and exaggerated imagery are the norm. On “Darwin’s Frankenstein”, Esh has fully removed the mask; gone are ‘oh shit’ punchlines and sensational proclamations inherent to the style. It’s not that he’s lost his sense of humor or stayed safe with subject matter, but rather he uses each line to enrich the song and greater oeuvre of the album with precision and poise. Esh isn’t going for provocative ‘gotcha’ moments, but instead crafting a larger landscape of an artist’s plight in a digitally deluded society. He eschews soapboxing, offering observations of the grey areas in life and an acceptance of what matters most.
Without coming off as too serious or critical, “Darwin’s Frankenstein” is a study on the human condition in 2017, where the smartphone screen is the new nicotine, celebrities are deified, and societal injustices run rampant as technology and social networking encourage the individual to retract from the real world in a pit of isolation triple-filtered to obscure the reality. It’s a thoughtful and positive rejection of a culture that values fame over talent, conformity over individuality, and apathetic, tacit approval over passionate dissent.
After blowing a sarcastic kiss goodbye to the “Important Boy” mentality of underground hip-hop culture early in the album, Esh deconstructs the aforementioned themes and more throughout the LP’s concisely crafted 10 tracks. Our culture’s lack of a sense of mystery and imagination—the stargazer’s longing, if you will—pops up frequently as he looks within (“I would trade my solutions for a mystery / If I could understand my affinity for misery”) and at the bigger picture (“Primate fashioning a weapon out of bone / Then together built a wall just to quiet the unknown / Found a way to fit a universe inside a phone / The more we felt connected, the more we felt alone”). However, rather than bemoan all that is wrong, the album culminates in a comfortable acceptance of what we cannot change in the world (“It is what it is and it isn’t what it isn’t / Different or the same, it’s all the same difference”) and ourselves, the latter of which is exhibited perfectly in the album closer, where he lists all of his faults to his lover en masse, completely OK with them “because I’ve got you.” “Darwin’s Frankenstein” is a reminder that those “thinking that the pics are worth more than the experience” should drop the mirage and instead revel in who they really are, imperfections and all.