For rappers Esham Smith and Insane Clown Posse’s Violent J, touring is like grabbing an old friend and hitting the road.
The two perform at Mesa’s Club Red on Friday, January 11.
“We’ve known each other for 20-something years,” Smith says. “At our show, we’re going to take you back to the sandbox, so to speak. We’re old friends sharing a journey. These shows are like we’re 16 and 17 again.”
Smith is known for his hallucinogenic style of hip-hop that he calls “acid rap.” He released his debut album, Boomin’ Words from Hell, while still in high school in 1989 in Detroit. Since then, he has released more than a dozen albums, classified as horrorcore, rap-rock and rap metal. He co-founded the independent record label Reel Life Productions, and has been cited as an influence on rappers Eminem and Insane Clown Posse.
These days, Smith isn’t taking himself as seriously. He would prefer to release music that’s fun—at least to him.
“I love to get in the studio and create new things,” he says. “I have a new single called ‘Ugly’ and we’re having fun with it, basically. I’m back to having fun.
“I make fun of myself and call myself ugly. I’m trying to lighten the situation or air in America. Everybody’s so uptight. It’s more or less like a punchline or a joke. Everybody’s too sensitive nowadays.”
To promote it, he headed to social media to ask fans to tag their ugliest friend.
“It’s all in good fun,” he says. “It’s just an interactive deal to get people involved, to get people to come out of their shells a little bit. I want to get it back to where people can take a joke.”
Smith says “Ugly” fits in his catalog perfectly, but he’s quick to add he’s not trying to recreate music that’s already there.
“‘Ugly’ is just a piece of the puzzle,” he says. “It’s a constant work of art. It’s a kinetic thing. It’s another piece of the puzzle that gives you this picture I’m painting Picasso style.”
Music comes easily to Smith, someone who’s been considered one of the most prolific rappers. Life inspires him.
“Everything inspires me—the good and bad things,” he says. “The wicked (stuff) comes from real life. The stories I hear are some of the wickedest things ever. The news and all this crazy stuff, with people acting so crazy and wicked, is inspiring. I don’t think I’ll ever run out of material. Life is forever.”
Female rappers like Tina Snow and City Girls are interesting to him as well.
“2018 was the year of the female, in general,” Smith adds. “I’ve been listening to a lot of underground female artists and the ones everybody likes, of course. I keep my ears to the streets to find the next up and coming artists.”
In the meantime, he’s hanging out with Violent J.
“It reminds me of old times and old feelings of yesterday,” he says. “It almost reminds me of why we go to doing this in the first place. “We weren’t making money. We were just doing it to have fun.
“Getting back out there and touring with Violent J brought me back to that spirit of having fun. The people can hear that in the music. It allows them to have an escape, too.”
Esham and Violent J, Club Red, 1306 W. University Drive, Mesa, clubredrocks.com, 8 p.m. Friday, January 11, $20.