Before the word “backpacker” became a derisive catchall for the lowest form of bottom-feeding underground rap nerds and conservative nostalgists, there was something close to a quiet dignity to the term. It didn’t denote softness or weirdness as much as it did otherness. In fact, boom bap headcrackers the Black Moon were among the first rappers to actually sport backpacks publicly. Odds have it that the men who wrote “Buck ‘Em Down” weren’t keeping VHS bootlegs of Doctor Who in their Jansports. Or at least not exclusively. Which is to say: they were toting guns. While fellow Brooklynite and present-day rising underground talent Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire may not necessarily be packing the same, he certainly talks shit like he does, and once again he gives the modern backpack archetype a spine to hang on.
Less a Christmas album than its title suggests — and than you might have had hoped — his just-released freebie collection Merry eX-Mas & Suck My Dick plays as a companion piece to Lost in Translation; it’s an odds and sods collection that places beat jacks, Tumblr-released freestyles and seemingly unfinished sketches alongside a handful of fully formed new songs. Translation was a similarly rough-around-the-edges affair, probably because eXquire is a similarly rough-around-the-edges rapper. He possesses the spirit of the best sort of dichotomous ’90s style cipher rat, a street character with a nerd’s mind. He’s the type of dude to drink two and a half forties and then chew your ear off about Nickelodeon’s Doug (sampled on eX-Mas) before quickly turning the conversation left towards plummeting emotional depths about girl troubles or the everyday struggle. (When we talked to him earlier this year he expressed his love of coloring books.)
But what separates him from most remaining modern NYC real hip hop purist contemporaries is his willingness to engage the past fifteen years of rap music. eX actually occupies a universe where Soulja Boy and Def Jux and everything in between did happen, but instead of choosing to ignore or actively repel these changes he absorbs very small fragments of them and he does so without ever completely altering his own instinctively true-school DNA.