Comedian Hannibal Buress is Eshu Tune, but Eshu Tune is not a comedian.
It’s a distinction Buress has made clear since premiering his new rap moniker (which is inspired by the Yoruba deity Eshu, a benevolent spirit also known to be a trickster) back in 2021. After the pandemic shuttered most comedic opportunities for the Broad City actor, he started to work on his music with much more intensity and ultimately ended up leaving comedy behind for the time being. Now, as he talks with me backstage before a show at SOB’s in New York City, he’s starting to reap the spoils of his hard-won transition these past three years.
“I realized I just didn’t want to do it,” he tells HipHopDX. “I didn’t want to do it on the front level anymore, like going to a showcase that doesn’t pay anything. Yeah, that was kinda done. Even while I had been doing theaters, I still had to pop into a set and do a show for no money, $20, or whatever.”
But Buress wasn’t as done with the grind as he thought, or at least Eshu Tune wasn’t. With rap becoming a front-and-center passion, and the world opening back up, Buress began hitting low-paying events in a different way to showcase his bars. In the years since, Eshu has hit the stage with Black Thought and opened up for Little Brother.
“I’ll do something for not great money, or an open mic or whatever because that’s where the energy is,” he said. “So I’ll follow that energy.”
HHDX: How have you felt getting on stage as a rapper versus getting on stage as a comedian?
HB: Excited more than anything. The crowd helps, I got a dope band, so as long as you don’t take a shit on the stage you should be fine. The crowds themselves don’t make me nervous, but the situations, like not being prepped or not knowing what the sound is at that type of venue, that’s made me nervous.
How do you find that rap crowd energies are different than that of a comedy crowd?
I did a show opening for Little Brother in Santa Ana at the Observatory and it was cool to step out like that and really feel like you had to do your shit. One thing I like about it, especially at this part of my career, is people don’t really know my records yet. So I have to rap. I have to really be able to rap well, and there’s no space for me to do a call and response or anything like that.
Do you enjoy the pressure that comes with that?
Yeah! It forces you to really do it well. To really work on it so that in a year or so when that music has been circulated, the chops are already there. So it’s fun. It’s been a fun time.
I know you’ve been rapping for a while, but was there an inciting incident at all that convinced you now was the time to really take rap seriously?
It was really just the pandemic, and even that, it’s different levels. Like I had already been dabbling and making songs around 2018, 2019 even before that. And in the pandemic, I had just really locked into the studio. Then in 2021, I was still working on stuff but I had to figure out how to go out into the world with it.
Tell me about the song “Lamp Me.” What does it mean to Lamp, someone?
We just put out that song for fun after making it in 12 hours, and I had posted an old video for a song I scrapped called “Cheers” and then for some reason somebody was like ‘I should lamp you for this!’ Turns out it’s slang for punch. So I wrote a diss song and honestly just found a free beat on YouTube. Made the song real quick, shot a video, and then put it out.
How do you toe the line between rap and comedy? I know you’ve said in the past you don’t wanna be known as a comedic rapper.
I don’t care about the labels at this point. I just make music I enjoy and that’s around me and others also enjoy. I’m just being excited. I don’t care about being labeled by it because you can’t control that. I can’t live in that. I can only live in just making what I think is dope and perform it.
“I Lift Weights” is a very silly song, but you’re also going really hard.
“Weights” was just a fun thing. We recorded the initial track and I was kinda like, ‘I don’t even know if I should put this out. I don’t know if this is an Eshu song. Is this a whole different character?’ I’m the first to say that I sort of channeled DMX in that, but I don’t plan on recording an album in that tone. But that’s also why I like it cause the record is like a time capsule for that day we made it. It was dope.
So what is the tone of the album going to be?
The album is, as it is now, it’s very grounded. I’m liking the production of it, I’m liking the sound of it right now.
Just to close this interview out, I’m curious about who’s on your Mount Rushmore of rappers.
I kinda wanna say a troll answer just so people can talk about it. Slim Jesus, 22 Savage, and Phonte.
*laughs* Ok so I mean Nas is definitely up there, like right at this level now. Black Thought is up there, Lupe Fiasco. Ok, honestly Phonte is really great at making this shit sound easy. He’s got real-life raps. You should go home and listen to Phonte.