Silver Age Soundtrack: Esoteric Talks Comics-Inspired Album

MC Esoteric Talks Comics- Inspired Album

Cover to MC Esoteric's concept album 'Serve or Suffer'
Cover to MC Esoteric's concept album 'Serve or Suffer'
Cover to MC Esoteric's concept album 'Serve or Suffer'

Comics are a medium that grew from the urbane. A composite art form that mish-mashed varied skill sets, it spawned from the streets of New York City, and created its own forum to give voice to an underrepresented people. It is among the few uniquely American art forms.

If these qualities seem familiar, it is because they are qualities shared with another popular commercial art form; hip-hop. Boston- based rapper MC Esoteric, of Pterolab and 7L and Esoteric, explored the middle ground of these two arts with his Jack Kirby-inspired album, Serve or Suffer. There is no rapping on the album, instead Esoteric has sampled from classic comics cartoons and multimedia offerings and laid them to the backbeats that create an unofficial soundtrack to the Silver age of comics.

With tracks like Galactus Trilogy, Steve Rogers, and Hal Jordan sure to pique comic readers' interest, we caught up with the rapper/ producer, to talk about his love of comic books, his influences, and his thoughts on comics in other media.

Newsarama: So first things first, what's your background in comics? Are you a current guy, did you mostly just follow when you were younger on TV or whatever, what's up?

MC Esoteric: I'd say the latter most definitely. I grew up on Mego action figures, then Secret Wars and Super Powers figures. Dr. Doom and the Doomroller, Spidey in the black costume, Wolvie with the removable claws. All of these factored heavily into my childhood. These all went hand and hand with the comic books and the various animated superheroes on TV.

I have vivid memories of the early Spiderman cartoons and the Superfriends series. I was big on the flagship Marvel characters like Iron Man, Cap, Silver Surfer, Galactus, and some of the unsung characters like Rom, Vigilante, and Moon Knight. I grew up on Amazing Spider-Man, and really got into the "new" X-Men, issues in the high 90's if I remember correctly.

I think it started with issue #94 and went into the 100's. I mean, people point out that my dog is named Logan and my 5 month old son is named Xavier so I never shun the X-Men influence. That's not entirely where their names come from, but it works for this interview!

So, to answer your question, I wish I could get into the newer comics and storylines, but there is only so much time in the day and there is a lot of stuff out there. I'm an old school guy.

NRAMA: Your new album, Serve or Suffer, sports a mean Silver Surfer cover, and your tracks are rife with comics' samples and titles like Galactus Trilogy, Steve Rogers, and Hal Jordan . There are also no vocal tracks really, beyond the sampling. Is this a concept album?

Eso: Yeah, it was actually originally titled "King Kirby" and was intended to be an homage to Jack Kirby's incredible artwork and creations through the years. I sampled his voice on the CD [for the Galactus Trilogy track], but I realized that most of the other samples were from cartoons that were illustrated by other artists so it didn't make a lot of sense to throw it all on Jack Kirby. Some of the characters were his creations, but the source material I used came from elsewhere. His art is stained on my brain though.

NRAMA: Hip-hop and comics are both sort of bastardized mediums, do you see similarities in their styles or philosophies?

Eso: Like most industries, both art forms attract two types: creative people and business-minded people. There will always be people that are nostalgic and wanting to stay true to the core of the art and people that want to pimp it out and make a million off of it. That is just a reality and the two sides have to work together to keep the fans and themselves happy.

NRAMA: Getting into Serve or Suffer itself, where did you get your samples from? They're pretty clearly Silver Age Marvel stories, but were they cartoons, or audiobooks?

Eso: A lot of the samples were culled from early Captain America, Spider-Man, and FF cartoons, like the ones from the mid to late 60's, and early Flash cartoons or Superfriends cartoons. It is amazing how many cartoons they made back then...I am sampling Hawkeye's voice and Green Arrow's voice and all these heroes that never got the attention they deserved. Even Henry Pym got on a track I think! Other samples I used come from the Power records 45rpm series, live action series, and other storybooks and audiobooks that use the characters as educational tools. DC and Marvel were not safe from me. I went to town on whatever they released back then. I collect that stuff....they all come from the 70's and 80's....I hadn't had much experience with anything creeping into the 90's and beyond.

NRAMA: What was your strategy in finding the backbeats that really pushed the "comic book" buttons, that matched the melodrama of your samples (if that makes sense)?

Eso: That's just the stuff that I love- that gritty, tension-riddled, dramatic, thematic sound that came from a lot of heroic moments and daring escapes in the comic book kingdom. The music comes from a lot of those scenes so they work well together know what I mean?

NRAMA: I do, and it comes through. Your "Steve Rogers" track is particularly catchy [to listen to the clip, click here for the YouTube video - ed]. Do you have any opinions on the still-relevant Death of Captain America hoopla, or the new Captain America? Or the recent direction of Green Lantern, who themes your other alter-ego based track, Hal Jordan?

Eso: With the Steve Rogers track, those loops are taken from Captain America's original theme, and also the theme from the 70's live action TV movie where he is wearing the blue helmet. I had to do it! That's been bouncing around in my head for the past 25 years! I know they killed the character off, and I'm not a fan of that at all, but again, I'm pretty ignorant to the newer storylines, so perhaps he was being a prick. And I'm not sure what direction Green Lantern is going in these days, I just remember him when he was blasting that emerald light from his ring and kicking ass.

NRAMA: I think if you checked in on both those characters, in particular, you'd be pleasantly surprised. But the record does convey a strong Silver-age fan sensibility. Even the 1989 track hints at a sense of nostalgia, is nostalgia a part of what you were going for with this sound?

Eso: Yeah I guess, but that is what our sound has always been really. I put out a joint a few years back called General Zod and the video has a bunch of vintage figures in it. You know, I'm nostalgic, and I guess the only way to say it is, the more I see today the more I like yesterday. The joint 1989 is more hip-hop oriented than superhero oriented, but yes it touches on the late 80's and how powerful I felt then.

NRAMA: I've got to say, Basement B/W Comics, has become my personal amp-up music for my weekly trip to the comic book store. Where did that Motown-y "comic-book crazy" sample come from?

Eso: [Laughs] That's great to hear, glad you dig it! The original song is from "Little Sammy Yates" and it is called "Comic Book Crazy."

NRAMA: Well that makes sense, I suppose. I think you've really made something that audibly captures something about the visual comic book, which seems illogical if not impossible. You've got the podium to fan-nation, you might as well chip in; have you seen The Watchmen , and do you have any thoughts?

Eso: Thanks a lot man. I loved The Watchmen movie and thought it stayed pretty damn consistent with original story if I remember correctly. As far as ranking hero movies go, I liked the two new Batmans, the 3 Spider-mans, Iron Man, the old school Superman 1 & 2, and this. The two Fantastic Four movies were tough to swallow but seeing Silver Surfer captured was cool, the Ghost Rider, Hulk, and Daredevil ones sucked, although the last Hulk was better than the other one. I see them all on the day they come out, I just have to. I'm looking forward to the Avengers movie, and even the Thor one.

MC Esoteric's comic-inspired Serve or Suffer is available via iTunes, and the musician can be found at http://www.esoterichiphop.com, http://www.myspace.com/7lesoteric and www.youtube.com/pterolab. You should listen to Basement B/W Comics next time you're headed to your LCS and decide for yourself.

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