At the start of the video for Esoteric's track with Stu Bangas "Wonder Why," we see a little boy admiring comic books and enjoying a slice of pizza. The next visual is of Esoteric himself doing the same actions. At first glance, the video looks like a past clip (it even has a whole "Instagram filter" feel to the visuals) in the life of the emcee. However, it's actually his son Xavier, and the two walk along the beach with their dog Logan. It's clear that the man who dropped off last year's most amazing albeit slept-on project CZARFACE (with longtime friend/collaborator 7L and the Wu's Inspectah Deck) is in a new head space. He even acknowledges it in his interview, as he spends more time discussing Xavier's response to the music than even his own. That brings a whole new level of inspiration for Esoteric, since he has an even greater audience now to impress: his own flesh and blood. While he discusses the concept behind "Wonder Why," he talks about how little Xavier perceived the character Czarface, how he aimed to create a real-life superhero for his seed, and casually alludes to how the next Army Of The Pharaohs album will "mess our heads up." Could we expect anything less?
Did you and director Pio Dibenedetto work together on the video concept?
We did, yes. My idea for the video was just to showcase an average day in the life of what I do with my son Xavier: we'll take the dog out in the morning and let him go nuts, go grab some lunch somewhere, check out a comic book shop, and then get our haircut. Just spending some time together as father and son. The way it is painted out and shot by Pio captures that, but in a different timeline, which I think works too. When I'm solo I'm a little more experimental, in the sense that I'll occasionally drift from the constant barrage of wordplay and punchlines that kids expect from me. And I wanted to throw a curveball like that on Machete Mode, so when Stu sent the beat over, I knew it was a good opportunity to touch on something different, and then make a video for it.
How was it working with your son in the video?
I think it was WC Fields who said never work with dogs or kids. I decided to work with both on the same shoot. He really had no interest in it at all, which I kind of foresaw, but the combination of him and Logan [the dog] really gave me a lot to look after. The shoot was literally me, Pio, my son and my dog. No handlers or anything like that. At the end of the day, Xavier hit me up for a Darth Maul figure at the comic book shop that we used in the video [Harrison's in Salem, MA] The problem was I agreed to buy it, but I forgot we were in a vintage comic shop, so the figure cost $45, and even more upsetting: Darth Maul is not even an OG Star Wars character. So by my standards he isn't even vintage. The dude came out in like '99, and he's $45? I think he's in pieces under the couch right now.
You mention in the song that he's showing interest in rhyming. What is one bit of advice you plan on giving him with regard to Hip Hop?
He's only five and isn't familiar with the garbage that comes along with Hip Hop yet so I don't know how to answer that. I will say he likes Hip Hop a lot, he's exposed to a lot of the beats. I remember the other day we were listening to the Star Wars music on a CD, and it was all John Williams, you know, classical, and he told me that it wasn't music. I asked why. He said, "because it didn't have drums in it." That floored me. For a second, I saw the reversal of that old "Hip Hop isn't music" thing with him If he hears something that ISN'T Hip Hop, or something you can nod your head to, he thinks it isn't music. Anyway, it is way too early to tell what he'll be into when he's older, but he freestyles about Doctor Doom and Green Goblin and has his own little rappy-songs every now and then. He also gets to hear all the new beats for my projects before anybody else.
You also mention your son changed your outlook on life. How so?
Everybody that has a kid goes around for the first year or two saying "having a kid just changes your perspective on everything." I hear that 1,000 times from different people, and yes I say it myself, but you can keep a similar perspective on life, you just have to balance it and adjust priorities. Being there for him is my number one priority, over Hip Hop, touring, or any of that. When I created this CZARFACE character I was doing two things at once: giving my son his own personal superhero (kind of like Jack Flack in the Cloak & Dagger movie), complete with an action figure, and doing what I love: making a record with my best friend 7L, and a Wu-Tang legend. It is funny, because Xavier thinks this "Czarface" guy can be found at Toys R Us and stuff. Occasionally he asks about a Czarface cartoon…maybe one day we'll get that done. That was my plan with that album: to keep him entertained and keep myself entertained. Xavier even got his voice on the DJ Premier record on the album. One day he'll look back at it and say "damn my dad was out of his mind" or maybe he'll appreciate it somehow. Here he is in the little Czarface mini commercial I shot, showing the whole thing was very real to him. I don't know, I'm just learning. I don't really have a blueprint on how to raise a kid, I'm just kind of freestyling the whole thing and luckily my wife can reel us back in if we go too far. I like being there for him. He wakes up in the morning and tells me about the dreams he had that night. That's a highlight for me. This morning he told me about a mechanical dinosaur park that he was able to pick up and turn into a monster truck. The way the five year old mind works is an amazing thing. See, I'm on HipHopDX right now, I should be talking about Machete Mode or how the new AOTP [Army Of The Pharaohs] album that is gonna mess your heads up, but I'm going on and on about my son. That is the effect your kids have on you.
Would you consider this your most personal video to date? Do you plan to do more like this?
Yeah, well a little before video blogs became big in Hip Hop, I was doing one called "Pterovision" where I'd show listeners where my head is really at. I think those were somewhat personal, but also comical because I'd be giving my dog a bath and doing weird shit like that. I stopped doing them when I felt like it was "work" to make them. They were a lot of fun to make, but once I started having to think about "being funny" it just seemed unnatural. But for this "Wonder Why" video, yes it is personal, and I'd love to do more like it in the future. On a bigger scale with a bigger budget….and perhaps hypnotize my son and dog for them.