|Birth name||Rashaam Attica Smith|
|Born||September 20, 1975|
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, USA|
|Labels||Reel Life, Psychopathic|
|Associated acts||Natas, Psychopathic Rydas, Soopa Villainz|
Rashaam Attica Smith, better known by his stage name Esham (East Side Hoes And Money), is an American rapper from Detroit, Michigan known for his hallucinogenic style of hip hop which he refers to as "acid rap", which fuses rock-based beats and lyrics involving subjects such as death, drug use, evil, paranoia and sex. Releasing his debut album, Boomin' Words from Hell while still in high school, Smith is considered to be one of the originators of horrorcore, rap rock and rap metal. Counting Boomin' Words from Hell, he has released twelve studio albums, six extended plays and three compilation albums. Smith co-founded the independent record label Reel Life Productions, and formed the group Natas with local rappers Mastamind and TNT. Smith has been cited as an influence on rappers such as Eminem and Insane Clown Posse.
Born Rashaam Attica Smith in Long Island, New York, Esham grew up splitting time between the Seven Mile neighborhood of East Detroit, where he lived with his mother, attending Osborn High School, and lived with his grandmother in New York during summers. He studied piano, guitar, and trombone in high school, and listened to artists such as Sugar Hill Gang, Run-DMC, Ozzy Osbourne and Kiss. Esham began to write original lyrics, and was encouraged by his older brother, James H. Smith, to seriously pursue a career in hip hop. According to Esham, "He felt like I had a dope flow, and he thought I could bring something new to the game, just coming from the city of Detroit. Back then, it wasn't really a [rap] music scene in Detroit. Everybody was just imitating what everybody else was doing."
At the age of 13, Smith released his debut album, Boomin' Words from Hell, in 1989. Of the album, Smith stated, "It was the crack era, [...] and that's where all that really came from. It was all an expression about ['70s-'80s drug cartel] Young Boys Incorporated, Mayor Coleman Young, the city we lived in and just the turmoil that our city was going through at the time. We referred to the streets of Detroit as 'Hell' on that record. So that's where my ideas came from." In 1990, Esham and James H. Smith founded the independent record label Reel Life Productions, which reissued his debut album with an alternate track listing and artwork. Esham found it difficult to develop a fanbase, because many wrote off the dark content of his lyrics and imagery as shock value, while hip hop fans did not connect to Esham's albums because of his heavy metal influences.
After releasing two EPs, Erotic Poetry and Homey Don't Play, Esham completed the double album Judgement Day, and its two volumes, Day and Night were released separately on April 9, 1992. Allmusic's Jason Birchmeier wrote that Judgement Day, Vol. 1 "may not be his most well-crafted work, but it certainly stands as his most inspired work of the '90s", while Vol. 2 "isn't quite as strong as the first volume, suffering mostly from a number of weak tracks [...] the first volume doesn't rely quite so much on cheap shock, instead focusing on evocative horror motifs, making Judgement Day, Vol. 2 the less important of the two."
As a student at Osborn High School, Esham met Mastamind, who gave him a three-song demo tape of his music, leading the two to form the group Natas with Esham's longtime friend, TNT. In 1992, Esham appeared on Carnival of Carnage, the debut album of Insane Clown Posse, released on October 18. He produced three tracks and rapped on the album's final track. In November, Natas released their debut album, Life After Death. In 1993, Esham released his third solo album, KKKill the Fetus. Jason Birchmeier wrote that "At this point in his career, his rapping has already reached near-peak levels, and his production shows a continued path towards an inventiveness. [...] Never again would Esham be so gritty."
On November 22, 1994, Esham released his fourth studio album, Closed Casket. Jason Birchmeier wrote that "most fans taking a chronological approach to his catalog should be fairly numb to Esham's exploitative shock attempts. Yet if this is one of your first experiences with Esham the Unholy, this album should pack a punch with its dark nature." In May 1996, Esham released his fifth studio album, Dead Flowerz. It peaked at #38 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
In 1999, Reel Life Productions became Overcore Records, and Esham signed a deal with TVT Records to distribute the label's output. In June 2001, Overcore released Kool Keith's Spankmaster album, which featured several contributions by Esham, as well as Smith's eighth album, Tongues, which peaked at #7 on the Top Independent Albums chart, #46 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and #195 on the Billboard 200. In August 2001, Esham and D12 were kicked off the Warped Tour after members of the group allegedly physically attacked Smith over the lyrics of his song "Chemical Imbalance," which contained a reference to the daughter of D12 member Eminem, who was not present during the tour.
In 2002, Esham signed to Psychopathic Records, releasing the compilation Acid Rain. It was announced that Esham would be moving away from the horror themes of his previous efforts. On November 18, 2003, Esham released his ninth studio album, Repentance. It peaked at #9 on the Top Heatseekers chart, #10 on the Top Independent Albums chart, and #71 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. Jason Birchmeier wrote that "Repentance is a small step forward for Esham. He seems very confident here, comfortable with himself as an artist [...] when he pulls everything together [...] he makes some of the best music of his long, fruitful, yet largely unacknowledged career." After the release of A-1 Yola, Esham left Psychopathic in 2005. The album peaked at #6 on the Top Heatseekers chart, #12 on the Top Independent Albums chart, #48 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and #176 on the Billboard 200.
On August 26, 2008, Smith released his eleventh studio album, Sacrificial Lambz. It peaked at #50 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart and at #42 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. In October, Smith started a petition to run for mayor of Detroit. Smith has stated "The jump to running for mayor is a pretty drastic change, but I just want to take a stance. If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything." On July 28, 2009, Smith released I Ain't Cha Homey, a follow-up to his 1991 EP Homey Don't Play. Following the release of the album, rumors surfaced that it was a diss towards Insane Clown Posse, which Smith later dispelled.
Esham refers to his performance style as "acid rap," comparing the lyrics to hallucinations induced by LSD. Esham's style has also been described as horrorcore hip hop, which "utilize[s] shocking (and blatantly over the top) narratives to give an over-exaggerated, almost cartoon-like version of urban deprivation in Detroit", according to author Sara Cohen. Smith's lyrics have focused on themes such as death, drug use, evil, paranoia and sex, and have included references to Satan. According to Smith:
"People were literally scared of my records. There have been so many rumors about me and my records. People got the first album, and they would just make up stories. They'd get into an accident and be like, 'I got into an accident because I was playing that tape.' It wasn't like we helped ourselves when we described what was in people's heads. It wasn't to shock people, though, but to get people involved in what we were doing. We had to get peoples' attention. [...] We said a lot of things that people wanted to say but didn't say. We talked about a lot of political and social [issues] that people didn't want to talk about."
Following accusations of Satanism, Smith decided that Closed Casket would be the last album to feature such themes, and that he would no longer rap about the Devil. According to Smith, "I've been able to entertain people for 20 years. I just try to uplift people now. The latest things I do, I'm trying to get a message out to people, while I'm entertaining them at the same time."
Acid rap has been described as a fusion of hip hop beats and death metal lyrics. Esham defined the genre as analogous to "'modern day blues [or] heavy metal'". Insane Clown Posse member Joseph Bruce has credited Esham as an influence on the group's work. In the lyrics of "Still Don't Give a Fuck" from the album The Slim Shady LP, Eminem refers to himself as "a cross between Manson, Esham and Ozzy". According to author Cheryl Lynette Keyes, Esham's "metal sound with a hip-hop feel" formed the musical basis for acts such as Kid Rock, Korn, Limp Bizkit, Everlast, and Kottonmouth Kings. Smith has stated that "A lot of people go into my extensive back catalog and redo my ideas, and think they're coming up with something new. I'm flattered by a lot of it. I used to get upset, but the older I get, I realize that we were on a higher plane than a lot of people."