In 10 minutes of music that’s as fresh and energizing as the album’s central symbol, Spokane hip-hop artist Jango explores themes of togetherness, isolation and pride versus fear in his latest release, “Espresso and Shine.”
Navigating dizzy and deep soundscapes sculpted by executive producer Benn Suede, Jango (born Elijah Kilborn) muses about the madness of 2020 over psychedelic interpretations of modern hip hop.
“I think a lot of people have a preconceived notion of what hip hop is, and for me, I wanted to be able to go against that grain, go against that preconceived notion,” said Jango, whose latest release marks his first album since 2016’s “Alone by Choice.”
“I wanted to give you the bold, strong version of myself, but also wanted to share my insecurities and some of the things that scare me or some of the things that I struggle with,” Jango said of “Espresso and Shine.”
“I’m proud to be Black, but I’m also frightened. … At the same time, I’m talking like, yo, Black excellence, I’m also looking around my back like, ‘Man, who’s taking that message and is now looking at me as a target?’ ”
It’s that fine line between finding strength in identity and acknowledging revitalized divisions that influenced much of the release’s subject material, in addition to assessing interpersonal relationships and trying to make sense of a year and a virus that’s left sense in short supply.
That hopelessness is best heard in “Moonshine,” in which wailing guitars and walls of woozy synthesizers lay the perfect groundwork for Jango to confess concerns and plead into powerlessness.
“I think we made eight different productions trying to create a song that would really fit the mood and the feelings that I wanted to give out to the people. The reason that it was so hard is because it was hard to translate this dark, moody energy,” Jango said.
“I wanted to come off hopeless, and so with the production, like when you hear that guitar during ‘I fall to the darkness,’ it almost sounds like it’s crying. The production, it’s giving its own emotion, and it’s complementing what I’m saying.
“A lot of the productions that we worked on before, it was either it wasn’t sad enough, it didn’t feel meaningful enough, it wasn’t impactful enough. We really went through some crazy ropes to create that song. … To this day, it’s one of my favorite songs as far as what I’ve released.”
Originally written under a different name and without the metaphorical nuance of the final product, “Espresso” evolved into a song that’s as much an unrepentant assertion of identity as a tell-off to discriminating powers at play today.
“I wanted to write from my perspective, being from someone in Spokane, being a minority and having to deal with so much misunderstanding of who I am and what my culture is. … There’s a lot of subtle, little racist remarks and tendencies that people have that I’ve had to deal with, so I was very on-the-nose with ‘Espresso’ when I first wrote the song,” Jango said.
“I had my first listening party, everyone’s listening to it, and they’re, like, ‘Jango, I love this song, I love your approach, the flow is crazy, but you’re pretty direct, and we’re not sure if the city is going to receive your message in a positive way just because of how direct you are.’ I ended up rewriting that track, and when I rewrote it, I was still pretty direct.
“After that, me and Benn, I don’t know what it was, I think he was just like, ‘Maybe if I give him this little key here, he’ll dive in and really get how we should approach this.’ It was so weird, we ended up watching this Halloween movie, and we’re seeing someone drink coffee, and he was, like, ‘Oh, espresso.” Then I said, ‘Black bean under pressure, that’s espresso.’ He was like, ‘That’s money. That was something we needed.’
“I was like, ‘Dang, what if I utilized espresso or the black coffee bean as a metaphor for Black excellence?’ Espresso being that root, that beginning, then we fine grind it into something that’s the coffee that people consume.
“Then from there, people will dilute it with their creamers, they’ll dilute it with their sugar, but usually not too many people just drink straight black coffee espresso. Not too many people consume our culture in its entirety, like most people will borrow but not know the culture behind it or the story behind it.”
The detached delivery in “Anyways” demonstrates an equal amount of contempt for hangers-on and a desire for relationships that just aren’t what they used to be.
“We were creating songs for another feature on a future project, and we had created five demos, and ‘Anyways’ happened to be one of those demos,” Jango said. “The artist that we were working with chose a different track, so we ended up just putting all of those songs in the vault.
“It was weird because the hook, ‘Anyways,’ it kept hitting my ear, and I would walk around, and I would talk to people, and they would say it. So, I was like, ‘Wow, that feels so catchy.’ And my manager, she was obsessed with it. She was like, ‘If you don’t put this on a project, we are going to fight.’ There was a lot of personal struggle that I was dealing with that I expose in that first verse of the song.
“It really put me in a vulnerable place. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to share that, but I’m grateful that I did because it’s such a relief. All of the songs, honestly, are more like a therapy session with myself. I listen to them like, ‘Wow, I shared that with the world. The people know who I am.’ It feels great to just be able to say it out loud like, ‘This is me and what I’m about.’ ”
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