Chico rapper Esquire Ali throws annual October party
Schwog is everywhere.
It’s at the 1078 Gallery on Friday, Oct. 28, with Schwogtoberfest, a night of live Nor Cal hip-hop featuring underground MCs from Chico and the Bay Area and headlined and organized by rapper Esquire Ali—who is @schwog on Istagram/Twitter, SchwogTV on YouTube—to mark the occasion of the release of his new album, Schwogtober 4. In fact, every October that he’s lived in Chico, the 22-year-old anthropology/graphic design major has dropped a new release called, you guessed it, Schwogtober (with numbers 1, 2 and 3 preceding his latest).
So, what the hell is Schwog?”
“You ever went to the pool, and when you jumped in, it was Jell-O? … Have you ever looked in a telescope and seen yourself? That’s what that Schwog is about.”
That’s the “answer” I found at least while searching around online, landing on a promisingly titled YouTube video called “What is Schwog?” featuring a very chill Ali, blunt in hand, joking with fellow MC/producer White Django.
It wasn’t until I recently tracked down Ali by phone that I found out that the word is an acronym for what turns out to be the rapper’s personal motto: Souly Creating Happiness Without Oppressing God.
“It was given to me. It was something that was murmured from the intangible,” Ali said when I asked about its origins. “It’s something that was just pumped through me from the intangible to the tangible.”
That sort of metaphysical answer and the surreal pondering in the video before it are clues to Ali’s rap-meets-psychedelia style. His is a wide-open approach that incorporates varying musical styles (rap, plus several electronic genres) and vocals/lyrics that range from the typically fast and complex wordplay of underground rap to crowd-pumping party jams—often all in the same song (hear: “Bounce,” the fun and appropriately bouncy collaboration with producer Worldcoast from Schwogtoberfest 2).
And Ali has been exploring all of it over the past four years via a prolific outpouring of recordings. In addition to the four Schwogtobers, as well as several other collaborations and guest spots, the busy rapper has found time to record a couple more solo albums, 2014’s Esoteric and, earlier this year, Reality Distortion Field, a trippy, 26-minute-long concept album with producer KJ Dramatic.
But where Ali really gets to put the “creating happiness” part of his credo to work is in the live setting. Despite there not being a lot of outlets for live rap in Chico (especially since LaSalles closed its doors last year), Ali and his cohorts have worked their way into opening sets for visiting rap acts like Andre Nikatina and Coolio, college parties and all-ages highly energized productions that they’ve put on at the 1078 Gallery under the umbrella of a loosely organized group of local hip-hop and rock artists called the Vibe Tribe Art Collective.
“To embody being an MC, to embody the hip-hop culture is to come with it,” Ali said of his approach to putting on a show. “I pride myself on being very specific in how I present it. It’s the intangible things that aren’t spoken that will take things from, ‘That shit’s tight,’ to ‘I really want to know what’s going on with you.’ I just really want to connect. … There’s so much disconnection.”
Schwogtober 4—which won’t be officially released until Oct. 31 (at sound cloud.com/esquireali and other online/streaming outlets)—marks an evolution in Ali’s music, as the MC recorded the album himself, taking on the production as well as vocal duties.
“If I wasn’t making music, I don’t know what I would do,” Ali said. “I have an existential job to do.”
And once he graduates from Chico, the Bay Area native says he’ll move back home to continue his work, building on a foundation of shows he played in the area this past summer.
“That’s where it’s at,” he said. “There’s immense culture that is poppin’ off. It’s hoppin’. There’s so many kids there. … I just gotta catch that wave.”