Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire's Music Biz Misadventures

After a buzzy online hit, this Brooklyn rapper attracted major label attention — but at what cost? He's only now figuring out the answer

June 20, 2014 11:45 AM ET
 Mr. MFN eXquire
Mr. MFN eXquire
Jessica Lehrman

About a month ago, Brooklyn rapper Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire released a song online about signing with a major record label and then getting dropped, having accomplished exactly nothing. The song was called "I Ain't Even Fuck Rihanna," and the key line was, "My stupid ass sold his soul/and didn't even get the fame."

Exquire, real name Anthony Allison, was 25 when he released "Huzzah," the track he is best known for, a little over three years ago. "Huzzah" featured eXquire rapping about getting drunk on cheap liquor and having orgies, and earned him a crush of online hype. But instead of setting him up for long-term success, the track ended up turning him into something like a web-era one-hit wonder: an artist with a single big song that empowered him to ride the enthusiasm of bloggers to a short-lived deal with Universal Music Group that dissolved almost as quickly as it materialized.

New Faces of 2012: Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire

But eXquire is something else, too: an artist of color who, in becoming successful, found himself performing for predominantly white audiences who seemed to like him only for his raunch and recklessness, while appearing largely indifferent to everything else he felt he had to offer. And while eXquire has always had undeniable charisma and tends to be utterly convincing in his good-natured confidence, he has spent the past several years bumping up against the fact that magnetism alone is not enough to make someone a star in hip-hop. For better and for worse, he has come to the conclusion that his personality does not easily translate to any kind of marketable brand — at least not one with which he's comfortable.

"I'd be onstage and I'd feel like a parody," eXquire said recently, recalling one show in particular, at PS1-MoMA, that left him on the brink of tears. "I think I went through my Dave Chappelle moment, where I was like, 'I don't know if they're laughing with me or they're laughing at me. Like, I'm up here trying to say some shit! But people just wrote me off as a novelty."

Dave Chappelle's Rise From Rick James to Radio City: A Timeline

Raised in a public housing apartment in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, eXquire was a nerdy kid who spent his time watching movies and reading comic books instead of getting into drug dealing and robbery the way a bunch of his friends did. After dropping out of high school in 10th grade, he set out to try and make it as a rapper, but was told by A&R people that he was too cerebral to become a hit at a time when mainstream hip-hop was dominated by the grittier likes of 50 Cent. After briefly quitting music in frustration, eXquire caught a second wind, and in the spring of 2011, "Huzzah" came out and got him noticed.

That fall, a remix version of "Huzzah" that included guest verses by underground rap favorites El-P, Danny Brown, Das Racist and Despot, was made into a memorable black-and-white video that became an online sensation. (It has racked up 1.3 million views to date, and is still remembered by many as the best posse cut of 2011.)

Watching the video, you got the sense that eXquire, who appears shirtless holding a spear and wearing heavy gold chains, was truly a wild and menacing guy. For most of the video, he's sitting around with a snarly look on his face while a pair of women dance on either side of him with their butts level with his head and turned toward the camera. The song opens with eXquire proclaiming, "Drunk driving on a Wednesday/with three bitches in an M.P.V./Half a gallon of Georgi Peorgi/with cranberry, that's the P.O.P." 

Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire's First Photo Shoot

The song and the video conjured images of a thrillingly unstable life, lived defiantly, and introduced eXquire to the world as a kind of lewd, nihilistic deviant.

His debut mixtape, Lost in Translation, which was released with the help of the streetwear clothing brand Mishka, furthered that impression: one of the skits on the tape consisted of an audio recording eXquire had made while receiving oral sex, and the cover art showed a woman staring at the camera with a skeptical expression while drinking from a 40-oz beer bottle, her hand stuffed under her dress. These antics earned eXquire comparisons to the infamously unpredictable Wu-Tang icon Ol' Dirty Bastard, who died from an overdose in 2004; in a profile in the Village Voice, a reporter quoted eXquire talking about "pissing between cars on the C train at Euclid," and suggested it was "hard not to imagine a pre-fame [ODB] relieving himself with similar abandon."

And yet there was more than lasciviousness on Lost in Translation. The best song on the mixtape, aside from "Huzzah," was a quiet piece of detailed storytelling, "I Should Be Sleeping," about eXquire as a little kid trying to sneak out of his room at night to grab a bag of chips without his mom hearing him. "Tippy-toe-ing to the kitchen, PJs on with the feets on/so when I walk it's like chikka-chikka-chikka," he raps. "Twist the doorknob slow so she don’t hear the clickin’/And peek into her room to make sure she ain’t listenin.'"  At the end of the story it turns out his mom is still up, doing dishes, but instead of getting mad at little Anthony she gives him milk and cookies. The track proved, or should have, that eXquire was capable of more than just over-the-top profanity.

It was a few months after Lost in Translation came out that eXquire was approached by Republic, a division of Universal, about making an album. Without thinking much about it, he signed a contract in January 2012. With the exception of an EP, Power & Passion, so mediocre that even he now calls it "disgusting," that was the last anyone heard from eXquire for a while.

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