One year ago today, DJ Esco touched down in Dubai where he was greeted by scrupulous airport security guards who found what Esco would later describe as a “fairy dust particle” of weed in his backpack. From there, what was supposed to be a lavish weekend turned into an an unexpectedly long—and life changing—stay.
While Future and the rest of their travel companions proceeded on to a fancy appearance in Abu Dhabi, Esco found himself being hauled off to a local prison on charges of marijuana possession. He would go on to spend56 days and nights in that prison, interned alongside petty thefts, former Taliban generals, and people from countries he had never heard of before. He learned little bits of Arabic, made friends that he still occasionally speaks with on WhatsApp, and readied himself for a big return.
During a reason visit to New York, DJ Esco explained to The FADER that, “I came back with a plan to be the greatest, at all costs.” Below, he speaks about how that’s working out.
Where was your head when you first touched down after those 56 nights in Dubai prison
I came back with a plan to be the greatest I can be, at all costs. I’m a really talented person, and when I got out, I wanted people to feel how gifted I am. No one’s going to be able to hide me no more—not only was I only an afterthought, now I’m actually in a prison, in a hole where I’m the only person in the world from this side of the hemisphere where no one can help me but me. I have to look myself in the mirror and realize what I’m made of. I know nobody else could have done that, so now when I get out nobody’s gonna overlook me.
When we spoke in January, you were in the story working on what would become March Madness. Beast Mode had just come out and you had only been back for a few days—what was the rush?
DJ Spinz was in the studio with us and he was like, “Man, y’all used to drop mixtapes like every other month, y’all need to go back to doing that.” Future was like, “Shit, Esco, we got SXSW coming up, you think you can do this in a week?” And I was like, “I’ll be done by the time we get on stage.” That was the plan. We didn’t talk about it after that, I just went to work on it. Future didn’t hear 56 Nights before I put it out. Metro didn’t even hear it. I did 56 Nights just for myself.
Tell me about how you put 56 Nights together.[Future] had cut a few new songs for me, like “Never Gonna Lose” and “56 Nights Crazy,” and then I had all these years’ of songs—[Future’s] hard drive was in jaiI with me, so that’s why he made Beast Mode. I’m only going to put eight songs on here out of these 400 songs, which eight am I going to put on here to make it tell the story?
When I got out, the first song I played was “March Madness,” the only song I could think of in prison. When you’re in jail you can’t remember nothing no more. You’re in Dubai, so far from that part of the world. I couldn’t remember one word to a Future song, because my mind was that far away from it. The only melody I could remember was “March Madness”—he made that two years ago—because that’s the last thing I listened to on the plane. So as soon as I got out, I went to the airport and bought headphones and I played that song on repeat all the way till I got back to America.
I was just locked in my basement [working on it], but the next day I knew we had to go to Austin, for SXSW, so I get to Austin and finish it in the hotel. I was, like, fuck, I wish Metro was here because I trust his ear, and I don’t know—I just came back from Dubai so I don’t even know if my ear is right right now? What if they don’t like it? I need somebody to listen to it that I trust and no one was there.
I’m just listening to it over and over and something’s missing—I don’t have an intro! I don’t know how this is going to come on. I’m just going through my phone and I pulled up a phone voicemail from the officer in Dubai who let me out, Ahmed, and he’s speaking arabic! He was apologizing to me on my voicemail for calling the wrong person because he didn’t really mean to call me, and it was perfect. I was like this is it! The fucking most original thing.
Right before we got on stage in Austin, Future was like, “Man, let’s go through the mixtape.” And I was like, “It’s turned in, I know its ready.”
How has your relationship with Future changed since 56 Nights?
After 56 Nights, Future told me, “You did that shit by yourself. It’s the best mixtape we’ve ever done, and nobody helped you do it. From now on, I want your hands on everything.”
Tell me about what it’s like when you, Metro, and Future are in the studio together?
Sometimes Future already has the song in his head, but sometimes we put the song together—that’s where the production comes in. Producer is a trendy word right now, it’s used too loosely. Just because you make beats doesn’t mean you’re a producer. We’re talking about moving verses around, moving the parts of the beat around, rearranging vocals—that’s production. That’s what makes Metro a dope producer: he’s making the beats and he’s rearranging and fiddling around putting songs together. He’s fucking producer of the year.
If Metro is the producer, how do you define your role?
I’m like A&R or an associate producer. We’re right beside each other, he’s making the beat sometimes right beside me and its chemistry. We’ve got to stay in our lane right now: I’m the DJ he’s the producer, Future is the rapper; lets keep the purity temple, and then we’ll grow with that.
How did your usual process change when Drake arrived in Atlanta to work on What A Time To Be Alive?
It was different in a great way. We’ve got another great set of minds in here, with more ideas. It wasn’t like we’re emailing back and forth, we were all in the studio together. It was like boom boom boom—upstairs, downstairs, back, and forth. Metro’s in one room making beats. Southside might be over here. I might be upstairs finding some songs that I think Drake will like. Drake’s downstairs with Future. I’m coming downstairs like, “Metro, I think I found something!” And he’s like, “Hold on, I’m about to finish this beat.” It was creative juices on another level.
What was Drake and Future’s chemistry like working on this project?
They’ve worked together before, but not like at this time. This is intense, planned out—we’re gonna spend this whole five or six days together and lock in. But there was no fighting or disagreeing. I’m impressed by Drake, because as great as an artist as he is—he’s the top of the food chain—he’s humble enough to ask questions. For instance, Metro’s production is different than 40’s, so rapping on a Metro track is different than rapping on a 40 track. Because Drake’s such a perfectionist, he asks, “How should I come in on this? It’s a Metro hop and it’s different. Future’s used to this hop, so I want to make sure I catch it just like Future.” With his greatest hits, you think he’s just going to come on and rap however he wants. But for him to stop and ask Metro or Future or me? Then he’ll do it and kill it.
Drug use seems to feature heavily into Future’s new music—
It’s just like some hippy shit. We’re music heads, I’m into the psychedelic, Woodstock—I had a mixtape a couple of years ago called Black Woodstock. So all that acid and trippy shit, it’s nothing new. Flower child, I wish I was raised in the ’60s or ’70s. He’s tripped out, it’s not sadness. You don’t have to worry about Future, he’s on Cloud 9, high off life.
What comes next?
We tried to do some things the first couple times [with Pluto and Honest] and we were reaching. We were trying to make a crowd like us, trying to get to a certain demographic. But all we had to do was make music we like and then we got to them. To me, it feels like we just started, like we’re new artists. For DS2 to get treated like this, it’s like a second chance. If I would have never gone to prison, the hard drive never would have gotten lost. If the hard drive would never have got lost, [Future] never would have madeBeast Mode. If he never would have made Beast Mode, we never would have made 56 Nights. If 56 Nights wouldn’t have happened, DS2 would never have happened, because we were on the 56 Nights wave and we’re like, oh we have to give them the street shit now. Then DS2 happens, and it’s a roll. Those 56 nights in prison was the ultimate sacrifice for the second career for everything.