Early in the second verse of her new single Hello Brooklyn, East New York singer Essense hits listeners with what could be described as her thesis statement.
“I’m from New York, if they ask, make sure you tell ‘em it’s Brooklyn.”
The song, written and produced by the 25 year old, is catchy but undeniably authentic, it’s local inspirations apparent to any keen listener. The hook is a reimagining of the American Gangster era Jay-Z song of the same name, pairing the melody of the original with a smooth R&B beat and Essense’s silky voice.
The song’s video, shot with old film to match the singer’s throwback sound, features Essense performing at everyday locations ubiquitous with life in Brooklyn. The subway platform. The laundromat. The bodega.
However, as with most of her decisions, there is a second layer of intentionality not necessarily visible to the casual eye. The majority of the video was shot at Black-owned businesses and much of her clothing and jewelry are the works of Black creators.
The daughter of 90’s rapper J. Mega of the group All City, Essense grew up surrounded by music. She was influenced early on by her father’s favorites, ranging from the Temptations to Rakim, while also soaking up 90s staples like Jodeci and Boyz II Men. Originally a dancer, she first taught herself to produce beats using a Mikro beat machine gifted by her father.
It wasn’t until the pandemic that she made the leap to recording her own songs.
“I feel like the pandemic kind of helped me,” she said. “It gave me the chance to be laser focused because the world quieted down around me, so I really focused on what it is that I wanted to do.”
This led to the release of her first single, Tomorrow. Inspired by the police killing of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, Essense used her first song to not only introduce listeners to her sound, but also to pose an important question.
“What about tomorrow?” she said, echoing the song’s chorus. “This is happening today, but what’s going to happen tomorrow when all the dust clears? Are we still going to care?”
With the success of her early singles, Essense plans on releasing a four song EP titled, Essense of Brooklyn, featuring Hello Brooklyn as it’s lead single. The songs are thematically linked by the borough she loves, drawing influence from both classic boom bap and the contemporary drill music that dominates the streets of Brooklyn today.
With Essense of Brooklyn, Essense and her team have decided not to take the easy route to success. Rather than simply uploading the songs to streaming services, the EP will be available only through an exclusive link.
“We’re trying to add value to the music,” said Chris Belmont, Essense’s manager and the founder of JahRock’n Productions. “With streaming, music is very disposable and easy to access, so we are trying to put out something exclusive.”
You can see Essense this Friday August 6, at her pop-up show at Cheri’s Bedstuy, which will feature live performances, as well as vendors, food and more.
To enjoy an exclusive listen to Essense of Brooklyn, click here.
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