A Conversation With Eshu Tune aka Hannibal Buress

Matthew Ritchie speaks to the Chicago comedian/rapper/actor about his new Eshu Tune venture, what made him want to commit fully to rap while leaving comedy on the backburner and more.
By    July 24, 2023

Image via Brock Fetch

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Society gives an inordinate amount of lip service when it comes to “trying new things.” The idea of picking up a new hobby sounds great to everyone around you. There’s full-throated support for when your friend wants to make focaccia bread, or when they get into crocheting to the point where they’re producing scarves and beer koozies at an alarming rate. Even when your friend says they want to start a podcast, that idea is met with a begrudging amount of encouragement. But in Hannibal Buress’ case, he’s noticed that his recent foray into music is sometimes met with a more measured reaction.

“It’s this weird thing with music where people question it more than jumping into other aspects of entertainment, you know what I mean?” said Buress. “I don’t know, it’s not a real concern of mine…I think a lot of times people are a little bit skeptical, and then the sentiment has been that they leave a little surprised that I’m decent, I guess.”

Maybe it’s because people aren’t used to change when it comes from somebody who’s been a constant pillar in the entertainment world since 2002. Buress’ comedy career has spanned the better part of two decades, proving that his dry humor and even drier delivery land with precise impact across various mediums. Whether it’s his five critically acclaimed comedy specials, the recurring roles on Broad City and The Eric Andre Show, or a seemingly endless barrage of movie and animated voice appearances, you’ve come to expect what a Hannibal Buress moment on your screen feels like and sounds like. Wry, and often monotone, observations that almost always present as a foil to his scene partners, or cut against the grain of the presiding logic of a topic, turning him into a ubiquitous presence in every comedic medium.

Now, Buress is now committed to carving out a new lane for himself through the moniker Eshu Tune, named after a Yoruba trickster god, a benevolent spirit that serves as the messenger between heaven and earth. Eshu Tune is Buress’ rapping stage name, a rebirth that represents a full dedication to a new form of artistry. He’s been making music and rapping for the entirety of his career, even before he started doing comedy more than 20 years ago, but “Gibberish Rap” and feature verses like on Open Mike Eagle’s “Doug Stamper” registered as random, one-off junctures. But a dedicated veer towards making music has always been in the Chicago native’s mind.

“I’ve always dabbled in music,” said Buress. “We just talked about putting out a project for a while, [since] probably more than a decade ago. It was more like…I had time to really focus on it and work on it.”

He released a self-titled album in April 2022, attempting to marry all his interests and passions into one harmonious project. The songs were brief, rarely eclipsing two and a half minutes for the most part, but Buress’ capability is fully on display: he nimbly spits about the ins and outs of bowling on “1-3 pocket,” punches in between a random grab bag of sample tags on “CMDGT,” and even tried to get sentimental about the realities of becoming a new dad on the Eryn Allen Kane-assisted “Kept About 3.”

Eshu Tune continues to introduce himself to the public at a methodical pace. At his comedy shows–which are becoming less and less prevalent–Buress will be on double duty, doing about an hour of comedy before coming back out to perform as Eshu Tune as well. For Buress, it provides a change of pace, allowing him to flex a different set of creative muscles, breathing life into performing for the first time in a while.

Since his debut project, he’s released remixes and singles (a “Veneers” remix with Danny Brown and Paul Wall and the UK rap-styled “Lamp Me”), sharpened his production abilities (and committed himself to learn new instruments), all while trying to become more comfortable on stage. His voice crawls over the beats, as his drawl bores into the listener’s ears with each bar. His absurdist raps, tinged with randomness as if they’re born from his stream of consciousness, make his music feel as if he’s the tamest member of the Bruiser Brigade (the production registers as far more straight-laced than Danny Brown’s charges).

For him, Eshu Tune isn’t about proving anything to doubters or naysayers–it’s an intrinsic drive to expand upon a passion he’s held for more than 20 years. I talked to Buress about the past year, what it’s felt like to share stages and tracks with rap legends, the difference between how rap and comedy make him feel, and our mutual love of bowling.

What have the last months, or the last year I guess, looked like for you creatively?

Eshu Tune: At least in the last month, I’ve done the most shows that I’ve done in a while. I did a few shows in D.C. and New York. Hosted the Libera Awards, recording some music. Been doing some straight-up stand-up shows, with no music also. Been performing a lot, it’s been good to get back into a good rhythm. Writing on both fronts.

So what prompted this recent shift towards dedicating the majority of your efforts towards rapping, instead of having your stand-up be the main focus?

Eshu Tune: Yeah, I’ve always dabbled in music. And we just talked about putting out a project for a while, [since] probably more than a decade ago. It was…I had time to really focus on it and work on it.

And you’ve been rapping in some form since 2001, since even before you started doing comedy. What did it feel like to have rap in the back of your mind? Was it sort of calling you like the Green Goblin mask or something?

Eshu Tune: I would make songs here and there. But I guess it was something with just how much other work I was doing, that it was tough for me to kind of compartmentalize and really focus on a music project. Just how I was operating as a creative at the time, and seeing the idea in my mind, I thought that I would have to go away for a few weeks or something, and set everything else down.

It’s been exciting to just get into a different mode. Now, when I’m doing a music venue or theater, I could do a stand-up set and a music set–I can do about an hour of each. Those shows have been the ones where I just feel really excited afterwards, and feel kind of energized. Like I was able to really push what I’m trying to accomplish on stage.

It’s probably difficult when you have two passions, but feel like you can only dedicate enough time to one of them, to the point where it sometimes feels like there are not enough hours in the day.

Eshu Tune: I guess with music in general, there is a bunch of different ways you can spend your time. Because beyond recording music, there’s writing, performing…there’s working on another instrument, marketing, music videos, you know what I mean? Performance coaching and vocal coaching— there are all these different ways that you can work to get better. But that means that you have to be decisive with the time that you have.

With all these different things involved, in comparison to comedy, does it feel like you’re flexing a different type of creative muscle when it comes to music?

Eshu Tune: It’s writing…it’s just formatted differently. You know what I mean, with flow and all that, you’re trying to get an idea across in a certain structure. So yes, it’s a different muscle, as far as rapping with confidence and rapping with clarity on stage. At its core, it’s just making sure you kind of get across what you want to.

The real difference is that I don’t really consume my comedy in the same way that I’ll consume music. I know that you’re supposed to watch your stuff over and over in order to rewrite it and whatnot. But I don’t find myself being drawn to that part of the process as much in comedy. I just try to improve the set off of memory a little bit. With music, I can enjoy my songs in a way that I can’t with stand-up comedies, which more often than not is for the audience.

I guess with your rapping it feels like you’re currently living in it, whereas comedy maybe has a different feeling for you since you’ve been doing it for so long.

Eshu Tune: Nah, I mean even the stuff I’m doing right now, I don’t really want to watch it, you know what I mean? I just do the show. It’s really about the form itself. You can’t surprise yourself after you did the set and said the thing a bunch of times. It’s tough, unless it’s a riff moment or something off-the-fly, or something with the audience, then those are maybe a little more rewatchable.

With a song, you can run it back so much. Even if it doesn’t end up coming out. I have stuff that I’m working on now that I’ve listened to maybe 60 times a day, just because I’m excited about it. I’m excited about the progress. And the stand-up that I’m doing right now, I feel good about this show and how the material is progressing. I just do [comedy] on stage. I don’t really live in it after. I think about it! But I don’t watch it, I just think about how to become better at stuff.

I feel like it would be impossible for one to not affect the other. And to me, your comedy sometimes has a meandering, story-based feel that brings the audience along for a ride. How does the way that you do comedy impact the way that you write your raps?

Eshu Tune: I guess they…again it gives me a different way to approach some shit. Right now, I’ve got some stuff that overlaps with a story that I’m telling in my stand-up. Like I’ve got a song that’s about telling the same story. But tonally, it’s different in the music, it’s more grounded and straightforward. And with the production, it kind of sets the tone, where I can just focus on the details of the story, being compelling in that way and moving it along. Whereas in the stand-up, I could just tell the story straight up, but there’s some flips in there, different things that I throw into it to keep it humorous all the way throughout, because it is a heavy story.

But then in the music, it has only a couple of moments of humor, but I’m not going for that on every other line—I’m more focused on the story itself. I could try to make it have no laughs…but I gotta keep the momentum there.

So yeah I think, they both help. I notice when I record music the day after I’ve been doing some shows, I notice that my delivery is a little more strong because I was just talking for an hour the day before. Like it’s a little crisper. Or I might write a little faster, just because I’ve been in a creative and performing flow, and had some recent positive experiences on stage.

It just sounds like you’ve reached a moment where you’re in a very good creative place on both sides. Do you feel yourself getting better at one or the other?

Eshu Tune: Yeah. These shows I did in D.C., I just went right up at eight o’clock, no opener. So when I go up cold like that, it kind of forces me to make sure that those first 10 minutes is hot, because there was no opening act. But also, I think that it kind of surprises the crowd with me being right on stage at show time, so that gives me a little energy.

And then, when I’m doing the music later, I’ve already kind of loosened up because I did an hour of stand-up already. I got to take a break and watch Halie Supreme perform at these D.C. shows. By the time I’m on stage for music later, I’m already in a good space, been able to relax, drink some water, change clothes, and get back to it. These have been some of my favorite shows. Just to mix them up and have success, while also being able to rock with the band up there. When the band is dope, you can have those moments where you can also be a fan of the music, where the band just rocks out and carries it.

I feel as though it’s super important to take a moment to reflect on a feat like that, being able to deliver jokes and rap, while also showing that you’re not completely terrible [laughs].

Eshu Tune: Yeah, it’s fun man. I think a lot of times people are really skeptical too. Then the sentiment that leave with is a little surprise that I’m decent. I got a little bit of a flow… a decent flow [laughs].

Is there a similar joy that you get from rapping that you get from comedy, or is it a unique feeling when you’re making music on stage?

Eshu Tune: Yeah it’s a different feeling. Obviously, music is subjective. But I feel like there are some technical objective things in rap or in hip-hop that can impress someone. When I’m writing a verse and it’s coming together well, and I’m able to land the plane at the end of the tune. Or just seeing the writing become more clear or finding different pockets. This one track we’re working on now, it’s got a lot going on with the drums–it’s kind of busy. But I was able to find some spots in the beat that sound dope, so to be able to get that progression, to the point where I sound comfortable over busy beats without feeling like I’m trying to catch up to that motherf*cker.

And then being able to do it live as well. Remembering last year, being out of breath, or forgetting verses, or struggling to do a double-time flow live. And then now being able to do it with more clarity and force, just knowing that I just keep on improving, simply by working on it more and continuing to learn. It’s dope.

When you’re in a creative space, do you find yourself listening to a ton of songs and artists for outside inspiration, or do you sort of go into a creative bubble like you do with your own comedy?

Eshu Tune: I listen to a lot of different types of instrumentals. I write down little ideas and voice notes, it’s just something I’m getting used to, with the flows getting better, and I don’t second guess myself as much. It’s been cool. For a while, I didn’t want to do the stand-up because I thought it would affect the music or something, but now I see it as more of a great asset.

Does it all feel new to you?

Eshu Tune: I mean, rapping on stage—I’ve done a good amount of shows—but it’s still very new. There are a lot of music scenarios that I haven’t been in. I haven’t done many gigs opening for folks that don’t know…like I did a gig opening for Little Brother and Marc Rebillet, some other shows. But for the most part, I haven’t done a lot of shows opening for others. It’s a different skill set, as far as rapping for a crowd. It feels new, but it’s exciting, to have a song connect live. Now I’m able to envision projects and think about how to execute and present stuff moving forward. I’ve got a pretty good handle on how I want to do the next one.

How does it feel to fully commit to something that when people hear, “Oh, Hannibal is rapping now,” they might view it as unserious or as just a hobby?

Eshu Tune: It’s this weird thing with music where people question it more than jumping into other aspects of entertainment. You know what I mean? Whereas if it was anything else, they’d be like, ‘Yeah, of course…’

Like of course he’s starting another podcast…or of course…

Eshu Tune: Of course, he’s talking at length for two hours. Or being in a Marvel movie, or voicing these super animated characters…

But as soon as you put a beat over it, people lose their minds…

Eshu Tune: Like what…what, dude. And that’s just a small amount. It’s not a real concern of mine. I’m doing live shows, so at the very minimum…these motherf*cking joints of mine are going to get played at MY shows. If they never trend or chart, or all that other stuff…I’ll make songs and play them at my shows, at the very least. So, that’s enough for me.

Can you tell me about how the “Veneers Remix” with Danny Brown and Paul Wall came about?

Eshu Tune: I did the song at a pop out set at Bruiser Thanksgiving in 2021. I was supposed to do a set, like 15 minutes…but I kind of read the room and was like, ‘You know what, let me just do “Veeners”’ [laughs]. But I do the song, and Danny and Zelooperz were up there hyping it, and that was a crazy day. Because until then, I’d only did it once before. So it was cool to see it just go off like that. So, Danny had “Veneers,” it seemed like he liked the record, so I asked him if he wanted to be on the remix. And then homie was like, ‘Paul Wall could be a good idea for this,’ so he reached out to Paul Wall.

Danny sent in his verse, and snapped on that shit…so I had to redo my verse. Because my verse from the original would have sounded wildly out of place if I didn’t do anything to it. Then we had Paul send in his part, and shot the video in Austin in January. I’m happy with how it came together man. It was dope to see a song get better, like it’s actually a remix for real.

Was there a level of nervousness being in between two actual rap titans on a track?

Eshu Tune: Yeah, with Danny’s verse, it showed me that there was much more space on the beat that I could fill. Hearing how he attacked the beat, made me realize that I could be rapping better. I was pushed to be better, when I recorded the original there was nobody else in the room, no other rappers. And so even though we didn’t do the session together, I heard his verse and felt like I wasn’t rapping to the best of my ability over it, so I stepped it up. And that’s ok, depending on the song. I don’t have to be barred up in every single thing that I do. But it is emoting that you got to tighten up around other talented rappers I feel like.

You’ve got the song “1-3 Pocket,” but I don’t think people truly understand how great bowling is.

Eshu Tune: It’s a good time once you start being able to throw a hook. That little moment where you know that shit is good, like where you just know you’ve hit the pins right. That little…that’s it. Those couple of seconds are great. And then when you just heat up, that’s real cool. That noise, man…the noise of the ball hitting the pins…

Yeah man, when I lived out in Vegas, I’d spend my days going to the alleys in the casinos, where it’s just me and bunch of old people from like 2-4pm. Just us and the sounds of pins, it was almost therapeutic.

Eshu Tune: Do you travel with your gear?

Nah, I just moved and I left them in storage, so I rarely go now.

Eshu Tune: Yeah, that’s the thing. Bowling on the road without your shit… you can still do it but it’s like, ‘damn.’ Traveling with that shit, you can tell the difference in how that shit hits, when it’s a house ball versus your own shit. Like man, I’m losing two pins or something.

Have you realized something about yourself, or your creative process, since you’ve entered this Eshu Tune era that you didn’t realize before?

Eshu Tune: I need to keep more organized, as far as writing, with everything. Like the music, the videos, just trying to stay organized with my workflow. I was talking to this producer, Keeth (he has some great music), and he was talking about his work routine. Each day is dedicated to something else–like one is sampling, and another day is a new genre. Just because I’m working on so many things, I need to figure out some type of regimen like that.

It’s not like you’re doing this for your health. What does the next year look like for you, more specifically…what are you trying to get out of Eshu Tune?

Eshu Tune: I think just improvement, and getting better at writing songs. I think I’ll write my best stuff. When I have a couple of years on an instrument, it’s when I’ll really be writing in a different space, whether it’s keys or drums, but that’s three to five years from now. But that’ll be really great, in tandem with the music in way that will produce a new approach. So just keep working man, I enjoy sharing these ideas in a new way, communicating, and being understood. It’s the same thing, it’s just a slightly different language.

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