Detroit rapper Esham is one of the more underrated innovators in hip-hop history. He released his first album, Boomin' Words From Hell ("Hell," surprising no one, was code for Detroit), in 1989, and started making strides toward pioneering horrorcore as a legitimate underground hip-hop movement. Besides the Geto Boys, almost nobody got to the tongue-in-cheek, blood-spattered excess of horrorcore earlier than Esham did, and he was also the first MC of any note that Detroit produced.
Esham's early releases kept bettering themselves, too. 1993's KKKill The Fetus featured lo-fi, gritty, eerie, self-produced beats with a distinct fondness for metal-oriented sampling, and a rapping style that combined a smooth, steady, hard flow with early experiments in Midwestern double-timing. The price of innovation, though, was local controversy, difficulty in establishing a fanbase early on, and a tendency toward theatrical, over-the-top shock value that kept him solidly underground. Yet for all that, Esham's influence was tremendous in the Midwest and the South. It's hard to imagine that solo artists and groups like Three 6 Mafia (Lord Infamous and DJ Paul were dedicated fans), Tech N9ne, Insane Clown Posse (for whom Esham produced in 1992), and Eminem would have sounded the way they did without him, especially early on.
Perhaps the story that best captures the kind of career Esham has had over the years is the one Danny Brown told in an interview with Canadian media personality Nardwuar. One day, Brown found an unlabeled tape of the 1992 release Judgement Day (possibly Esham's peak). He put it on out of curiosity and was dumbfounded at the torrent of evil that came out of his stereo, but his cousin then walked in and began to yell at him that he was going to go to hell for listening to Esham. The moral is: if respect won't do, then fear—and appreciation from those who can take it—will. —Mike Noto