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The drink order seems strangely telling. For esQuire, the thirtysomething, self-titled “boy who invented rap”: a large hot chocolate — hopefully not too hot — with a shot and a half of Bailey’s. For Craig Le RoQ, his producer and co-writer: a Bloody Mary, extra spicy, “crushed ice if you can and if you have a bottle of Worcestershire, just bring the whole bottle.”
The eclecticism of their cocktails is immediately bettered by the conversation. The dynamic between esQuire and La RoQ brings to mind the caffeinated chattering of Chip and Dale — between quick sips on their drinks and wild gesticulations, they are constantly interrupting each other with très-cool suburban banter. When you ask them what an esQuire live show is all about, be prepared for a Ping Pong match of a dozen different answers.
“It’s the most,” esQuire says confidently.
“It’s a stage show. It’s wild,” Le RoQ interrupts. “Nobody puts on a stage show like esQuire. Nobody.”
“Its all about Ann-Margaret and go-go dancers,” esQuire retorts.
Then it’s back to Le RoQ: “The elements are so bizarre. He might take something from some obscure little ’60s movie. He’ll see some little dance scene and try to incorporate that.”
“Ann-Margaret,” esQuire repeats.
“I might take some Doug E. Fresh record and use an idea for the beats,” says Le RoQ. “It’s a collage of musical styles — genres and style and fashion and dance all smashed together.”
Everything they’re saying is true. The dynamic duo actually got to know each other at a ballroom dance class. (“I’ve always wanted to know how to fox-trot and do the Jessie Polka,” Le RoQ gushes.) A fundamental part of the esQuire performance experience involves a constantly growing harem of go-go dancers, two DJs in white lab coats and dance routines that are (you guessed it) inspired by Ann-Margaret. It’s safe to say that, at least in Detroit, there is absolutely nothing like it.
“I’m rarely entertained when I watch a show,” esQuire says. “I thought that we would hold audiences’ attention better if we had something more than me walking back and forth rapping into the microphone. So we’re real stylized.”
“Your average rock show or rap show will have certain conventions in the performance,” Le RoQ adds. “Rock guys jump up and down with guitars and bang drums. The average rapper raises his hands in the air and waves ’em like he just don’t care. It’s fine for a few songs, but seeing three bands in a row who do that can be tedious. That is what is so great about this. It is a real show. It is total entertainment.”
“In my everyday life I care about how I look and what I wear, so I hyper-exaggerate that in the show,” esQuire continues. (Tonight he’s head-to-toe in polyester blends, his shirt just open enough to reveal a gold chain swimming in chest hair.) “And I’ve always had a penchant for go-go dancers. Luckily I have a lot of good-looking female friends who are good dancers and I’ve watched a lot of Ann-Margaret movies. My mother was a dancer. I know a lot of dances.”
But image isn’t everything. esQuire’s tongue-in-cheek rhymes about saving rap are witty and well-crafted, and La RoQ’s musical backdrop is a postmodern collage of early-’80s rap and clever sampling, which is every bit as impressive as their Hollywood-goes-Austin-Powers stage show. The pure spectacle and steep irony of the whole package can be attributed to esQuire’s dramatic rise in the local music scene, which in recent months has transformed the two tragically fashionable suburbanites into one of the most high-profile musical duos in the city.
“I know people must think it is strange,” esQuire says. “I think it’s interesting that someone like me, who looks like me, can rap well.”
“Both of us have the same bizarre thing. I know that when people see me, they don’t think I scratch and make fresh beats,” the thickly bespectacled La RoQ adds. “When they see him, they don’t think he makes phat rhymes. We never talk like that. It’s taking a lot of great elements from a lot of great music, so what’s not to like? The one bad thing about rap today is that a typical rap song has one loop, one hook and the whole song is that. One of our songs equals a whole album of theirs. We’ll go from booty to garage to disco to funk to whatever. It’s all over the place and that is just one song.”
As people become more and more attracted to the increasingly mythologized esQuire (he is rumored to never appear in public without a go-go girl on each arm), La RoQ and esQuire brace themselves for greatness.
“It started with two go-go dancers and now there are four. It’s getting bigger and bigger. The money is getting spread out more and more. Pretty soon we’re going to have to start pimping the dancers.”
Check out the rest of our features on this year's talented Blowout artists:
• Go back to the future with The Bloody Holly’s
• The eclectic Brothers Groove are driven by white-hot funk
• Clone Defects front man Tim Vulgar lives the punk life
• Robert Jones is Detroit's quintessential bluesman
• The Kielbasa Kings' tale of accordions, beer and never-fail pickup lines
• Inside King Gordy's heart of darkness
• Miz Korona shines through the hype and distractions
• Stowing away on Sista Otis' path to enlightenment
• The Von Bondies are on the edge … but of what?
Nate Cavalieri is Metro Times’ listings editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.