ESCO: Balancing Multiple Missions

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Welcome to a new dancehall generation. A tidal wave of young Jamaican talent has risen up in the past three years, including vocalists Mavado, Demarco, and Munga Honourable, and producers Stephen McGregor, Daseca, and King Jammy’s sons Jam2 and Baby G. They’re charting dancehall music’s next phase but not limiting their sound, according to fellow new-gen artist, 27-year-old Matthew J.S. Thompson, better known as Esco.

“The generation now is looking more to the world,” says Thompson via cell phone from outside his Kingston studio. “Jamaica is filled with so much talent and it’s firing in all different directions; not dancehall alone, but R&B, alternative, even some house music. I’m telling you, man, we’re attacking music from all angles now!”

Thompson knows about versatility. “I’m a rockative kind of guy. I listen to some alternative rock. I’m big on hip-hop too,” he informs. Plus, he’s been involved in dancehall culture as a disc jockey since age 13, following in the footsteps of his famous dad, Errol “ET” Thompson, who was one of the first DJs to play banned Bob Marley tunes on Jamaican radio. He’s also a producer, label owner (of the 1-1-1 imprint), and artist.

Up until recently, Thompson was half of the duo Leftside and Esco with his friend Craig Parks. The two formed the Young Legends label and churned out popular riddims like Galore, Drop Drawers, Dem Time Deh, Martial Arts, and Bullet, reaching a pinnacle with the 2004 hit single “Tuck In Yu Belly” on their self-produced Giggy riddim. Then, like an exhalation of spliff smoke, the duo amicably split.

Thompson stayed on his grind, quickly establishing a solo career with synth-heavy electro jump-up tracks like “She Want Me,” “Dun Dem Credit,” and the sweet skanking one-drop tune “God Is Love.” He cut driving, triplet-snare-speckled singles with Birchill Records’ Chris Birch and McGregor while producing his own The Show Goes On riddim. “After the group split, I had to prove that I’m capable of managing the whole movement on my own–production, recording, performing, singing,” says Thompson, who is clearly comfortable juggling many roles. “I’m a solo artist now, but I still have my productions in the pipeline,” he says, referring to his forthcoming 40-4 Play riddim featuring Beenie Man, Bounty Killer, Lady Saw, and Wayne Marshall.

Versatile as always, the tall, clean-cut artist–who favors a modern Jamaican look that mixes designer jeans and shades with athletic attire and clean kicks (street but not gully)–also has another mission: “One of my goals is to show the world that there can be a balance between the worldly music and the spiritual music.” Thus, you can expect rugged dancehall, romantic tracks, and uplifting one-drop material in the mix on his forthcoming album, Showstopper.

“I really don’t want to leave out the bangin’ club stuff and the tracks for the ladies, ’cause that’s where my image works best,” he says. “At the same time I still want to teach and uplift people.”