Sir E.U can’t stop, won’t stop taking rap music to new places

I’ve seen Sir E.U rap with a Helly Hansen jacket draped over his face. I’ve seen him rap supine on the sidewalk. I’ve seen him rap clutching three microphones in his hand, as if hoping to triple the size of his voice. I once saw him rap in a state of blinky delirium during the final moments of a 25-hour concert when he only ever stopped rhyming to drink water. These performance modes might sound like stunts, but in a cumulative sense, the D.C. rapper appears unable to stop himself from broadening the critic Kodwo Eshun’s beautiful idea of hip-hop as “omni-genre.”

Eshun believed that through the use of sampling, no sounds in this wide world were off limits to rap artists, imbuing the music with an aura of everythingness. Peek into the nearest dictionary and that totality grows — “omni” meaning “in all ways or places,” making Eshun’s coinage feel big enough to contain E.U’s most stylish wildstyles. Like any rapper, Sir E.U can say whatever he wants over any sound he chooses, but unlike nearly every rapper, he makes the ways and places his priority.

So on his latest album, “I Will Never Let You Go,” he heads through the lobby of a boutique hotel in Adams Morgan and into a tiny podcast recording studio near the front desk where producer Jack Inslee has invited him to improvise over an assortment of moody beats that the rapper has never heard before. Hit play, start rhyming. The parameters generate something spontaneous, something strange, something that echoes the vim of hip-hop visionary Rammellzee circa 1983 and something that hints at the mysteries of existence circa eternity.

Throughout, E.U narrates fuzzy thoughts in real time, patrolling his psyche’s perimeter, gathering memories and ideas, trying to give them shape through fragmented rhymes. You can hear it best in the final verse of “Notes from the Underground” when he funnels an identity crisis through a Disney metaphor (“Lost my voice, I think I’m Ariel”), then tries to elevate his perspective (“had the view, took it aerial”), which provides him with a hit of self-awareness (“I’ve been milking, going against the grain like cereal”), before finally landing in a place of grief via bent homonym (“I’m a perforated individual, too tearful.”)

That me-against-the-world defiance still burns at the core of E.U’s most tumultuous music, and it continues to feel deeply psychological — a real-time depiction of the riptide between what goes on inside and outside of his mind. Throughout “I Will Never Let You Go,” his interior dramas unfold at various local nightclubs, with lyrical shout-outs to Rhizome and Madam’s Organ — places where comrades in the nightlife can actually plant their feet.

The album ends in a similar space, with E.U mulling smudged memories over solemn piano chords. Suddenly, a familiar face walks through the hotel’s front door. “Right here!” E.U shouts, trying to flag down his friend. “Look through the glass!” We hear a door swing open and the friend’s voice asking, “What you doing out here, just recording?” Climax and anticlimax do a cryptic tango. “Yeah,” E.U replies as the music evaporates into silence. “I didn’t do my best, honestly. I need to take it from the top.”

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