A year ago, when young rapper Ace Cosgrove found himself in the depths of depression, cash-strapped and living with his aunt, he picked up the pen. What came out was “Burning Slums,” one of the best tracks on the Maryland hip-hop artist’s new mixtape, UsvsRobots.
“We were staying in a small apartment, and I was starting to overstay my welcome,” writes the 23-year-old Gaithersburg native in an email. “That’s how I came up with the whole idea [of] ‘We don’t need water/Let the whole slums burn.'”
Like many artists before him, Ace (real name Adrian Eskridge) says he uses music as an opportunity to show a side of himself he doesn’t tend to unmask in day-to-day life. “I balance out being upbeat in person and cheerful but very serious…. on songs, simply because music allows me to vent,” he writes. “I’m horrible at opening up to people face-to-face, but I’m a great person for others to vent to, [and] when I make a song, I’m doing the venting.”
“Burning Slums” demonstrates as much. The rapper’s lyrics peer into the darkness that surrounded him during those days living with his aunt. “[I was] just hella mad at the world at the time, clearly,” he writes.
On UsvsRobots, Cosgrove runs his finger along a spectrum of golden-age hip hop, futuristic EDM and bass-driven trap sounds. To flesh out the project, he called on an array of producers, including fellow Marylanders i.V. and Royal as well as Black Diamond, one of Cosgrove’s collaborators in the Hostile Youth hip-hop collective. The motif of the mixtape is raging against monotony and machines of all kinds—the inspiration for the name UsvsRobots.
“With all the [stuff] that I’ve been through—all the going house from house, the burnt bridges… homies having kids while they’re still a kid… homies [with the] potential to be great now working at a dead-end job [or] going to college for four years then coming out in debt—I look at it like, either I can keep working at a dead-end job… like a robot,” Cosgrove writes, “or [I can] go as hard as I can go with my craft.”
He hopes his work might help encourage people experiencing circumstances like his own. “I tried to make a project [that] you can play the entire thing,” he writes, “and feel motivated to do whatever you want to do in life.”