Eso.XO.Supreme likes to keep some distance from his home in Portland. He rarely performs here, yet his lush, earworm hip-hop has fans around the globe in countries like Germany, Argentina, Russia and Croatia. Recently, while in Puerto Rico, he was sent a video of kids performing their own choreography to his songs.
"That shit will pop up every now and again," says the auto-tuned R&B singer, "where a bunch of kids will catch the wave of it and get inspired."
He has a couple of guesses why his music makes a bigger impact overseas than at home—his willingness to experiment artistically, his successful SEO strategies—but he'd rather focus on new material than overthink it.
Still, that doesn't mean Eso's dark club music is simplistic, or just a product of streaming algorithms. His moniker alone is layered with meaning. The acronym EXS looks and sounds like excess, while Eso is short for esoteric. Supreme is more of a reference to divinity than to the fashion label, and as a whole, the multiple meanings of his name are inspired by Sufi poetry, which steers readers to the divine without preaching.
"Back then, that was their way of tying to the modern world," says Eso. "In the process, they became these master poets revered everywhere, but they left it out there for people to get closer to the source [of the divine]. I really try to take on that ideology."
In Eso's music, you can hear melancholic elements of Drake, Lil Yachty, ILoveMakonnen and members of the Weeknd's XO collective. Lately, Eso's added dancehall to his sadboy R&B and hip-hop, which is influenced by everything from soul to emo, vaporwave and Portland jazz (he grew up playing the French horn and going to see local jazz shows). "Panic," his latest dancehall-meets-glitch single, debuted last month to a warm reception online. But "Salt Water," the least dancehall-inflected song Eso has released this year, is arguably the best summation of his disparate influences: Midway through the song, the 808 and starry synths are overtaken by a saxophone solo, and Eso's in-my-feelings vocals begin to sound as much like Panic at the Disco as they do T-Pain.
"Pisces music" is arguably the fastest way to describe Eso's sound: atmospheric and moody, with more than a few references to sex and drugs. "I try to leave things ambiguous, but then some people will be like, 'Who the fuck are you talking about here?'" he says. "I'm like, 'Bruh, it's not you, it's an accumulation of experiences.'"
Since his songs first appeared online in late 2016, Eso has barely taken a break. Last year, he released three EPs, Vibes From Dystopia, Vols. 1 and 2 and Loveless. This year, Eso has released 10 singles in seven months, a strategy he and his team came up with while analyzing streaming data.
Eso says the internet is a major part of his artistry and success. "We put out an EP, and basically everything is ignored except the most popular track," Eso says. "As far as algorithms picking up the most popular track and doing what it's supposed to do as far as exposing it to people who are following your Spotify or iTunes, we just noticed it wasn't doing anything with the other tracks."
Eso and his creative team spent two days in July filming five music videos, some for existing singles like "Contact," and others off his forthcoming mixtape, Amnesia, currently slated for a late August, early September release. Amnesia deals with a time when Eso felt like his collaborators' plans for him were in conflict with his artistic vision. Eso will promote Amnesia with pop-up performances at New York Fashion Week and in Miami and L.A.
The Amnesia pop-ups will feature 3D projections by the artist Dynamo, whose collaborators include artist-musician Momo Pixel. On top of that, Eso and his team are attempting to create artificial reality glasses for his audience to wear at the shows. "I'm looking for different ways to integrate tech and music and performance," he says. "I feel like it would be a really special experience if you look around and you see an AR version of myself performing and shit. It's just a creative immersion into my world."
Eso's ability to make web algorithms work in his favor does not mean he's willing to sacrifice creative vision for mainstream success, though. His music might sound like a minor-key reaction to club R&B, but Eso's sound is entirely his own, and he's willing to leave behind anyone who doesn't get it.
"There are people who want to see it happen, and I'm like, 'Bruh, I'm not here to make a club hit,'" he says. "If it happens, it happens, great, but that's not my goal."