With The Esplanade, Eyeda Sophia & emperor bohe create a space that shelters, enlightens, and allows us to internalize life from marginalized spaces.

Certain spaces allow us to be ourselves without fear or judgement from others. Growing up as a spoken-word poet and an active promoter of space spaces for marginalized people, Eyeda Sophia has created a space for herself to speak about the problems and solutions in imagining a world free from the pain and suffering brought on by the white, colonized, heteronormative mindset. There is still a lot of ground left uncovered in the Toronto hip-hop scene: Stories of sexual violence and predatory behaviour from neighbours, artists, and friends alike are still being whispered about with no significant consequences for these behaviours. On The Esplanade, Sophia teams up with emperor bohe to provide a space that shelters, enlightens, and allows us to understand life from marginalized spaces.

As a performer, Sophia has a charm that invites but also denies. There’s a kind of confidence and growth you have to convey to get your message straight. On past records, she contemplated femininity, the restoration of her mental health, and the resilience that comes with it. With her newfound awareness, she distills her feminism into must-hear stories on The Esplanade. On “Toxic Love,” she processes the effects of toxic relationships on women. “Is it a coping mechanism or a cosmic exorcism or a comical rendition of a prophetless position?” she questions in frustration. On “Fine Wine,” Sophia’s dejection can’t be assuaged: “I can’t believe they still support / maybe the story is splitting / maybe one side believes in one lie / and I’m caught up in the other.”

Behind Sophia’s bars are the 90s-influenced, melatonin-infused beats of emperor bohe. Musically, Sophia and bohe have a keen ear for 90’s East Coast hip-hop with influences like Black Star and Rakim shining through. The pairing ultimately produces a contemplative nighttime record — a Midnight Marauders melange of ambient jazz and New York boom-baps. It’s in this nighttime that emperor bohe distorts Sophia’s aural space with dark shadows and manipulated sounds. 

As a spoken word poet, Sophia exudes vulnerability throughout her music, and on The Esplanade, she dives into touchy subjects. On “Process,” Sophia stews about a fallen relationship with a parent (perhaps her mother?). “I guess love isn’t love when there’s no more left / I guess blood isn’t blood, mama don’t no best,” she ponders as if left in the dust. On “Cracks,” she decides to reach out, rapping over crisp rimshots and woozy synth: “When I’m falling, slipping through the cracks / Will you have my back?” There is no weakness in vulnerability; As an advocate for safe spaces, Sophia knows more than anyone that reaching out to a safe community when you’re in a dark place is a vital decision.

Sophia was born to rap. Her rhymes flow out naturally and seemingly without breath, likely due in large part to her years of spoken word poetry experience. You get a sense of her freestyle prowess and command of her audience thanks to short clips of her throwing down at the end of each track. Still, The Esplanade is a well-grounded debut that lets Sophia navigate listeners towards spaces where they feel loved and protected. Whether she’s taking shots at JK Rowling’s anti-trans sentiments (“Changes”), stunting on her haters over a horror-core beat (“Grave”), or prophesizing about society’s ills (“Eyestrology”), Eyeda Sophia’s message will resonate with anyone in need of a guiding light.

Lee Paradise
The Fink