CHICAGO — Hannibal Buress is shifting gears from standup comedy to rapping — and he’s taking it seriously.
The native West Sider, who is known for his rhythmical musings on everything from jaywalking tickets to leftover pickle juice, released his debut rap album, “Eshu Tune,” under the same stage name in April.
Buress spent the summer in Chicago honing his craft as Tune, hopping on open mics, hosting his own show at Empty Bottle, crashing John Mulaney’s run at the United Center and taking the stage at the Silver Room Block Party at Oakwood Beach.
“It was time,” Buress said of transitioning into music. “I made songs even before I did comedy. It was never a question of if I can do it … but when can I start actually doing it.”
Buress grew up in Austin and said he used to freestyle and battle rap. He started comedy while attending Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and he rose to prominence through his standup, Comedy Central specials, and through appearances on “The Eric Andre Show” and “Broad City.”
Buress’ comedy had always been “adjacent with hip-hop,” hosting open mics and staying connected to Chicago’s rap scene, he said.
Buress was relaxing in Hawaii during the pandemic lockdown when he decided to get serious in the studio, which is where Tune was born, he said. The name is inspired by the trickster god in Nigerian mythology, “who facilitates communication with humans … and plays pranks,” Buress said.
“I was doing comedy, did this drive-in tour, and I wasn’t really having fun,” Buress said. “I was feeling checked out of these shows, and I wasn’t locked in the same way. When I started recording music, I was just enjoying it.”
Buress recorded a 14-minute freestyle and sent it to his friends, “because it turns out November 2020 was a pretty good time to send a 14-minute freestyle to some friends,” he said.
Buress cut the song down to three minutes and put it on his EP. In “Kept About 3,” he raps about becoming a first-time father.
In other tracks, Buress raps about bowling, veneers and eating McDonald’s at the airport.
“It’s not that crazy of a leap. I’ve done work across the globe without beats, a cappella: standup. Which is rawer and tougher,” Buress said. “So it’s all just writing; it’s just formatted now. From scripts to standup to writing for other folks to sketches to music, it’s just formats and structure and point of view.”
For now, music is the focus, Buress said. He might do “an occasional private gig, but I’m not really doing much standup.” He’s aiming to do a new album as Tune and continue to flex his muscles doing something new, he said.
Asked if he was making any traction or growth in his rapping career, Buress said, “There’s no traction, zero progress.”
Block Club let him know sarcasm might not come across in print.
“I’m at peace with that,” Buress said.
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