Words are the only weapons an MC has. They’re the only knives he has to cut, carve, slash and serrate. He must dissect with words, or the body of Hip-Hop remains unexamined.
Elzhi has mastered his weapons.
He pulls lyricism beyond the expected. His understanding of cadence, timber and flow relegate him to the endless heated debates of best living MCs — the divide of those wholly bought by his style and those who say he raps too much. Outside of the generally accepted picks (Andre, Em, Jay, Nas,) the discussion turns to wild cards — some favor Blu or Phonte, some Lupe or Doom. Some say Elzhi. Either way, he is part of the discussion.
As half of present-day Slum Village, and with featured spots for J Dilla, Little Brother and Black Milk, Elzhi has sharpened his words to surgical standards. Now the Detroit MC comes with his solo effort, The Preface — a debut heavily rooted in the D. For some, the album will be a dark web of tough beats and too many words. For others, the album will unsheathe the wicked weaponry that puts Elzhi in discussions of greatness. Either way, he is part of the discussion.
The Crew’s LC Weber had a chance to speak with Elzhi about his album, these transitory times in Detroit, his “welcome to the big leagues” moment on tour and his arsenal of words.
TSS: Do you ever have people who come to you and tell you you rap too much? That you try and get too complicated with it?
Elzhi: Yeah yeah yeah. I do, I do. I mean even back in the day, the label was telling me to “smarten up and dumb it down,” you know what I’m saying? But I can only be me. I can only do what I like to do. I’m all about raising the bar. But in today’s music it’s all about people lowering the standards to get across what they’re trying to get across. And to me it feels like they’re insulting the listeners. You got certain people who might not have graduated high school, but they can still comprehend. I feel like the radio is insulting the listeners, and I feel like certain labels and the way everything is running is insulting to listeners. But I’m just doing me, you know what I’m saying? I’m all about raising the bar. If I was to try and write something simplistic, you know, I would ball it up. I can’t do it. I’m all about what I do.
TSS: There’s a track right at the top of the album where it’s like a game and you’re leaving half a word off… I’ve never heard anything like that.
Elzhi: Yeah, “Guessing Game…” Thanks, thanks. That’s why I did it, to kind of keep things fresh. We got to start doing things, not only on the beat-end but on the rap-end, things that’s never been done. From a creative standpoint, things that can spark other ideas in people to want to do something different like that, or even better than that. With songs like that – “Guessing Game” and “Colors” – when I think of those kind of songs I don’t really got a name to put to it yet, but that’s just me playing my part in this Hip-Hop industry.
TSS: I can remember talking three, four years ago about Detroit needing to form a united front, and some of that has come to fruition on some of these joints [from The Preface.] I see a lot of that united front now, but do you feel like people outside of the D don’t see it that way now with Dilla passed and Proof passed and people moving away to California and getting separated. Do you think people are starting to think now that Detroit is less relevant in any way?
Elzhi: Well, I don’t think so. I think the reason why certain people is moving out to L.A.— I mean, I feel like anybody who raps or does beats and knows what Dilla stood for or Proof stood for, I feel like they feel obligated to carry the torch in their name. So anything that can make their career blossom or can help them help their crew or put their crew on, they’re going to do it. If it isn’t any big record companies out here like it is in New York or L.A., they going to go to New York and they’re going to L.A. you know what I’m saying? But that don’t mean they’re not repping the city. We all repping the city.
And through the deaths and through the passing of Proof and of Dilla Dog, everybody has been coming together and unifying. That’s why you may hear me on a track with Trick Trick. Or Trick Trick on a record with Ketch Phraze. It’s all about putting everything aside and coming together and becoming one. That’s how we’re going to be able to move and be able to create some kind of noise is if we move as one force. People leaving the city and everything, that’s just saying to me they just trying to get it. They just trying to get out there and get it so they can bring it back to the city.
TSS: Guilty, Black [Milk] and Invincible have all said individually that they’re going to stay in Detroit, for better or worse. Do you feel that way too, or would you ever be tempted to leave as well?
Elzhi: You know, I’ve been thinking about having a place here and having a place in L.A. just because I know in L.A. you could just kind of bump into somebody that could probably just change your whole career. It’s so many connections out there. Plus I got a lot of love out there – I got a lot of family out there, as far as cats like Dave NY and like House Shoes, you know, Blu, so I got a lot of family out that way. It may come a time I’m out there taking care of business, doing what I got to do, and then coming back here to get a peace of mind or whatever.
TSS: But you’ve been pretty much living on the road for the past couple years, yeah?
Elzhi: Well I’ve been on the road off and on, but basically just in the studio just making music. Like I got so many songs. And like I say, not just with me but with Phat Kat, with T3. So basically on the road and recording in the studios. That’s it.
TSS: Now, I have a story that now that I have you on the phone I have to confirm or deny. This is a story that’s third hand to me – I got it from Buff who got it from Phat Kat. Something about a tour bus leaving you in Denver?
Elzhi: A who?
TSS: Did a tour bus leave you in Denver?
Elzhi: (Laughs) Yeah. But how did Buff know that?
TSS: (Laughs) He heard it from Phat Kat.
Elzhi: But how did it even come up?
TSS: I don’t even remember…
Elzhi: Yeah, um, what had happened was, like, we was in Denver. This was like the first tour I’d ever been on, you know what I’m saying? What happened was, someone saw me get on the bus earlier that day. And I got on the bus, went to the back, and then got off the bus. Now they saw me get on the bus, but they didn’t see me get off of the bus. They figured I might have been in the bunks or whatever. You know, so, I went off the bus and went back into the room, you know what I’m saying? So I’m showering and everything, doing what I got to do, boom. And then bam – I get up to go to the bus and the bus is gone.
I’m like, “Man this is crazy.”
So I’m calling people and they phones ain’t working or whatever. So I had to make my way back, myself, back to the D. Back to Michigan. And it was a minute ago, and I was like, “Man, these dudes are so damn bootleg.” You know what I’m saying? (Laughs) Like, “Come on, man…”
TSS: (Laughs) And this was your first tour, you said?
Elzhi: Yeah! This was my first tour. Like, no matter what, you’re supposed to look in the bunks and make sure everyone is up in there. But yeah, that shit was crazy. Real crazy.
TSS: Especially that that was your first one.
Elzhi: Hell yeah, you know what I’m saying? And you know, man! I mean shit, I had to jump on the Greyhound and all that. It was kind of wild. (Laughs) What’s even wilder is Buff saying it cause I don’t know what y’all was talking about.
TSS: (Laughs) I don’t remember what we were— no I remember what we were talking about! We were talking about people who are even-keeled and don’t really get riled up, cause [14KT] never really gets riled up about anything. And I think it was KT who brought you up like, “Man, Elzhi doesn’t really get riled up.” And the story was “He got left once in Denver, but when he found out was still like, ‘Oh word? That’s what’s up.’” Like you didn’t even act irrationally— that was the story.
Elzhi: Nah, I was pissed.
Elzhi: (Laughs) I was pissed. I was pissed.
TSS: Well at least it wasn’t in Europe.
Elzhi: Yeah, at least it wasn’t in Europe. I guess.
TSS: What has touring in Europe been like?
Elzhi: Man, it’s been incredible. I mean, Hip-Hop is kind of more new over there than over here, so it’s just a whole different experience. I mean, talk about digging. They dig and dig, and like if they don’t know your language, but they like your songs, they will dissect your words, look up the words, and understand what you’re saying and sing along to your records. So just saying that goes to show how much love they got for the music over there.
TSS: From everything I can see, it seems like in Europe there is crazy crazy Detroit Hip-Hop heads.
Elzhi: Right. Right. Like they got a lot of love. They got a lot of love over there for Dilla and for what the movement stand for. I remember just a few days after Dilla passed and we had to do a show in Leeds, [UK] and it was just so much love. You know, just the emotion they showed – like they probably never even met the dude before, but they just felt the music so much it was people tearing up in there. They got a lot of love for us out there.
TSS: You’re saying what the movement stands for to them, but what does the movement stand for to you? What are you trying to accomplish?
Elzhi: I’m just trying to bring that real Hip-Hop back. I realize I’m not alone – I mean, you got Blu, you got MF Doom, you got Little Brother, and these is cats that come from different areas. Well we got a Detroit movement of cats that is trying to bring that real Hip-Hop back. So it’s just two things – bringing that real music back, and just showing people a new kind of music that come from a different area. Basically just hipping people to some new shit and making music classic again. That’s it.
TSS: Any parting shots?
Elzhi: Basically that The Preface is in stores now and I just want to thank everyone is supporting me and is riding with me. Just to let them know this isn’t the end. There’s going to be plenty more records. There’s going to be records with House Shoes, Slum, Phat Kat and Royce. So I’m going to be really busy this year to make that noise.