Published May 18, 2011Tributes to Nas ― arguably one of the best rappers in hip-hop history ― have been done before, but former Slum Village member Elzhi's new mixtape, ELmatic (available free at www.elzhi.com), operates on a couple of levels. First, it's a tribute to Nas's earth-shaking Illmatic debut ― a long-awaited "labour of love" that funks up the ageless instrumentals with jazz-infused sounds from fellow Detroit, MI-based ensemble band Will Sessions. Second, it functions as a new beginning of sorts for Elzhi, post-Slum Village: after nearly a decade, his departure from the hip-hop group was less than amicable, with accusations of "unfair business practices" between the record label and former group mate T3. ELmatic travels down memory lane (literally) and offers up a breezy blow by blow of the 1994 classic, with some joints landing more than others. You don't mess around with "It Ain't Hard to Tell" ― and "Memory Lane" and the geographically correct "Detroit State of Mind," with Elz riding the live groove nicely. But be warned: a track like "Life's a Bitch" (featuring Royce da 5'9 and Mint Condition's Stokely Williams) may at first seem slightly disorientating due to the reinterpreted Gap Band sample. ELmatic serves as both a Nas tribute and appetizer to what Elzhi has cooking up in the future.
What have been the personal and professional lessons learned, post-Slum Village?
I've got a whole new direction; I've accepted my path as a solo artist and now it's about getting down to business. The moral of the story is watch the company you keep and make sure when you sign any paperwork that it's looked over thoroughly.
Why is now a good time to release ELmatic?
The concept was first given to me by DJ House Shoes three years ago. He thought it would be clever for me to remake Illmatic, not only because he knew that Nas was an inspiration to me as an MC, but also the wordplay between Elzhi and Illmatic as in ELmatic. It may seem like it took three years, but a lot of things got in the way, including other Nas tributes that are out there. I tried to figure out a way to twist the concept in my own way, so I hooked up with [Detroit funk band] Will Sessions. Basically, they played over all the beats with live instrumentation. So, when we went into the studio and knocked it out it only took a month-and-a-half.
Would you say creating it was a labour of love?
Definitely. If you can think of five classic hip-hop albums, [Illmatic] would be in the top five. I'm coming from a fan's point of view through my poetry. That record taught me a lot as an MC. (Independent)