Even in a rapidly crowding profession, Elzhi is one of the best; any thinking observer of hip-hop will tell you as much. Looking back on his career, though, the flirtations with creative ruin have actually been manifold. This is because Elzhi is a free sprit impossible to wrangle.
Not all rappers suffer record label dictates easily, but most can deal, whereas Elzhi is affirmatively opposed to checks and balances on his sleepless imagination. That's how you wind up with lots of tortured concept songs. The Preface, Elzhi's fantastic but filterless solo debut, was a good case in point, giving voice to every whim that had ever popped in his head.
Like it or not, Elzhi's new identity resists old temptations: the rakish and somewhat undisciplined rapper of ten years ago is gone, at least for now. Colorful characters are aplenty in Detroit hip-hop, but Elzhi isn't a flashy hustler like Payroll Giovanni or a carnal-minded reprobate like Danny Brown. Instead, he's a concerned elder trying to snatch the youth from the jaws of perdition. "Seventeen," the arguable centerpiece of this debut as Jericho Jackson, warns bluntly against the pursuit of quick material gain that once drove Elzhi, then a teenage McDonalds cashier, into the streets.
Watching the pillars of his community be cut asunder, a mournful urgency appears to have coiled deep within Elzhi. This sense of urgency is helped along by producer Khrysis. His beats are brassy, funky and fearsome; at times, as on "Self Made" and "Cuffin' Season," they recall a young Pete Rock. Some readers will surely blanch at the mention of Pete's name, but Khrysis and Elzhi Are Jericho Jackson is hardly a nostalgia trip back to the quaint early '90s. If anything, Elzhi has charted a new course that will serve him well in the years ahead. (Jamla / Roc Nation)