elmatic

Posted on Wednesday 11 May 2011

Elzhi - Elmatic

Wow. It’s about all I can say. Elzhi, probably Detroit’s most skilled rapper, formerly of Slum Village, and heir apparent to Nas’ throne for story- and concept-driven lyrics, dropped his long-awaited remake of Nas’ 1994 classic, Illmatic, understandibly titled Elmatic today via his website. I first heard about the project years ago (2?), I think through Los Angeles-by-way-of-Detroit producer House Shoes’ podcast/website. I was intrigued at the time – Elzhi is a favorite of mine and his Black Milk-produced album, The Preface, is a generally under-appreciated gem of post-Dilla Detroit hip-hop. But I remained skeptical over the idea of remaking another’s album. The Walkmen remade Harry Nilsson’s Pussy Cats in 2006 and on top of me disliking the musical result, the track-by-track remake didn’t seem to add much to the original, coming off only slightly more considered than a drunken karaoke performance.

Elzhi’s take on Illmatic is completely the opposite: his talented storytelling is layered over clever nods to the rhyme structure of Nas’ original – telling a new story based on older motifs. Detroit-based funk/jazz ensemble, Will Sessions‘ reconstruction of Illmatic’s lauded production is nothing short of genius. Each track offers a new take on the tracks that epitomized 90s hip-hop from Pete Rock, Large Professor, and DJ Premier; but in a way that could only have been achieved through live instrumentation. I can’t help but head-nod as I listen along; I was making a stinkface by the time “Memory Lane” came up. These are obviously revamped from the original (House Shoes-produced) teaser snippets that Elzhi released 2 years ago. The vibraphone-driven “Represent” sounds like a hip-hop version of The Nutcracker – no pun intended. The whole while Elzhi sounds like he’s enjoying himself in what is a surprisingly fresh performance. The icing on the cake for me are the two hidden songs at the end of the last track, a hypothetical follow up to the 1995 Raekwon/Nas/Ghostface collaboration, “Verbal Intercourse” (produced by 14KT of Athletic Mic League), and a remake of Nas’ 1999 track, “New York State Of Mind Pt. II” (produced by Khrysis of The Away Team). Both are exceptional, but “Verbal Intercourse 2,” in particular is strikingly heartfelt. Elzhi speaks to his tribulations with the record industry, but specifically with being taken advantage of by RJ Rice of Barack Records and betrayal by former Slum Village colleague, T3:

Take it from somebody with a past
Check it – here’s mine – I was in the group around ’99
Been rapping since 8, thought it was great to be finally signed
Little did I know I made a huge mistake
I found out the label and the manager was fake
And the person that betrayed me the most was my partner
Though all three would be the reason for my departure
I’m thinking to myself, “how you let them outsmart ya?”
Nobody warned me like I’m warning you, happy aren’t cha?
But I’ma show them, that it was nice to know ‘em
Or maybe I should hoe ‘em, and throw them in a poem
‘Cuz they think that I’m below ‘em
Just wait until my shit drops
‘Cuz I got a drive that don’t slow down for pitstops

Here’s the video for “Halftime”:

Enough explanation; pick up the whole thing for free (!) and pre-order the CD HERE.

Tracklist:
01. The Genesis
02. Detroit State Of Mind / House Shoes Shout
03. Halftime
04. Memory Lane
05. The World Is Yours
06. Represent
07. Life’s A Bitch feat. Royce Da 5’9″ / Yearning For Your Love feat. Stokley Williams of Mint Condition
08. One Love
09. It Ain’t Hard To Tell
10. Pete Rock Shout / Verbal Intercourse 2 / Detroit State Of Mind Pt. II feat. Sean Boog of The Away Team

: Elzhi & Will Sessions – Elmatic (via elzhi.com) :
: Elzhi – Memory Lane :
: Elzhi – Verbal Intercourse 2 (hidden track) :


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