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eLZhi Interview

August 13, 2008

Ever since his days of working with storied groups such as The Breakfast Club and 925 Colony, Elzhi has been considered one of Detroit’s top-tier lyricists. His flawless technique—the deft beat-riding ability, complex internal rhyme schemes, the metaphor- and simile-stacked verses—has earned him the respect of Hip Hop heads everywhere, and his female-friendly verses have helped Slum maintain a rapport with the fairer sex as well. The problem is, Elzhi’s music hasn’t always been very accessible: though Slum Village’s albums have consistently been in stores, much of Elzhi’s music has been released with small runs and limited distribution, forcing fans to scour eBay and message boards to satisfy their fixes.

But this summer, Elzhi has finally released The Preface. Weighing in at 16 tracks and one hour long, the album has punchline-heavy bars, conceptual gems, panty-wetters, and cohesive narratives—everything that an Elzhi fan would expect after waiting this long for a proper debut. In an interview with MichiganHipHop.com, Elzhi gives insight into the construction of the disc, recounts his past and present roles in Slum Village, and the importance of showing his artistic dimensions.

First off, The Preface is technically your solo debut. A lot of people are wondering, “What took so long?”
Right. It’s just the fact that Slum Village is the group that brought me into the game, they gave me a voice. So, what I wanted to do before anything was to make sure to try my best to add what I could add to Slum to make it grow and to make it elevate. Recently, on the business end, Slum has been going through a couple of changes. So it’s like, OK, I had to think about it. Like, “Wow, while we’re doing these changes, what am I going to do as a solo artist? I’ve got to get my ball rolling somehow, it’s time to do that.” So I attempted to do the Europass, which is something in which I just took on a road tour CD. I ended up selling it to this one place in Germany, and they ended up putting it online, and then, somebody took it and just spread it out everywhere. From there, it’s like, “You got to do an album now,” so let’s get this popping. Basically, I had two and a half to three weeks to get it popping, and that’s what I did.

What made you take the approach you had taken with Europass, to distribute it so sparsely?
I can only do so much. I had to hook up with a label like Fat Beats to get the word out there, so somebody can go to a regular store and buy my stuff. I have a voice in the game, but I can’t say that I feel like I’m always heard. I felt like the only way to scream is to have my stuff everywhere floating around: people to go to FYE, people to go to Best Buy and be able to get it, as well as to iTunes and stuff like that. They’ve got to search and find it, otherwise, if I didn’t put it out like that. I’m just letting people know I’ve got a voice out here man, because it seems like they don’t hear me. I’ma keep yellin’, though.

You had three weeks to put together this material. What’s going through your mind over this short time span?
What’s going through my mind is what beats I’ma use. Black Milk was doing his record, and I didn’t want to really be on him like, “Can I get beats for my record?” because I know he’s trying to perfect his stuff. So I had to basically go through joints that Black Milk did months, probably like a year ago. I went through certain CDs and found the right jewels. Like, “I’m feeling this, I’m feeling that, let’s go, I’ve got the beats now. Let’s do the rhymes to them.”

It got to the point where I was like, with a joint like “Hands Up,” where it’s like a story, and you’re trying to figure out how to end the story, and I can’t. I’ve got the first and the second verse, and I’m like, “Damn.” Then I do “The Science” with my man Fes Roc, and that sparked another idea, so it’s like, “Bet, now I know how to end this shit.” So I was using certain songs that I had already recorded and certain songs I was about to record to keep sparking my interest in doing a record. Because I’m in the studio sweating like crazy, trying to get the shit right. Because I only had two and a half, three weeks, you know what I’m saying? I can’t disappoint. I got it done though, so it’s all good. Sweat off my brow. [laughs]

We all know that there’s a bunch of music that J Dilla left behind, and some people may have thought that you would have come with Dilla instrumentals that haven’t been heard before. Did you have access to any?
I can’t really speak on what’s going on with that situation, but it’s a situation with that. I don’t think I should even speak on it, but it’s a situation with it. It’s not that I didn’t want to use Dilla beats, because I always want to use Dilla tracks. I feel like Dilla… [pauses] Honestly, there’s no one next do Dilla, man. Dilla was at level 160 as far as I’m concerned. No one comes close to Dilla. The thing is, I would’ve loved to use Dilla tracks, but there’s something going on with that where I’m not able to do that at the moment. That’s the only reason why you’re not hearing no Dilla beats on the album. You may be able to find out what’s happening, but you know. It’s some bullshit, but you know, it’s all good.

The album is called The Preface. What is it “the preface” to?
It’s just the beginning to my story, man. The thing is, you’ve got a lot of two-dimensional, you’ve even got a lot of one-dimensional emcees out there. And by there being so many two-dimensional and one-dimensional emcees, people kind of want to put you in a box with the first thing they hear from you. It might be cats that might have heard me on “Hiding Place,” or on “Goatit,” or maybe even on “Motown 25,” and were like, “He’s a battle emcee.” But you may have a cat that knows me from Out Of Focus, or from the Slum era, and be like, “Oh he just does girl songs, or he just does concepts.” So this is the beginning of my story. Showing people that I am three-dimensional and I am diverse. So people hearing my record for the first time who had put me in a box, they may have to listen to it twice before they come to a conclusion to see what it’s about. I don’t like to be in a box, so I try to be as diverse as possible. I come from that era, man, with Pharaohe Monch, Busta Rhymes. I come from that era where it was good to be diverse and not be put in one particular spot. This is to the show cats. Now judge who I am as an artist, off of this. “Well bam: he can do battles, he can do girl stuff, he can do conceptual stuff, he can even do stuff that hasn’t been done in the game now.” So just judge me off of this right here, and then we’re gon’ grow. ‘Cause I’m not always going to come twice on a track in the same way.

You’ve had a lot of solo material before now that wasn’t really put out there. Are you releasing or re-releasing any of that music?
The Europass was something that just kind of happened, and it’s like, “Bet, let’s really sell this.” It was a tour CD. We just kind of went overseas and did that or whatever. It was kind of rough drafts of an album with songs I just had laying around and made into a product. Yeah man, we’re going to re-release Europass, we’re going to re-release the blend tape, and we’re going to re-release Witness My Growth. We’re going to re-release all of that, including the Out Of Focus EP with DVD footage and also a few other songs of that era that no one’s ever heard. We’ve even got a video for “Sarah,” from back in the day, that never even came out. So we’re going to put that on a DVD and everything, and make sure the mixes is tight, and we’re going to take it there, man.

Let’s talk about Slum Village for a little bit. Detroit’s Hip Hop scene is one that’s notorious for having a lot of talent, but that talent doesn’t always blow up outside of the city like it should. Slum is one of the few groups to really get that success. What advice would you give to cats who are trying to get the same success? And what do you think makes Slum universally appealing?
Slum’s got a history. What makes Slum universally appealing is that they had one of the illest producers ever producing for ‘em, Jay Dee, rest in peace. Jay Dee, to me is part of the neo-soul movement, and was one of the cats to spearhead that movement. He never really got his props on a mainstream level, because his name never really got out there. But if you were to play certain songs for people, like the Janet Jackson cut, or the Common cut “The Light,” they’ll be like, “I like that song.” That was Dilla that did that. Plus, the music of Slum Village alone—and I’m just speaking on Vol. 2, because I wasn’t on Vol. 2 like that, I’m just saying how it affected me. For them to be able to style the way they did over the music, for the music to sound the way it sounded, for it to be the three different personalities like that, there was nothing like that. And for it to be a Detroit group, it was just huge. It reflected the Motown era.

As far as going out the city, and going overseas to do shows or whatever, MySpace is definitely a place to be, man. If you’ve got records, and you’re trying to do something with it, get a page, put it on your page, and start trying to network. It’s people on there all the time trying to do shows with people. You may not get what your worth is just yet, because you have to prove yourself. But if you’re just trying to rock a show somewhere else, it’s best to use the Internet. The Internet is the new streets right now, straight up and down. For promotion, for everything. Get in the Internet street, do what you’ve got to do, and hopefully you can make something pop.

When you joined Slum, they had already developed a niche. But the shit was going on with Baatin, and Dilla had left. Take me back to the mindset that you were under when you joined the group, and what it feels like now, being one of the core members of the group.
The thing was, I was T-3’s artist. T-3 was looking for somebody to manage, and at the time, Dilla left to pursue his career with MCA. So it was just Baatin and T-3. So while they were in the process of doing a record, T-3 thought it was a good idea to showcase his artist. So basically, he was like, “Get on this record, get on this record, and get on this record.” At first, I was only going to be on five records. But my thing was to show people what I could do, that was my first reaction. Like, “Bet, I’ma show people what I can do.” But when they put me in the group, I had to think about it. Like, “Hold up. They built a legacy before I was even here, so let me try to blend in and do what they do so that I don’t steer no fans away, and people don’t feel like I messed up the trio or the group.” And so that’s what I did. I blended in, and tried to be one of the members.

Now that I’m one of the members, it feels great for me to even bear Slum Village on my back like that, because it means so much to me. I know for a fact the group influenced a lot of people that I listened to before I even got in the group. Being a part of that is like being a part of history, so I’m enjoying every minute of it. Be on the lookout for the next SV album, too, by the way. It’s going down.

I don’t want to go too far ahead of time, because your album just came out. But everybody is still going to be buzzing about the album with Royce Da 5’9”. How far along is that?
We were kicking it on the phone recently, and he’s coming up with titles, man! He’s hitting me off with titles for the album. We want to do the album A.S.A.P., but…we don’t want it to fall on deaf ears. We want to build up a big enough base of people who enjoy what we do and are willing to look out for the record before we put the record out. Because I feel like me and him are two cats that got slept on in the game for a long time, and we do have a lot to prove. We’re going to always have a lot to prove, man. I dropped The Preface, and the next joint after that is going to be better than that, and the next joint after that is going to be better than that, so we’re just going to keep elevating. We want to make sure it’s enough people listening, so we can make some noise for the city. Royce and Elzhi, I’m telling you, that’s going to be some crazy shit right there. We already got a joint on Jake One’s album called “Glow,” so be on the lookout for that. Also be on the lookout for Bar Exam II, coming out real soon. There’s a track on there with me, Royce and Canibus, too. So be on the lookout for that, it’s going to be wild.

eLZhi “The Preface” in stores now.

7 Comments »

  1. B.. says:

    I put Elzhi in a box a long time ago, and his shit is sittin right next to nas, redman, and busta’s albums. In other words I think he’s one of the ILLEST emcees EVER! I can’t wait to hear that new shit wit royce.

    August 13th, 2008 at 10:16 pm

  2. bananaclipse(3.0) says:

    El is SOOO under-rated

    August 14th, 2008 at 10:43 pm

  3. Termanology x Ice Cube x The Game « Speech Is My Hammer… says:

    […] of Michigan’s premier emcees, Elzhi (of Slum Village) and Buff1, both dropped albums this week (to hear their tracks, check out […]

    August 15th, 2008 at 3:27 am

  4. Video: Elzhi Recounts Classics from His Catalog - mp3REUP.com - Your Mixtape and Hip Hop Music Headquarters says:

    […] Bonus: Ezhi Interview with MHH […]

    August 30th, 2008 at 5:42 pm

  5. k says:

    http://nobodydancenomore.blogspot.com/2008/09/elzhi.html

    September 1st, 2008 at 6:22 pm

  6. Chickee says:

    Dilla knew what’s up with Elzhi…Dilla know’s El has that special somehthing.

    October 30th, 2008 at 10:56 am

  7. Derriel Mickle says:

    as much as i respect t3 and co. i’ve been watin for this brother since the get go. one of the best out hands down.

    December 16th, 2008 at 9:09 pm

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