Elzhi: New Beginnings

When super-producer James “Jay Dee/J Dilla” Yancey departed Slum Village in 2001, many hip-hop fans were left wondering what would become of the Detroit-based rap trio. There wasn’t just the matter of replacing him behind the boards, but Dilla was also a phenomenal lyricist. On Trinity: Past, Present, and Future in the fall of 2002, a new face had joined the group. Diminutive it stature but blessed with colossal lyrical skill was Jason “Elzhi” Powers. The album would go on to sell close to 300,000 units powered by the hit single, “Tainted”; one the group’s biggest records. By the third album (or the fourth by some accounts), there was another shift in the group, original member, Titus “Baatin” Glover would be the next to exit stage left. Leaving only Powers, and the final original member, RL “T3” Altman. Detroit Deli: A Taste of Detroit, sold half of its predecessor despite being powered by a monster single, “Selfish,” which featured Kanye West. The album would be the group’s last on a major label, relegating them back to national independent status. Their next effort, Slum Village, achieved a mere fraction of the group’s former success. T3 describes the roller coaster ride, “It’s mostly due to member changes, a lot of member changes, a lot of label changes.” He profoundly states, “Those are the main reasons that it seems like we have to start over every time.” After a decade or more in the music industry, Slum Village persists; they have a mixtape coming out this year, and a new full-length album next year. However, right now, both members are taking time to explore themselves. Enter Elzhi’s The Preface.Talking in My Sleep - ElzhiElzhi has released a number of mixtapes in his career including Witness My Growth and Europass, but this is his first full-length album. “The Preface is sort of the beginning of my story, you may see a preface at the beginning of a book,” begins Elzhi. “This is my life. My book of life.” His fellow group member T3 elaborates, “El always was a solo artist, seeing him branch out and do his thing is a blessing. There is more to come, he has to carve out a niche for himself, as Elzhi, which is what he always wanted to do.”

“Cats like me, like Royce Da 5’9” or like Guilty Simpson… if you put us back in the early 90’s, I feel like we would be looked at as extremely legendary. But now, there is a different feel to music. Music is more simplistic now. Lyrics have been replaced with swagger.” –Elzhi

The album was released by Fat Beats, a large New York and Los Angeles based distributor. Fat Beats is also the label home of Black Milk, who produced 14 of the album’s 16 tracks. Says Bill Sharp, the label’s VP of Operations: “We've been trying to work with Elzhi as a solo artist for years, as it's been apparent that he's one of the best emcees out.” Holding the title as one of Detroit and the rap industry period’s best lyricists fits Elzhi. “There are a lot of people out here who are really rapping,” Mario Butterfield, a Detroit-based photographer and graphic artist, remarks, “Elzhi can really rap circles around these ‘really rappers.’”That label has a double-edged sword, “Certain people are slow to catch what I do, but, overall it’s a great thing. I pride myself on trying to raise the bar every time,” says Elzhi. “As far as the game goes, cats like me, like Royce Da 5’9” or like Guilty Simpson… if you put us back in the early 90’s, I feel like we would be looked at as extremely legendary. But now, there is a different feel to music. Music is more simplistic now. Lyrics have been replaced with swagger.”Transitional Joint - ElzhiEl captures his nostalgic feelings on “Growing Up,” raised by his step-father after his mother passed away, he always brings a bit of nostalgia to every project he completes. “Guess you could say, I was saved by Hip-Hop young,” he raps, “Reciting ‘F**k the Police’, I got my lip popped, who’da thought I’d rise from the bottom to the tip-top.”The top is where Elzhi is leading his city. “All of the artists in the Michigan Hip-Hop scene are pushing each other, and in order to stand out, they know that they have to be at the top of their game,” states Sharp. “There is such a wealth of talent in Detroit that new stars could be emerging for years." That is part of the excitement of the Detroit Hip-Hop scene which is quickly becoming a movement. “It’s great to see where we are as far as Hip-Hop, there were a lot of records that came out this year, and a lot of artists are doing songs, and even albums together,” adds Elzhi whose The Preface features over a half dozen Detroit artists and all Detroit production. “That shows that we have grown out of our old mentality, instead of pulling each other down, we are lifting each other up.” Elzhi is planning to record two full-length collaborative albums; one with Phat Kat and one with Royce Da 5’9”. With the latter he engages in a lyrical death-match on The Preface’s “Motown 25.” Elzhi has always been a dynamic rapper. “We went to the same school for our last year, but I didn’t meet him until the Hip-Hop Shop,” remembers Butterfield who attended high school with the MC. “He looked real plain and simple. Like, ‘This guy can’t hurt a fly.’” Butterfield continues, “Proof called him up, and he rapped over the entire instrumental, like three minutes. The whole time he rapped, nobody said anything, the hip hop shop was completely quiet. Nobody could do that, not even Eminem.”Lyricism is in full demonstration on The Preface. On “Colors”, he is teaching a class of students, using colorful metaphors throughout: “They sell purples through Blackberry’s, with the Bluetooth.” By the end, the listener feels like they actually did learn something. There are no “come here, girl” singles, like those that Slum Village had always been known for. The Preface introduces an MC who after this album will need no introduction. As for Slum Village, even Baatin is writing, and rumored to possibly rejoin the group. Both Elzhi and T3 confirm that they are working on new material. While T3 has a solo album coming out in 2009, The Night Gallery LP, they are also recording a mixtape and plan to release a new album next year and are currently making sure that their business paperwork is taken care of. “We are still in the house, we are still getting better,” says Elzhi, “We are still making new music, The Ess is still good.”