Your first official solo album The Preface is finally out. How does that feel?
Man, it feels great, man. You know, it’s the beginning. It’s the tip of the iceberg to my story and to my career. It’s finally good to get the ball rolling and it’s been long overdue, man, but everything happens at the right time and it’s all about perfect timing.
What kind of approach did you take to The Preface?
On some real shit, like, The Preface took me maybe two and a half, three weeks to do. I went in there ASAP and got on it. The Europass was something that leaked out on the internet and I never really got a chance to really sell The Europass. It was like a tour CD that I took on the road and from that buzz that generated, it was like, ‘Okay, since I got a buzz again on the internet, let me go ahead and put out this record.’ So I just went in there and tightened my boots up and pulled the strings on my hoodie and went in there and just tried to create the best piece of work that I could.
What I liked about The Preface was the different styles you showed while maintaining that cohesive album feel.
Yeah. This right here will explain what kind of MC I am. That’s why I named it The Preface. Certain people will think that just because they heard a Slum album that I only do girl records or they might have heard a song like “Come and Get It” and thought that I only did battle verses or they might have heard me do some personal work. So this is an opportunity to intertwine those worlds and come up with a few surprises to show that I can do that and more and do some things that you might not have expected me to do. This is really opening up the floodgates to what I can do. I’m not two-dimensional. I’m three-dimensional.
Can even your diehard fans unintentionally put you in a box?
Yeah because of the way the music is today. I come from an era where cats, they get a beat and they hear the beat and the way that the drumline changes up or whatever, they make their changes to the track, therefore making them sound diverse. But these days, there’s a lot of two-dimensional MCs where they sound the same over everything they rap on or they only spit on one type of thing. So without even intentionally putting me in a box, they do because they hear the majority of the MCs come that way. That’s why I wanted to set the record straight with The Preface and just let cats know to expect evolution from me every time you hear me.
What can you do as a solo artist that you can’t do as a member of Slum Village?
Well, Slum Village isn’t really known thought-provoking lyrics, street tales, being personal or battle shit. Slum was more about creating a certain vibe, creating certain styles and you know, just taking it there, creating soulful music that hits your soul. So when we were doing Slum Village stuff and when I first got into Slum Village, I didn’t want to rock the boat. I knew they had a certain kind of fanbase and a certain kind of vibe. So me being a battle rapper, I had to kind of blend in with their flow and at the same time not overdo it but not be the weakest link. It went on for years and years and years to the point where certain people who might have heard the records might have expected me to come a certain way and I do on songs like “Savior” and “Transmission” but I can also come in a different way. So hopefully through this project and hopefully through The Night Gallery, we can add some more diversity to the Slum Village world.
Did working with Slum Village make you a better MC?
I definitely feel like it made me a better MC style-wise. Seeing how those two cats do their thing in the studio opened up the way I do my thing in the studio. Their ear for music, Baatin, T-3 and J Dilla, they have an ear for music. They know what they good shit is and I’ve developed that same ear being with them. You know, as far as making hits like “Tainted”, “Selfish” and “Ease Up”, I’ve learned how to do that from them. And as far as interviews, videos, all of that, shows, they showed me a lot. They played a big part into me developing into who I am today.
What did you want in the production for The Preface?
What I was looking for on the beat tip for the production of The Preface was just some hot shit. I wanted some hot shit. I wanted some shit that I could perform so that when I go out to perform these shows, I feel good. I want songs that make me feel fly when I’m writing and when I’m performing. I want certain beats that would sound good in a hip-hop club. Shit that moves right. Shit that’s colorful. See, I’m a colorful kind of person and as far as music goes, I’m blessed to see the colors in the music. So I wanted music that had different kinds of colors to go with my rhymes so I’m able to match up my vocal tone to the beat to add a whole new depth to my verses. So, you know, you’re just looking for some hot shit.
Black Milk produced most of The Preface. What was it like working with him?
Well, you know, Black Milk was in the process of doing his record at the time and I didn’t really want to bother him because I wanted him to do what he could to make his record crazy. That shit is bananas, by the way. Be on the lookout for that. What I did is I just took the hidden jewels on his beat CDs that people overlooked that I thought was bananas and I put them together and made The Preface.
You were working with Black Milk back when he was just starting out. How have you seen him grow as an artist?
I mean, it’s incredible, man. You see the hunger. We all got the hunger but I knew he had the hunger from the start by how many beats he used to crank out and the verses he used to write and just seeing his development is crazy, man.
Are you happy with the response you’ve gotten so far to The Preface?
Man, from what I’m seeing and what I’m hearing, everybody’s saying they’re loving it and I couldn’t ask for more. You’re an artist and you become an artist but you put your heart and soul and your blood, sweat and tears out there and you’re like, ‘Okay, now what are they going to think?’ For people to listen to it over the computer and respond that they like it, that’s good enough for me. That just makes me want to keep the shit going. It has me to keep trying to do better than I did on the last effort.
Did your tour-only mixtape The Europass help you ready fans for The Preface?
I feel like The Europass was something that sparked the buzz up for me. They definitely played a huge part in the development of The Preface because back then I was getting it from some people that I needed to do a solo record and my whole thing was I needed to make sure the Slum was straight before I did a solo record because if it wasn’t for T-3 and Baatin, I wouldn’t have had a voice in the game as quickly as I did. And J Dilla put me on the “Come and Get It” record and that was really like the first time that I ever received a check in the game. I felt like before I could go and do my solo thing, I gotta make sure that my fam is straight.
One of your first projects to ever be released was the Out of Focus EP. How do you feel hearing that project today?
The Out of Focus EP was something that I did back around ’98 or ’97. I mean, it kind of spread like wildfire on the internet. That was really like the first thing that created the buzz for me. Man, it’s a great thing. I was on MySpace and someone left me a message that they had “Boomerang Slang” off of this on their iPod and that it’s been on repeat.
That EP means a lot to me because a lot of that stuff that I was writing about was stuff that I was feeling at the time. A song like “Scattered Pictures”, I was inspired by my mom’s passing at the time and that’s what really got me to taking my emotions and putting it on paper and putting it to a track and making it as music and at the same time, a dude that I was real cool with back in the Hip-Hop Shop days, Bug, he died at that time and the state of the music was just starting to flip and turn into some bullshit. I had an altercation with a dude around that time and we was kind of beefing or whatever and I put that in there.
When I hear it it just takes me back to those times. We were actually about to put that back out too with better mixes and songs that people might not have heard that I did around that time. We’ll put it together with video footage from back in those days along with videos from those days. We’ll put it in one big package so look out for that.
Why didn’t The Breakfast Club album ever come out on a label?
That was like the Out of Focus joint. I think I printed up more of the Out of Focus joint. I think we printed up, like, 20 cassette tapes of this. We basically sold a few and that basically spread like wildfire. That was just something that we came together and did. That was just something that we kind of came together and did. Now in the future you may hear a project from us if the majors and certain labels don’t get in the way. I don’t know. I think it was something that cats wasn’t ready for. They wasn’t ready for it at the time. But maybe if I make enough noise and everyone else does their thing, hopefully somebody will be interested and they’ll want to put it out.
The Breakfast Club was a film about four kids stuck in detention. What kind of a student were you in school?
I was the cat that everybody knew who rapped. I would be walking down the hallways and cats would be giving me pounds that I had never even met before in my life or that I had never even had a conversation with. But they would know me as being the guy talking out everyone in the lunchroom that rapped. I was known as being chill and down to earth. I used to skip my first hour a lot and go to my boy’s crib and look at Transformers. I was just the cat that was soaking everybody’s personalities in. I was mainly like an outcast just doing my own thing.
There are a lot of quality artists coming out of Detroit today. What do you think of the young talent coming out of Detroit?
Man, just like what I said about Black Milk, I’m proud of the MCs that are here because with the passing of Proof and the passing of J Dilla, we feel obligated to carry that torch and show them what real hip-hop is. And this year alone, Detroit artists have put out the most product that we’ve ever put out from Invincible to Fat Ray to the Caltroit project to T-3’s solo project The Night Gallery to Finale and everyone else. I’m very proud of the MCs and I feel that with the hard work and the dedication that we’re putting into it, right now we’re planting the seeds in the soil and we’re watering the plants and pretty soon you’re going to see it blossom. I’m very proud the hard work and effort that everybody is putting into it so it can be on the map the way it’s supposed to be.
What’s been going on with T-3 lately?
When Baatin had left the group to do his thing, me and T really had to be there for each other and create that chemistry. And through the years, that chemistry has become stronger and stronger and stronger and now we got it. We do shows like it’s nothing. We do songs like it’s nothing. I know what he likes as far as music and he knows what I like as far as music. And the way we work together, man, it’s like magic. And as far as Baatin, his development for what he’s been going through from his illness and his sickness, I’m glad to see that he’s overcoming that right now. Actually be on the lookout to hear him on the new Slum Village record. I’m very proud to hear that on so many different levels. Slowly but surely it’s all coming back together.
Can you describe the songs he’s on?
We got him on a few songs right now. I can’t really say at this moment in time how many songs he’ll be on, but you’ll hear his presence on the album. He’s back in effect and sounding better and I just can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s something exciting.
That’s good to hear. Is Slum Village still doing an album with all Jay Dee beats?
That’s the goal but there’s something going on that I can’t really say anything about which is some bullshit. I would rather get the permission to talk about it but that’s the goal. We definitely want to do a Slum Village record with all Dilla beats. I feel like it’s only right. But hopefully you’ll hear about that in the future.
What do you think of Illa J, Jay Dee’s younger brother, doing the Yancey Boys project using all of Jay Dee’s earlier beats?
I feel like that’s great. That’s his way of carrying the torch and it’s exciting to see his development and growth day by day. He’s getting better on the beats and on the rhymes. I’m definitely happy with him doing that and I can’t wait to hear it. I haven’t heard anything as of yet but I can’t wait to hear it, man. I already know he’s coming with that heat.
It seems like there’s an almost bottomless supply of J Dilla beats. How many Dilla beats do you guys have in the stash?
He was diligent, man. Who knows how many beats we got, man? Even back in the Slum era, which he was a part of, J Dilla used to remix a song five times. There’s an endless amount of beats that he’s got. He’s got beats like that. He has an endless amount of beat tapes and an endless amount of experimental shit that he used to do. Who knows? His catalogue is so wide and deep that I couldn’t even give you a number?
Are there still plans to do a Slum Village album with Black Milk producing the entire LP?
Everybody has their careers. Black started with us and went into a solo career and he’s got this new record coming. He’s got his career that he’s doing. I mean, if we all find time to get in the studio and knock that out, it will happen. But you best believe that Black Milk will have a presence on the record we do.
What will be the next thing we see from Slum Village?
You will probably hear a new project from the S sometime early next year. And some of the tracks that Baatin is rapping on is by Black Milk and Young RJ. Just look out for that coming out real soon in the near, near future.
Will we see more solo projects from you in the future now that The Preface is officially out?
Oh yeah, yeah. I’m about to buckle down and get in the studio and take my time on this next record. I plan on, and this is the goal, I plan on having another record by December, either by the beginning or end of December. I don’t even want to talk about the titles and that shit but it’s definitely going to be some different shit. And you know me and Houseshoes got a mixtape that we’re putting together called El-Matic. That’s a tribute to the classic album Illmatic that Nas put out. Houseshoes was actually a dominant factor in the way the Out of Focus EP sounded on the music end so it just feels good to hook back up with Houseshoes and come out with another project.
What are your goals for The Preface?
My goal is to get more people aware of it through videos. I plan on shooting a video for the “Transitional” joint and maybe another song like “Motown 25” or “The Guessing Game”. I want to get on these shows, man. Get on the road and go to the U.K. or Japan and get the road out that this album does exist and try to put it in the right people’s hands to try to make sure that my career grows so that I can put out bigger and better projects in the future.
I’m a wordsmith and I’m a scientist when I’m writing my lyrics. I create my own formulas of poetry, of rhyme structure, of schemes, of metaphors, patterns…I also create new and innovative ways to come up with concepts or to attack a certain concept. So basically just think of me as a scientist and I create these formulas and I can put them to any concept and any beat and any genre of music that I choose. I tailor-fit my rhymes to fit the tracks and with this formula I can rhyme about anything that I choose. Just know that when you look real deep into the heart of what Elzhi does, just know that that’s always going to be there and I’m going to always come up with new patterns and rhyme schemes to use so that if people wanted to enjoy the vibe or if they wanted to sit down and really think and listen, that aspect of it is in there too and I’m just going to keep trying to outdo the last thing that I did.