Album Review: Elzhi – Elmatic
The other day I was in one of my infamous hip hop debates in the barber shop (I get a shape up every three days so I’m in there a lot) and today’s discussion was about is Snoop’s “Doggystyle” album a 5 mic classic. Most people didn’t t think it was, but I gave it a 4.5… a GREAT album but not a classic and one of the reasons is because of Snoop remaking Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh’s hip hop classic “La Di Da Di.” When I heard that song for the first time in my man Bill’s whip I was in hip hop disgust! Who remakes a hip hop song? ESPECIALLY a classic! Who does that? That’s sacrilegious! Which turned into another debate about why is that frowned upon in hip hop? With any other genre of music, there are remakes, some are good (see Luther’s version of “A House Is Not A Home”) and some are bad (see Omarion remaking Aaliyah’s “One in A Million”) but nobody stones you for doing that. And my response was and will always be that hip hop is more than just a genre of music, it’s a culture with music being just one of the four components. No one cares if Beyonce does her own choreography or if Taylor Swift writes her own songs but what if we found out Rakim or Nas NEVER wrote any of their verses or if the Rock Steady Crew never came up with any of their own moves?!?! The hip hop world would be in disarray! Like Kris said “rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live.”
So when my man Allen told me his favorite mc Elzhi was going to remake Nas’ hip hop classic “Illmatic” and call it “Elmatic” I was like why? I mean seriously….why? What’s the point? To pay homage to Nas? Than do a song with him. To put the younger generation onto it? To be honest, I would assume Nas and Elzhi kinda have the same audience for the most part. In fact I would think Nas’ audience may be just a little bigger than Elzhi’s and Nas wouldn’t need his help schooling the youth on “Illmatic.” But it is what it is and “Elmatic” is dropping and truth be told, I didn’t wanna have anything to do with it.
So the closer we came to the release date of “Elmatic” songs started to leak here and there and the first song I heard from the project was “Detroit State of Mind.” And as much as I wanted to hate on this song, I couldn’t. Elzhi goes IN on this something nasty! “It’s breaking news, it’s best that you stay awake than snooze/they taking lives or they taking shoes/I jot it down like I’m Langston Hughes/and paint a picture in my good book that’s full of verses/it ain’t a scripture nor/form of religion/judges putting men under the prison/them shorty’s dreaming they’re riders but none of ‘em driven.” After peeping this I found out that Elzhi was having a live band outta Detroit, Will Sessions backing him over this project and that got me wanting to check for “Elmatic” now. Than a couple of days go by and next thing you know I come across Elzhi’s “Halftime” and AGAIN Elzhi and Will Sessions KILL it! “Cause I’m an animal/scratch that I’m the manual” I mean, these cats are playing “Halftime” PERFECT and even though it’s a live band, the boom bap is still there. So now I’ve gone from wanting to boycott the release of “Elmatic” to literally sitting at my laptop waiting for 1pm to hit on May 10th to download it!
My New Years resolution 4 years ago was to be able to admit when I’m wrong, and I can admit that I was 100% wrong about “Elmatic.” Elzhi and Will Sessions do their thing on this. Every song gives you the feel of the original “Illmatic” but Elzhi’s lyrics give these classic beats new life. On “Memory Lane” Elzhi spits “Yo, I’m trying to get to memory lane/but wonder should I take the train of thought/or hope on a mental plane/I don’t stay far/but this a place you can’t get to in your car/to travel, state of steel is bizarre/but there you are/like you never left, back in junior high with your report card/trying to make a B out the letter F” which had me reminiscing to when I was changing my report card grades back in ’87. Elzhi keeps going in on “Represent” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” but “One Love” is where Elzhi decides to flip the script from the original concept of Nas talking to his dude in jail to talking about a shorty. I gotta give Elzhi props for reaching out to a live band because I truly believe this helps take “Elmatic” to the next level. On the “World is Yours” and “One Love” the band straight blacks out at the end of each song and goes into a live jam session that’s ridiculous! And even after Elzhi’s homage to “Illmatic” is done, he blesses us with a bonus cut that gives advice to up and coming mc’s on how to handle their business and also drops some jewels on the background story of the demise of his time with Slum Village.
Now, let me make sure I set the record straight about some things. I’ve ALWAYS thought Elzhi was one of the illest mc’s in the game. I knew spitting wasn’t a problem for this dude at all. I just felt he would have been better at putting out his next release versus remaking “Illmatic” but like I said earlier, I was wrong. But don’t get it twisted, I still feel like hip hop songs and albums shouldn’t be remade BUT like the disclaimer they used to put on professional wrestling when I was younger watching the Road Warriors put in work against the Four Horsemen and The Midnight Express, which was “do not try these moves at home, these moves are to be done by professionals ONLY.” That same disclaimer needs to be put on “Elmatic” because I’m sure every mc with a rhyme written in their blackberry is gonna try these moves at home and end up killing themselves. Remember, these moves should ONLY be done by a professional…and Elzhi is mos def a professional.
4 outta 5