Star Detroit emcee Elzhi tackles his own nostalgia and creates an ear-bending homage to Nas' Illmatic
Published: June 1, 2011
MT: It'd be great if that record could come out on some badass Detroit rap record label, right? Oh, wait ... we don't have one. All this talent and no Detroit-based outlet. What gives?
Elzhi: It would take strong sense of unity and understanding of people knowing how to play their position. Everybody wants to be the man. But you can't have total unity and want to be the man at the same time.
MT: So Detroit rap's more competitive than it is collaborative?
Elzhi: In a way, yeah. I'm not saying hip-hop artists in Detroit don't collaborate, they do. Elmatic is collaboration. The problem is that everyone wants to be the man. And they want to become the man before someone else can. And not everyone is going to be the man. There's a lot of unresolved problems in the Detroit hip-hop community because of that. If people would stop looking out only for themselves and would come together as a whole, then we could move as a unit. That'd be a real force. Serious.
MT: You take more than a few jabs at the recording industry on Elmatic. Where's that relationship at right now?
Elzhi: I'll say this: I think everything happens for a reason. Things I might've looked at as being negative are actually things that helped bring about positive outcomes. That's the way I'm looking at that relationship right now. I'm feeling great. No frustrations, nothing. I feel at ease. I feel that there's been a rebirth.
MT: Illmatic, in large part, is a testament to New York City. Elmatic feels distinctly Detroit. Was that intentional?
Elzhi: Nah, that's just something I can't escape. Detroit's where I'm from. Even if I leave Michigan, I rep Michigan. When I'm not in Detroit, I'm repping Detroit. When I slip a Detroit reference into a verse, that's just coming out naturally. That's just me, man.
MT: You rap about some pretty personal stuff on this record. Death, cancer, personal letdowns. Is there anything too private to rap about?
Elzhi: I don't really think there is, but check this out: I had a concept for a song called "Black Cloud." I was writing this song recently. The concept for the song is that everywhere I go there's this black cloud following me around. It follows me into the gym, it's in the shower with me — it's crazy. The day after I wrote the song was one of the worst days I ever had. Words are powerful things. If very real emotions are behind the words, I think they can manifest things. So, if there's something I won't rap about or don't address, it's only because I don't underestimate the power of those words.
MT: Is there a spiritual connection there?
Elzhi: I'm moved to rap about something that happened to me, I'm going to rap about it because music is therapy. It's all about getting all those negative and stressful things out of your body and mind. You put that personal stuff down on paper, then you put it on a track, and when you play the track back, that's the medicine.
Download Elmatic and track Elzhi's summer schedule at elzhi.com.
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