ELZHI INTERVIEW

Detroit MC Elzhi made his international debut on “Come and Get It,” a stand out song from Jay Dee’s (J Dilla) debut album, “Welcome 2 Detroit”. The widespread praise for the track led to Elzhi joining the group Slum Village in 2002 and becoming a member of one of the most respected Hip Hop groups in the world.

In 2009, Elzhi hired a new manager who immediately made enquiries into Slum Village’s contract with E1 music regarding their new album. RJ Rice, the founder of the group’s long-time label, Barak Records (n.k.a. Ne’Astra Music Group) responded by cutting Elzhi’s appearances on “The Villa Manifesto” LP in half. Ultimately, the label made the decision to remove Elzhi from Slum Village.

With The JAE.B Group as new management since 2010 and Elzhi’s departure from the record label that is home of Slum Village, Elzhi is now focused on reaching new heights. After a decade of recording, and years of international touring under his belt, Elzhi has the focus and experience to conquer new levels of success as a solo artist and one of the greatest MC’s. Grindin’ recently caught up with Elzhi on his tour of Australia

Detroit is renowned for its musical heritage dating back to the days of Motown in the sixties and seventies, to Techno in the eighties and Hip Hop now. What do you think it is about the city that continues to produce artists who get out there on a global scale?
I think the reason why the music scene keeps alive, we don’t really have any like major labels out here, like major record label companies so in order to survive we got to give 110% to be heard you know? So we’re always trying to push some boundaries of music, whether it be production or MCing.

Growing up as an MC in Detroit how hard was it for you yourself to stand out from the rest and what did you do get noticed?
Well growing up in Detroit, I was a big fan of the open mic scene, so once I discovered like the Hip Hop Shop and the open mic nights where I could get my name known people started recognising that. So around that time, you know, the internet wasn’t really banging like today, you had to really like get a rep in your city man to make some kind of noise and that’s what I did. I just got on at open mic nights, to freestyle/battle and just became a part of this scene. That’s how I was able to stand above a lot of guys really because I made myself known.

What were some of the most memorable experiences during that time?
Man back in the day like I was in the Hip Hop Shop, and I was freestyling, and it was like strictly off the dome. In the Hip Hop Shop normally when you get in that open mic circle you have to like come off the top of the head, it wasn’t like you wrote something it was a proper freestyle. So I was freestyling and Maurice Malone the owner just gave me a free shirt and that was the first time anybody had got like a free shirt it was just crazy. So that was one of my memorable times when I did open mic.

When was the moment you could realise you could make music as a career?
The moment I realised I could make music as a career was when I got with DJ House Shoes and we worked on the “Out Of Focus” EP and it was crazy because we didn’t really have a label to put it out, so it was like kind of it circulated through like the city, and somebody from Chicago took the CD and put it on the internet. I wasn’t even on the internet at the time, you know what I’m saying? But that person put it on the internet, it spread it like all around. So you know, there’s people that know about that CD in Japan as well as like Germany, around the time where – when this particular person had a thing on the internet. Then just the feedback from that let me know that I could really do this as a career.

Who has been the biggest influence on yourself as an artist so far? Well as an artist and why?
I got a lot of different influences man. As a youth like coming up, Rakim was like somebody I looked to as an inspiration and somebody that like really used to charge my battery every time I heard his vocals and his lyrics. You know, being getting older, I started to discover artists like Jimmy Hendrix, directors like Tarantino, and companies like Affinity that made things whether they be movies, video games and music. All of these things add inspiration when they’re right, and done well. So I mean, just entertainment period man, is always given a spark when I need it to take you to the next level of your MCing.

Moving onto Slum Village, how did you get to be in the position to become a member, and when you were first asked what was your reaction? Was it expected, or was it just something totally out of the blue?
Well you know, at the time like when I got asked to become a member of Slum Village, T3 was trying to be a manager. What happened was he put me on like five – originally I was supposed to be on five songs for the “Trinity” album but since the chemistry was so good with me, T3, and Baatin – the existing group, the label as well as like the members in Slum Village, they had a meeting and they all agreed to put me into the equation. They called me in the room and asked me would I be comfortable of being a part of Slum Village, and I said “Hell yeah.” At that time Slum Village was legendary and known in those days so it was a bit honour for me to be a part of that.

How do you look back on that time?
Oh man, looking back on those times, I mean, in the beginning it was great, because I mean with Slum Village I was able to go on my first tour, called the “Family Tree” Tour. I was on the tour with Phat Kat, Dwele and Phife from A Tribe Called Quest who was one of my favourite groups growing up. I was grateful to have a chance to see the world for the first time, and just getting in the studio with cats like Baatin, as well as J Dilla, I mean, they just showed me how to do things in a way where you just thought out of the box and put out your feelings. I use those techniques to this day and I learnt a lot from those times.

What is the one lesson you learned after all that’s happened since leaving the group?
One of the lessons, and one of the most important lessons, is make sure before you sign anything, to get your own lawyer. That’s the advice I want to give to anybody that’s in the business, man. Make sure you get your own lawyer, and you have them look over your contract before you sign it man. You’ll save yourself a great deal of headache.

J Dilla was and still is a major influence on Hip Hop, how was your relationship with him, and how did he help you in your career? What do you think still makes him the legend that he is still today?
Man, J Dilla, you know, was always a mutual respect between me and him. I remember J Dilla introducing me to Pete Rock for the first time, before I even got into Slum Village. I mean, we go way back to the days of the Hip Hop Shop he influenced me in many ways, man. He’s taught me to do things the way that I want to do it, because Dilla, he used to like spit jiggy verses over classic Hip Hop beat. Around that time when he was doing it, there wasn’t nobody doing it that’s the kind of vibe he wanted to create and he made a lot of noise doing it. He was just a scientist at what he did.

The things that he did with the MC’ing you think that it’s impossible to do, but he did it. He would get a lot of respect from the producers, and he would get a lot of respect period just for the sounds he came up with and people who love Hip Hop really appreciate that music. They heard how he tried to be innovative with everything that he did and that’s just something as an MC I took to heart, and I stay true to. I love him for it to this day.

As an MC renowned for their lyrical ability what are your thoughts on the current crop of artists out?
Oh man, you know, like at one point I was really uninspired with the Hip Hop game, but now I think it’s starting to come back together. Acts like Slaughter House getting signed with Eminem/Shady as well as Jay Electronica is signing with Jay Z/Roc Nation. So I mean it looks like Hip Hop is coming back in a major way. There was a moment there I think where it was a bit lost, but now it’s definitely getting out there again and repping the lyrical stuff, which is good.

In your opinion what one thing does Hip Hop need right now?
Hip Hop needs the attitude that it had back in the early nineties. I’m not saying that we got to create everything that happened in the early nineties, but Hip Hop just need that attitude and they need the people that’s the fan of the music to set it aside from what’s just regular Rap music, you know what I’m saying? I mean, no offence to regular Rap music because it has its place but Hip Hop should have its place too.

At one point the radio was moving to regular Rap, but now as the internet keeps on growing and people are learning how to use the internet strategically and as a tool to take their career to the next level, that attitude needs to come back where this where Hip Hop is, this is the way we rock our clothes, this is the attitude that we have and only then we’ll really be back to full deal.

You’ve released a number of solo projects such as “Elmatic”, “Witness My Growth”, “Euro Pass” and “The Leftovers” amongst others. Which one did you most enjoy putting together?
I enjoyed all the projects that I have put together. With “Elmatic’ I was a little bit more hands on with like the production, because you know, me and Will Sessions was getting this vibe and I told him how I heard certain things, and then you know, being song writers and musicians help create the thing that I told him that I wanted to hear, and it came out dope. They basically gave me like a chance to actually yay or nay certain things before we actually put it out there in public, so that was a great process. I really liked that.

How long was the process in making “Elmatic”?
We actually like went in the studio and created this live version of “Elmatic” and it only took like a month and a half.

During your career you’ve worked with people like Kanye, John Legend, Black Milk, Royce da 59, and many others. Can you name one artist you haven’t worked with and would like to and why?
I would say this man, I’m a big fan of Coldplay, Chris Martin, you know I’ve been wanting to work with Chris Martin for years. Obviously both Kanye and Jay-Z, so have got to work with him but they got the money to do that, but that’s a person I really wanted to collaborate with and I still do. “Parachutes” is one of my favourite albums so yeah Chris Martin would be the one artist I would most like to work with.

What’s the best piece of advice that’s ever been given to you?
The best piece of advice that has been given to me is from Eminem he told me to just do me. This was around the time when he started on the Eminem Show and he was like “Yo, El, just be you man.” and I was like okay, that’s cool stuff. I’ve been running with it ever since.

What does the future hold for Elzhi?
The future holds a lot for Elzhi I plan on putting out either a mix tape or album at the end of this year. I just shot two more videos and I shot a video for a couple of joints off some new project that I’m doing. There’s also more tours, I’ve got a tour coming up later on this month, I’m going to be out for like 70 to 80 dates. I’m trying to be more visual as well as like people seeing me and being more visible as an artist.

What’s your definition of Grindin’?
My definition of grindin’ is eating, sleeping and drinking what your dream is. I can testify to that right now man, you know, I’ve had like a lot of sleepless nights as of recent, but it’s all working for the greater good. So that’s my definition of grindin’, and pushing yourself so you’re doing exactly what you want to do, and trying to make your vision out.

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