While out promoting his new album, The Preface, Slum Village’s Elzhi checked in with the Urban Daily to talk about Detroit hip-hop, cashing checks from Chevy and preserving the legacy of the late J-Dilla.
Let’s go back like Bill O’Reilly’s hairline and play catch up for the folks not familiar with your career as an MC.
Elzhi: Before Slumm Village I was in a group with four other individuals called FOD, it was a part of a big click called Biochemists. That was when I was like 16 and became a part of the Hip-Hop shop community. I ended up leaving Biochemists and FOB to pursue a solo career. In the process of doing a solo career I ended up hooking up with DJ House Shoes and we did an EP called Out of Focus. We didn’t even sell copies of that, only a select few people had the cassette tape. This one girl in Chicago put it on the Internet and it spread from there.
From there I hooked up with the Breakfast Club: Tarat, Big Tone, Dwele G, myself and this girl named Bitter Sweet. We pressed up maybe 20 copies of the Breakfast club mixtape and that ended up on the net. From there I hooked up with my man Nick Speed who would later become my business partner with Libido Sounds. Him and a dude named Majestic Legend had a group called 925 Colony and they asked me to be part of the group. We came up with a few songs and did a few shows. There’s a lot of material that we never put out but we’ve got tons of material. My man Elite came in and did a few verses on songs we did. From there T-3 ended up becoming my manager and through him I got to get on the Welcome To Detroit record that J Dilla put out. From there T-3, Baatin and Barack Entertainment decided to put me in Slum village. Did the Slum thing and then put out my a mixtape called Witness My Growth which me and Nick Speed put together through libido sounds and the rest is history.
What’s it like working with DJ House Shoes?
Aw man, easy, bunch of blunts. That’s my ace all day. We got real tight in ’98 and he played a nice part in J-Dilla make noise, myself and he’s ill with the beats. It’s like with me. People know me but they don’t. We went on the road not too long ago. He’s family.
Did you record with J-Dilla before or after you joined Slum Village?
I never recorded with Dilla beforehand but I recorded to his music. There’s a song back in the days of the Hip-Hop shop with me, Proof and Bizarre (from D-12) over a Dilla beat. I don’t even think it had a title. It’s just something we went to the studio and did. At the time I looked up to Proof, because he was the mayor of Detroit to me, running the Hip-Hop shop, and he decided to put me and Bizarre on the track. Me and my crew FOB recorded to a Dilla beat that later became the remix to D’Angelo’s “Dreamin Eyes.” It was crazy cuz we had a song called “Daydreams” on that beat and we didn’t even know we was giving that beat to D’Angelo. We really didn’t know the business like that and I got kind of upset. But I understood after a while that he gotta get his paper.
Was it awkward at all joining Slum after Dilla left?
Naw, cuz even though they wasn’t together they were still working. The Trinity album had a number of Dilla beats on it. It was never like a feud or beef or anything. It was time for him to move on so I didn’t think I was caught in the middle at all.
I read that you recorded The Preface in 3 weeks. Why the rush?
If it didn’t happen then I would have had to wait another month or two to drop a record. What happened with Europass, I developed a certain buzz and didn’t want to let that go. I went and cut 12 records and took 4 from Europass. Black Milk was on the schedule months before me so we couldn’t put it out around the same time. He’s coming out in October.
Your breath control on songs like “Set It” is crazy. How do you fit so many damn syllables into one bar?
It actually took practice through the structure of writing. It comes right along with that. Certain people think they can go in the booth for the first time and do they thing but it’s a whole different world. You gotta get used to your vocal tone on the mic and being in that cramped area. What I do, I gotta have a lot of breath control cuz I like to fit as many double syllables and as many rhyming words in two bars as possible. If I don’t have breath control it won’t work.
You and Royce have a song called “Motown 25.” Why has it been so hard for two skilled MCs to get mainstream attention?
Hip-Hop ain’t like it used to be. If this was like late 80s or early 90s Royce would be considered a hip-hop god with his talent, metaphors. He got it all. But it’s a whole different hip-hop world. You got some people who found hip-hop in ’98 and don’t know about Kool G Rap, Lord Finesse, Special Ed or Rakim. You got some people that are just following the other people and don’t understand. But at the same time you gotta keep hitting people in the head with it
The introduction to Detroit Hip-Hop for a lot of people was the 8 Mile Movie. Do you think it was accurate?
Yeah, for the most part. I commend Eminem for trying to reenact that moment in time as much as he could. He had to change certain places and names but for the most part it was a pretty good reenactment. Back in the day it had a pulse and it was fresh. That early to late 90s was a fresh era. The fashion with the Timerblands and twisting their hair up and the bubble coats. You could have a hip-hop night and sellout the show. But now a lot of spots have closed down. The only spots you have left in Detroit is Alvin’s and St. Andrew’s on Tuesdays. It used to be The Lush, Fat House, Hip-Hop Shop, 1212, Ebony Showcase.
Did Chevy give you an Impala for that commercial?
Yes they did, yes they did. They gave us some free cars and we got some checks off the commercial. It was a real big come up. Slum also did a Remy Martin campaign so I gotta basement full of boxes of Remy that I ain’t opened yet.
What’s the latest with Slum?
We just basically trying to get the business side of everything together before we dive into it. We’ve got a few songs with Ba’atin on ‘em. But we layin low until the business is straight.
Is part of the red tape to do with Dilla’s estate drama?
There’s some drama, some issues and hopefully it’ll get resolved real soon cuz that man worked hard for his empire. The people close to him deserve to reap the benefits off of what he put out there and I don’t think [Dilla's mother, Ms. Yancey] is getting what she deserves and I hope it goes down well. And I hope it goes down soon. It’s crazy how certain people can be cold hearted toward certain situations and I hope it gets resolved real soon.
Talk to me about your Nas-inspired mixtape, Elmatic. What is your version of “Memory Lane” or “Detroit State of Mind” going to sound like?
We still in the process of gettin’ tight. I holla’d at Royce and he told me to save him a spot for “Life’s A Bitch.” We just trying to put it together and make it tight. I’m trying to get drops from people who worked on the project back in the day and make it more than a mixtape.
So when are you and Royce putting that album out?
What we plan on doing is building up the buzz. He’s got the Bar Exam 2 out and working on his new joint. It’s gonna have to be something that comes out next year some time so we can build up enough buzz to get ears open.