Detroit’s Elzhi is best known as half of underground phenomenon Slum Village, a team I’ve always admired even if I haven’t been drawn to their music. Here, on his first solo album, El proves himself to be one of the most gifted lyricists in the game today. On “Colors,” beatmaster Black Milk slows down the classic Ice-T chorus and uses a go-go beat to support a rhyme dropping lyrics about the streets and the colors you’ll find there, from “black and white papers that cover the news” about a “driveby that even killed a goldfish,” to the brownstones, making the green, having pink-eye, and so on. Black Milk and El have terrific chemistry throughout the album, each willing to lay back and let the other grab the spot when necessary.
Another fantastic track is “Guessing Game,” where Elzhi dares the listener to finish his own lines by guessing what should come next. Sometimes, he telegraphs the next rhyme, while other times he intentionally confounds you with a surprising word choice. He’s clearly in control, and the listener is at his mercy.
There’s a few guest shots on the record, notably appearances by Royce Da 5 9, Guilty Simpson, and Phat Kat, but Elzhi doesn’t need them. He carries this album, with a flow that suggests playful bounce but lyrical content that has depth and moral character, rarely needing to curse to make his point. Like the best conscious rappers, there’s little here that you can imagine hearing in a club or on the radio; this is hip hop for the culture, not the mass market.
This album gets my highest recommendation. For fans of: Lupe Fiasco, Rhymefest, Kanye West. It sounds quite a bit like Lupe, actually.