Monday, October 24, 2016

'Lead Poison,' rapper Elzhi's first project in five years, is a five-star album

Lead Poison by Elzhi
Given the recent Flint, Michigan water crisis in which lead and other contaminants from the Flint River were poisoning public water works, it's either a big coincidence that Detroit emcee and former Slum Villager Elzhi also named his eight-years-in-the-making sophomore LP Lead Poison or he knew what he was doing. Granted, Flint and Detroit are a trek away from each other, but word travels fast these days and so will word of Lead Poison, a classic hip-hop album (released far ahead of schedule yesterday March 25 via Glow365). Elzhi released his debut album, Preface, eight years ago, and in 2011, he dropped what I'll call a remixtape, the kind dedication-album Elmatic, built with Nas's Illmatic as a major inspiration and guide for it.

In a work that is as much science as art, Elzhi has taken his time crafting this amazing masterwork. With absolutely no dull moments, it has the man unwinding fine creative rhymes with tons of meaning about down feelings, relationship negatives, ghetto poverty, loneliness, and the struggle to maintain and prosper. The expert, emotive music score comes from a pretty big handful of producers. Nick Speed, Bombay, 14KT, Quelle Chris of Mello Music Group, Karriem Riggins, Soledad Brother, Oh No of Gangrene, Joself and Agor are right there for Elzhi, with the appropriate samples and instrument supplements, whether his mood is sad, motivated, energetic or reflective.

The first four-song block in Lead Poison is quite depressive, but Elzhi uses his music and writing as therapy, not to mention his flawless delivery practices. He goes into the hard knock life in the formal intro, the correspondingly titled second track "Introverted." His great lyricism and wordplay are on display right away in the uninterrupted streams of smart philosophy of "Medicine Man" and continue without break thereafter. El's problems with pot and his sadness from longing and loss are very well showcased on "Weedipedia" and "February" made all the more affective with beautiful soul samples of horns, guitar and piano in at least two of these tracks.

In "Egocentric," El spits some ridiculously nice rhymes in crazy good rapping that would be insurmountable in battle. Tragedy hits home in "Two 16's" as El describes the despair and severe misfortune of two 16 year olds from the ghetto. "Hello!!!!!" celebrates communication, or more specifically the joy, magic and technique of reaching out using the device of hip-hop and song as tools, and "Friendzone" expresses righteous vitriol to girls that go for low quality dudes, chicks who choose terrible guys.

Over twinkling vibes, Elzhi raps wisdom in nimble and neat rhymes and speaks on avoiding trouble once again with more stories in "Cloud." The "Alienated" mega-piece is El's ode to not fitting in and closing oneself off from the world by force and/or by choice. It may not feel lonely, and in fact, there is something joyful in the split here, yet again, there is no escaping the overcast darkness looming over the loner Elzhi. What probably started as the depiction of a particularly sad abysmal time in El's life, this brilliantly affective song will be commonly felt by most if not all in years to come. This third block ends with "She Sucks" featuring Chris Dave, a conceptual/metaphorical story with links and relevance to one real-world phenomenon in particular.

The last section ends positively. Elzhi works hard and spreads thoughts of wanting to be self-made in "Cosign" featuring Skonie, and in "Misright," he is looking for a good "down" girl, fighting to stay afloat in a sea of constant discouragement in this matter. Thabisile Griffin has her wonderful way with words in "The Turing Point" interlude-slash-poem, and in the finale, Elzhi chucks some accurate agreeable braggadocio as well as some powerful last words of weight, meaning and lasting value, as he tapers off via a cappella recitation, "Keep Dreaming" y'all.

Elzhi has really delivered well with Lead Poison. We get to experience his prodigious pencil work of fury here ("lead"), and we're warned of some of the natural pitfalls of life too ("lead poison"). We also get just incredible hip-hop raps straight to the gut, no chaser, paired with music productions made in that old style of taking the old and making it new again, fresh. Instead of pimping, hoes, goods, gangsters, guns and green (well, except for maybe a little weed), Elzhi and his team of producers impressively convey real human emotions and feelings. They demonstrate how the ordinary can be made extraordinary with vast mic skills accompanied by equally vast music pieces, brought together in touching concoctions. May he be slept on no more. Elzhi is exquisite to the extreme in Lead Poison.

5 out of 5 stars

(Review by Alex originally appeared on on March 26, 2016.)

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