Elzhi is a hallowed name in the ears of hip-hop heads across the globe. He began as one of the more intricate MCs in Slum Village, the Detroit crew J Dilla helped form in 1996. In fact, Elzhi’s solo work became so popular that he would eventually separate himself from the group in 2010.
His story begins circa 1998, when he recorded a series of songs with DJ House Shoes and DJ Rios in Detroit. Those songs became the rare Out of Focus EP, and though they eventually drifted apart, it was House Shoes who passed Elzhi’s DATs to Dilla. Elzhi ended up getting his big break on “Come Get It” from Dilla’s debut solo album, Welcome 2 Detroit.
From there, Elzhi hopped around, working with Waajeed, Nick Speed and others before releasing his first nationwide project, The Preface, in 2008. It was immediately recognized as an underground gem and Elzhi became one of the most revered MCs in the game. To this day, you can hear Royce da 5’9″ spout praise for him.
Five years ago, Elzhi released Elmatic, his second official solo album, as a re-interpretation of Nas’ classic debut. But since then, fans have been clamoring for new music from the dazzling mic wrecker while he retreated into the shadows.
His retreat was caused by depression and now he’s finally re-emerged with the finely tuned Lead Poison LP, one of the best rap albums of the year so far.
XXL spoke to Elzhi about what he was up to during his hiatus, what caused his depression and why his Kickstarter campaign went so wrong.
XXL: Your last album was five years ago. What’ve you been doing in the interim?
Elzhi: Those five years were just me trying to better myself on a human level. Trying to escape my demons and look at life the way I’m supposed to. So it’s a combination of that and making music. Just me trying to get myself together.
You’ve spoken about this dark cloud that’s been hanging over you for a while. What was the origin of the dark cloud?
Just me looking at things on a surface level. Looking at life through the two eyes and not looking at it from a deeper standpoint. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I know when I was doing that, I was missing out on the positive things that came about in certain situations. Blessings in disguise, those kinds of things. When things were looking crazy on the surface, I would just take it for what that was and internalize it. It ultimately became poisonous to me.
So I had to learn how to change how I view things, and once I was able to do that I was able to see the silver lining.
How’d you go about learning how to view things?
It really came from a spiritual place. I was shown these things, so just being open to hearing those things. I was able to exercise the way I perceive situations coming my way and it helped me often. And also, just writing my experiences and feelings down and putting them into the music was a great way for me to cope with what I was going through as well.
Did you make a lot of music during your five-year hiatus?
Yeah, I made a lot of music. It was a lot of writer’s block too. It was so much stuff happening at one time and it was stifling my creativity, but when I was making music, the music wasn’t reflecting what I was going through, so personally for me I wasn’t feeling it. I’d make a song and people would like it or whatever, but I just didn’t think it was my best work. I felt the only way to give my best work was to face my situations head on.
So that’s what caused me to write my experiences down and what I was going through. I used it as an outlet to get that poison out, and once I decided to do that I was able to overcome the writer’s block and be the person I’ve always been since age eight. Writing just comes naturally to me, so instead of overlooking my problem, I overcame it by taking it head on.