|Image credit: The Come Up Show Flickr|
Album: Lead Poison
Record Label: GLOW365/ Kickstarter
Release Date: 25th March 2016
In the last 18 months or so the notion of a band asking fans for money via Kickstarter campaigns has become more addressable. There is certainly a debate to be had; some may feel slightly disheartened that a band may ask for funds beyond those received via album sales and the live circuit. There's the tangible rebuttal that artists going to these lengths is a testament to how surviving in the music industry these, especially for the less corporate minded, is a battle largely fought weakened and down on one knee.
Detroit rapper Elzhi is certainly a troop in the elite corps of the latter crowd. It's been five years since the former Slum Village member released his last full-length, Elmatic, and three years since he launched his Kickstarter campaign to fuel a new record. Personal turmoil and a stint in community service for selling weed certainly seem like viable setbacks, but perhaps some people's reservations about crowd-funded projects is actually getting a return on their investment. With Lead Poison, both fans who donated and hip-hop in general certainly get that.
Upon the release of Elmatic, Elzhi's flow and ability to ride a beat became some of the most revered assets in underground hip-hop. His (by that point) lauded ability as a wordsmith was sealed in the consciousness of a wider scale audience too. Fans expecting a similar sonic scale may have to double-take Lead Poison on first listen; save for the classically soulful 'Friendzone' there are no "bangers" as such here. Everything is stripped back and reserved in order to give prominence to El's frankly magical lyrical talent. Instead of an inconsolable rift appearing between music and wordplay though, the more blissed-out and background fug-ish beats, which are at times totally beautiful and reflective, compliment the MC's zealous, heartfelt and fiercely intelligent poetic understanding. The fact that it requires patience and attention is a testament to its inclusion of an ingredient which all the best hip-hop records have; craft.
It won't come as a surprise to any Elzhi fan that soul, honesty and a witty sense of personal trouble has been poured into Lead Poison. The soundbites of pen scratching paper are a clear reference to the toils of writing an (hopefully) entirely worthwhile project. Songs like 'February' and 'Hello!!!!' deal in a modest, often morose, metaphor-laced story-telling, while 'Alienated' documents a relatable and contemporary feeling of inward and societal disillusionment. 'The Healing Process''s drumless, ghostly bleepery walks a fine line between warm and suffocating, and 'Misright' is probably the finest example of Elzhi's meticulous understanding of rhythm, rhyme and emotion.
Dated slice of vampire-based literature 'She Sucks' aside, it's necessary to pay acute attention to almost every moment on Lead Poison, and Elzhi certainly never makes it difficult for you to do so. Captivating, smart and yet down-to-Earth story telling set to a well-judged and carefully produced sonic backdrop, Lead Poison is an album that spans pretty much the whole scope of underground hip-hop. Not flawless, but pretty much always mesmerising.
Key Tracks: 'Hello!!!!', 'February', 'Misright'
For Fans Of: Black Milk, Ka