I’m going to start on a personal note with this review. The first album that seriously got me into hip hop was hands down Nasir “Nas” Jones’ Illmatic album. When I first heard it at age 11, I was floored and my life forever changed. At that time I was singing in my church choir and had aspirations of becoming an R&B singer and the Illmatic release single handedly changed that notion, and hip hop became my way of life ever since. It was just well put together, and Nas was a breath of fresh air and had a style and raw delivery that just took hold of my attention and made me focus on every word he projected onto beats that were just amazing (personal favorites: *The World Is Yours*, *Represent*, *One Love*, and *It *Ain’t Hard To Tell*). It is, and will forever be, an all time favorite album. 17 years later, enter Detroit’s lyrical genius Elzhi’s latest submission to the hip hop world, with his entire Illmatic cover-album (minus *One Time 4 Your Mind,) ELmatic.
The project features production by Will Sessions, a Detroit band that has done extensive work with Detroit emcees, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, and Phat Kat. So you can immediately sense the difference between the original Illmatic release and its remake, ELmatic; which is built on live-instrument recreations of Nas’ classic beats, and they go way beyond what anybody could’ve expected, adopting a presence of their own. Elzhi’s lyrical dexterity is very evident on each song, and it’s highlighted in lyrics like the following ones from his verse for *Halftime*, where he states that: “The bars buried in the song’s ‘bout as strong as barbarians.” (if you don’t understand recite it a few times and it’ll come to you.) On each track El recites stories of his youth, street-life, and his discovery of hip hop, on the same level as Nas, so you get the same nostalgic feel as if you were listening to the Illmatic album itself. The Detroit emcee and his band-mates seem to vibe organically and bring you back to 1994, but with a different artist’s life in focus. Perhaps the biggest standout of this album is Elzhi’s flow, he is amazingly gifted, just like his predecessor who was, at that time and now and will always, have you rewinding a few times to truly grasp what has just been said.
Every track basically follows the Illmatic format with the exclusion of one track mentioned earlier, and the addition of a shout-out to the great Pete Rock who had a hand in the production of the original album, which is followed by *Verbal Intercourse pt.2* produced by. 14KT, and a remix of *Detroit State of Mind* which is Elzhi’s version of “New York State of Mind,” of course; so you get spoiled with a few extra treats for copping the album. Guest appearances are scarce, but El features a frequent collaborator and Detroit resident Royce da 5’9” and also Stokley Williams from “Mint Condition,” both of whom are featured on *Life’s A Bitch*. Royce opens the track while Stokley closes with vocals in Charlie Wilson fashion, mirroring that of “Wilson’s vocals from the Gap Band’s “Yearning For Your Love,” from which the original “Life’s A Bitch” was sampled. The whole album is rock solid and definitely worth numerous listens. You get the original substance of Illmatic, complete with extra content you might expect to hear when listening to live band, like solo’s and different intros and outros. The album standouts include – *Genesis* which was just an intro on Illmatic, but has taken form of a song in ELmatic. *The World Is Yours*, *Represent*, *One Love*, *It Ain’t Hard To Tell” and *Verbal Intercourse pt. 2* – these are songs listeners will enjoy very much but the whole album is great enough to avoid skipping tracks.
Stellar lyricism, unparalleled musicianship and enough moments to reminisce about the first time you ever heard the Nasir Jones classic to leave you closed off to the world in your headphones. It’s a fun, well thought out musical experience, and guaranteed to have you rushing to the store to see what else the emcee from Detroit has to offer if you’re not already an avid fan of Elzhi.
Daniel Levon Lunsford is a hip hop producer/composer, aspiring M.C. and a student from San Diego, California, with a genuine love and passion for music.