Miami’s most dynamic production duo Urban Noize, are back again with a refix of “The World Is Yours” off their upcoming remix EP, titled N.A.S. Dedicated to the rap legend comes this cut from the classic Illmatic cut. The song also honors the release of the classic Illmatic LP which dropped just over 19 years ago!
Following the release of Elmatic, his tribute to Nas’ classic album, Illmatic, Elzhi talks to SB.TV’s Editor In Chief, Lily Mercer, about why he chose to pay homage to the album, his friendship with Royce Da 5’9″ and why Detroit produces so many talented rappers.
What made you choose Nas’ Illmatic as your inspiration?
House Shoes came up with the concept 3 years ago. He came up with the concept because of my name El and Illmatic, put it together and it makes Elmatic. But it means a lot more to me than just a name. Illmatic made me wanna be a better MC and writer so it made sense.
Was it an influential album for you when it was first released in 1993? Illmatic just sparked something in me. A lot of albums did that: Paid In Full, Kool G Rap’s album, even Organized Konfusion. But around the time Nas did Illmatic, it made me wanna step my game up.
I can see why you would relate especially due to your storytelling and creativity with words.
He’s one of the reasons I did go off into storytelling because his pictures were so vivid. When he displayed his rhyme schemes and his word play and his songs, it made me wanna create visual pictures as well.
How much was House Shoes involved with the project?
He basically gave me the concept and I ran with it. Then after a while I went to Will Sessions and hooked up with Sam. He felt the vision, we came together and put it together in a month and a half.
What do you think it is about Illmatic that’s still relevant 18 years later?
It’s just classic, from the lyrics that Nas put on the record to the music, there are classic producers on there that went on to shape the era. You had Pete Rock, Primo, Large Professor, Q-Tip, L.E.S, they helped shape a whole era of classic hip hop. Anything from that time frame is classic, it will last in today’s time.
The Illmatic instrumentals are some of the most recognisable too.
One of the most recognisable is Life’s A Bitch. That was crazy because that was the first time anyone ever heard of AZ, he came in the fold and killed it. It was definitely a memorable song on the record.
In the last 3 years a lot of people came out with tributes to Illmatic. Did you put the live spin on it so make sure you stood out?
When I put the idea out there 3 years ago, I wasn’t ready to complete it because I had a lot of troubles going on behind the scenes. I heard a lot of tributes and at first I wasn’t going to do mine but then House Shoes and people online kept asking about it. I thought, if I do it I’m gonna put a twist on it. That’s how I came up with the live concept. I reached out to Sam from Will Sessions and we put it together. I’m glad that we decided to do it live because it allowed us to do our own spin. People have been waiting on this for three years and I really wanted to do something special.
How have you feel about the feedback from Elmatic?
The response has been great and I appreciate that. I never felt I was trying to out do the original. I wanted to put something out there and pay homage to a great album. I put myself in different verses, took a concept and flipped it the way I wanted to. When House Shoes came up with the idea, I got in the studio and I knocked out a couple of records to the original instrumentals so it was like a mixtape. When the live instrumentation came into play, it was more like an album so my manager as well as House Shoes and Rich Medina were saying I need to call it an album because that’s what it is. I was outnumbered so we called it an album.
Do you think Elmatic relates to Illmatic because Detroit could be considered similar to New York in the 90s?
I haven’t looked at it that deep but it’s definitely a struggle in Detroit. It makes people strive harder and push harder to do good things or even be heard, I think Elmatic will be included with a lot of releases coming out of Detroit this year. Hopefully we can come together and move as a force to make some noise this year.
Detroit Hip Hop‘s been big for decades, but right now there seems to be a buzz about the city.
Everybody’s stepping their game up. Not only musically, but visually and business wise too. There was a point when you didn’t see videos from Detroit artists but we’re at a good place where you’re seeing videos now. People are more business minded and focused on taking it to the next level.
Does Detroit’s music history continue to inspire you?
If you come to Detroit and check out the Motown museum, there’s a spot in the museum where the artists used to go and play music and they’ve got pictures of these artists on the walls. You’re standing in the same room where Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Marvin Gaye made music. You can feel this energy; I like to go at least twice a year to get that energy.
What’s the history of your collaborations with Royce Da 5’9”?
We’ve got recordings we did at the age of 16 and 17. I’ve known him through the years and it’s always been love with me and him. Not only is he a cool person, he’s a cool person to work with and he’s very talented. We’re supposed to do a project together right now but he’s got Slaughterhouse and I got things I’m working on.
Rappers often name you both as their favourite rappers.
The reason people say that is because in order to truly get what we do, you might have to rap. You might have to sit and write a verse and see how hard it is to rhyme the words that we rhyme. Or do it in a certain mind or rhythm where its on beat but we’re not only rhyming one word, we’re rhyming three different words in a two bar measure. That’s why people may say we’re a favourite rapper’s favourite rapper because our art form and our craft is so complex but it don’t take us that long to do it.
Why does Detroit breed such good rappers?
I would say it was The Hip Hop Shop from Detroit Michigan, a place that Maurice Malone owned, hosted by Proof. I wanna say that’s what made people sharp because you had Eminem, myself, Royce [Da 5’9”], Guilty [Simpson], Slum [Village], Phat Kat, Obie Trice in there. We all had a sense of pride in our city and wanted it to get better. I would go every Saturday just to hear somebody else on the mic because my peers were that good and it made me wanna step my game up. But even before that I connected with the real music, cats like Rakim, Big L, Kool G Rap, Lord Finesse. Even before The Hip Hop Shop I connected with those people, maybe we just got an ear for what’s good.
It’s The Hip Hop Shop plus the legends of rap but also; logistically you’re influenced by both east coast and west coast.
That’s true. One of my favourite rappers at the time was Ice Cube and then I was a big fan of Rakim so it’s just the combination. Ice Cube is the master of concepts.
Plus it seems like a pretty hard place to perform, Odd Future and Charlie Sheen are recent victims of Detroit audiences.
Detroit is definitely a hard place. There are some hard places out there. New York is hard and Detroit is hard. Like they will just sit there and look at you if you not doing your thing. They gonna let you know you not good, then gonna boo you. But that’s just how New York is. I glad it never happened to me before but I’ve heard storied of people getting booed and they just sitting there looking at you. As a performer, that’s the worst thing that can happen.
To read more of this interview, including Elzhi’s memories of working with J Dilla, click here.