Always one of the most talented emcees in the Michigan hip-hop scene, Elzhi's substance-over-style approach has consistently deviated from the mainstream rap environment. When he initially joined Slum Village in the early part of this decade — after super-producer J Dilla went solo — the group was primarily regarded for its soulful backdrops and carefree vibes. Although they eventually gained the recognition they deserved, Elzhi is in a similar position as a solo artist nearly a decade later: His emphasis on technique and thought-provoking lyrics differs from the formulaic McDonald-ization of today's commercial rap scene. And with his proper debut, The Preface, Elzhi is still eschewing trends and sticking to his guns with impressive results.
The rapper makes the most of his skills by flooding the album with deftly executed concepts. "Colors" forms coherent metaphors and storylines, while playing on words that contain colors, including lyrics such as, "White-collar crime, dirt in the sneak tip/ dissin' some blue collar workers catching the pink slip." Meanwhile, "Guessing Game" finds him rapping incomplete verses and challenging the listener to complete them. Even without complex subject matter, Elzhi's beat-riding prowess, internal rhyme schemes and punch lines are just as notable. On the Royce Da 5'9"-featured "Motown 25," he rhymes, "I end careers, years, pierce ears fierce with spears/They say I'm gifted, and lifted like the beers in Cheers." Detroit wunderkind Black Milk's nimble mixture of soul samples, hard-hitting snares and unorthodox rhythms make the production aspect of this album just as engaging, if not as simple, as those of its major label counterparts.
While the title of The Preface is presumably a reference to a new beginning for Elzhi's solo career, it should ideally jump-start a different direction in rap as well. But putting stock in such dreams might find this reviewer doing what the title of the album's 12th song suggests: "Talking In My Sleep."
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