Elzhi, Lead Poison
Onetime Slum Village member Elzhi's 2011 release Elmatic took one of the biggest chances you can possibly take: The artist re-did an entire classic hip-hop album (Nas' revered 1994 Illmatic) in his own words. The result was one of the most memorable hip-hop projects ever recorded. Two years later, Elzhi turned to Kickstarter to fund his next project, Lead Poison. He asked for $25,000, but his fans chipped in even more: $37,382 for an album that was promised for the following year, in 2014. The album didn't drop when promised, however.
By the end of last year, one of Elzhi's donors started to recruit other donors in order to file a class-action lawsuit against him. Fast-forward to 2016, and Elzhi ended his silence via an interview with Noisey that attributed his absence to depression. The long-awaited Lead Poison is set to drop this month.
Lead Poison opens with 16 bars balanced by a soulful piano on the Nick Speed-produced "Medicine Man." He follows that up with "Introverted," an East Coast boom-bap trap track propelled by a raunchy kick bass. Elzhi wastes no time digging into his own issues, and the album's release date. "Because on the low I had to stand before the judge I caught a charge/now the file is at my appeal's fingertips like a manicure/and it's more/I'm stressed by far I'm surely grating, because I don't eat when I'm depressed I'm so sorry for the wait," he raps. If Elzhi actually has legal issues as he stated, that might help to explain the emcee's unhappiness.
The Bombay-produced "Weedipedia" sounds like a score from a scene in Shaft, while he reminisces on thought-provoking times in "February." In the Karriem Riggins-produced "Two 16s," Elzhi uses two 16-bar verses to tell the story of two 16-year-olds who get lost to street life. And "FrienZone" is a coming-of-age track about women. In "Alienated," the emcee talks feeling alone in the world, while "Egocentric" is the most lyric-heavy track on the album. "Ya'll don't possess enough strength to control me/I make him speak on his Rolle, on how he keeps that perp on paper like a parolee," he raps. OK, so on to the biggest question here: Is the album worth the wait? That depends on your level of expectations. If you thought you were getting Elmatic 2.0, then you're shit out of luck. If you thought you were getting The Preface Elzhi or the Witness My Growth Through the Leftovers Elzhi, then you have also been misguided. This is an Elzhi who's obviously been through some grown-man tribulations.
Lead Poison is a transcript of beats and bars from an emcee who's feeling beaten and jarred. At its core, he's giving the same lyrical mastery and hardcore edge that we're all used to from him. The biggest difference is the unescapable shroud of melancholy combined with the droplets of inspiration. In interviews, he talks about a "black cloud" he has trouble shaking. On the album, he forces you into it, breathes you out, and eventually gives you some hope.