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 Hardcore Hip-Hop Interviews

Interview: ELZHI of SLUM VILLAGE
By Todd E. Jones aka The New Jeru Poet
(August 2002)

Slum Village is back with their official sophomore album ‘Trinity: Past, Present, & Future” but the line-up is very different. With the legendary Jay Dee leaving the group, Elzhi slid inside the Slum as the new 3rd member of the ‘Trinity’. While Jay Dee contributed complete production as well as vocals, Slum Village has now re-invented themselves while remaining true to their Detroit roots. On the eve of the release of the ‘Trinity’ LP, I had a deep conversation with the man while he was at RJ Rice Studios in Detroit, Michigan.

T.JONES: “How are you doing?”
ELZHI: “Beautiful… splendid! I’m over here with a solid in my lap. I’m recording a couple of vocals for some random songs. I just have to finish a couple of verses.”

T.JONES: “Since you are new to Slum Village and there are 2 other people in the group, do you somehow how have to limit yourself on the amount of bars you have to rhyme or shorten your verses in order to make way for the other members?”
ELZHI: “By being a solo artist, I’m used to writing 2 or 3 verses per song but since I’m now in a group, I have to come up with one or shorten a couple of bars. The other cats get 20 or 22 bars. I just have to do what’s best for the song. By me being a solo artist first and also being kind of different from what Slum Village is about, I flipped it where I can mesh well with the crew. Basically, it became all right. I appreciated the songs we did. It was lovely.”

T.JONES: “How did you get your name ELZHI? What does it mean?”
ELZHI: “First, back in the day, my name was ‘L.Z.’ I used to go to a lot of open mics especially at one spot called The Hip-Hop Shop. A lot of people knew me as L.Z. Actually, some cats out of D-12 (Eminem’s group) still call me ‘L.Z.’ It started off that way and emcees like Jay-Z and AZ became really popular. I wanted to be something different and spell it a certain way. I spelled it E-L-Z-H-I. It ended up being ‘Elzhi’. At the time, I didn’t even know what it meant. I knew ‘El’ meant ‘The’ but I wanted to come up with ways where I could flip the name and use every letter in the name. When I got into SV, Baatin, who represents the past in our camp, studies Hebrew. He told me what my name meant and that bugged me out. It means ‘God Spirit’. The ‘El’ is like the God and ‘Zhi’ is the number 7 in Hebrew. The number 7 is the spiritual number. That is why you may hear me say ‘Elzhi for 7’. It means spirituality.”

T.JONES: “Your new album is called ‘’Trinity’. What is the meaning behind the title?”
ELZHI: “We broke it up into 3 sections: Past, present and future. We have our ‘past’ songs on the album like ‘Tainted’, which represent the past of Slum Village from ‘Fantastic Vol. 2’. Then, we have the ‘present’ version of Slum Village, which is more like hip-hop club songs. A good example is a song like ‘Raise It Up’. I don’t want to scare the old Slum heads by saying hip-hop club but it is definitely Slum Village. The future side is a more alternative side to SV. We like to call it Euro-Soul. It’s broken up into 3 musical genres. We, as emcees, also play a role in the trinity. Baatin is the past, T3 is the present, and I am the future.”

T.JONES: “What happened to Jay Dee?”
ELZHI: “We’re still cool, no doubt. I’m writing to one of his beats right now. Big up to Jay Dee! He gave me my first check into the game. I was on his album called ‘Welcome To Detroit’. That was off of the BBE label, the Beat Generation series. Nuff respect to Jay Dee! Jay wanted to pursue a solo career and he also wanted to pursue a label. They parted but it was not on bad terms. It was actually on good terms. We still kick it from time to time when we’re not busy. We’re constantly out on the road. Jay is constantly working. He actually has his own album coming out on MCA Records. He has a label called MacNasty Records. He’s working on his label and his artists as well as his projects. When it’s time for the Slum to reunite again, he’ll go with the beats. Still, he’s definitely down with the Slum. He produced a majority of the ‘future’ tracks on our album. He produced the song ‘One’, a track called ‘Hoes’ and another track called ‘Let’s’. Big Up To Jay Dee!”

T.JONES:  “Besides Jay Dee, who else do you have doing production on ‘Trinity’?”
ELZHI: “Our beat camp. Waajeed, who also produced a song I did with Mu called ‘Me & Mu’ from the ‘Dirty District*’ LP. Karrieem Riggins did ‘Tainted’. Black Milk, S-Man, Young RJ and T3. Also, Hi-Tek and Scott Storch did production.”

T.JONES: “How did you become the new member?”
ELZHI: “Me and the Slum go way, way back. There was a spot called The Hip-Hop Shop and it was owned by Maurice Malone. There were people like Eminem, Royce The 5’9” and Obie Trice in the spot. Slum Village was up in there along with E-Dub. Everybody that you are seeing out there now (from Detroit) was apart of that history of The Hip-Hop Shop. Actually, the dude that was hosting The Hip-Hop Shop was Proof, who is now Dirty Harry from D-12. We were the elite and we all had mutual respect for each other. Through the years, I was working on my solo project. How Shoes was working on my solo work. He put out an album on Phat Kat with a couple of songs that were bananas. Jay Dee did the beats though. How Shoes did a lot of beats for me in the past. Big Up to him! Along the way, I met up with Waajeed. He’s bananas. He produced some songs on ‘Trinity’ too. Waajeed is a childhood friend of T3 and Slum Village in general. Basically, T3 was looking for somebody to manage. Waajeed told T3 about me and told me about T3. We ended up meeting over Waajeed’s house and going to Pizza Papalis and discussing T3 managing me over a slice of pizza. Over a slice of pizza, we discussed the future outline of ‘Trinity’. Eventually, he took me on a promo tour with Phife. He saw that I was down in the long run for the Slum. He knew that I would do whatever I had to do and whatever needed to be done. Baatin & T3 just came to the conclusion that they wanted me to be in Slum Village. I was definitely down with it because I felt that they were legendary. I heard of them before I even met them. I loved joints like ‘Roxanne’, ‘Gold Shoes’, ‘Pregnant’, and 'Ooh Wee’. It was an honor and a privilege to be apart of something so legendary.”

T.JONES: “?uestlove (from the Roots) has nothing but love & respect for SV. He said that if it weren’t for SV, he would not be doing music.”
ELZHI: “Big up to ?uestlove! He has been throwing crazy love to Slum Village from the very beginning. He told T3 that he loved ‘Trinity’ and he was just so excited for us. Big up to ?uest and Okayplayer.com!”

T.JONES: “What was the first thing you did when you found out that you were a member of Slum Village?”
ELZHI: “I was with it! Since T3 was managing me, he thought it was cool to have me on like 3 songs on the album. The first song I did was ‘One’. It was over a dummy beat. Jay Dee, being the genius he is, stripped that beat down and made another beat from it. That’s the beat that you hear on the album now. It was such an exciting moment for me since I had nothing but respect for these brothers. I felt like Jay Dee was incredible with the music, Baatin was incredible on the style tip, and T3 was incredible with everything he did. I had nothing but respect.”

T.JONES: “What’s your favorite song on ‘Trinity’?” 
ELZHI: “It varies every time I hear it. I would say ‘Star’ is one of my favorites. Being that it is an inspirational song, it tells everybody to stay open. Just because things are going a certain way right now, there is something out there that has got you in the light. Stay open and be wise to it. It’s definitely one of my favorite songs and it has an inspirational value to it. It’s innovative too. Waajeed did the beat and he was very innovative with it. Dwelle, who is also on ‘Tainted’, is on ‘Star’.”

T.JONES: “What is the pressure like of appeasing Jay Dee’s fans? What has the response been like from the older Slum Village fans?”
ELZHI: “As far as I know, it’s been a great response. I think when people heard that Jay Dee wasn’t going to be apart of this album, they counted the Slum out. Actually, now, it’s a different response. When people heard the album, they thought that it was going to be one way but it turned out to be another way. They love it! It’s been nothing but great responses on the Internet. I’m about to get on the Internet and thank all the people who responded to it well. I heard that people were saying that ‘Trinity’ was one of the best releases of this year.”

T.JONES: “What is your favorite song you did with an emcee or group outside of Slum Village?”
ELZHI: “A song I did with Royce The 5’9 a long time ago. This was when Royce’s crew was called Wall Street. Now, they are called The Elite. The name of the song is called ‘The Heist’. Doc Seuss did the track and it’s one of my favorites just off of the fact that it was nothing but raw and uncut hip-hop. We were just spitting. It wasn’t for the radio or nothing and we all knew it.”

T.JONES: “Is Fantastic Vol. 1 ever going to be re-released?”
ELZHI: “We have been thinking of pushing that back out. It’s complicated but it will be available to people on the road, during shows, and on our website. You can go to www.slumvillage.com and www.slumvillage.net."

T.JONES: "During your live shows, what is SV going to do during the old Jay Dee vocal parts since Jay Dee is not with Slum Village anymore?”
ELZHI: “On some of the songs, I tend on writing new verses to kind of fit in. When I wasn’t apart of the Slum Village equation, T3 & Baatin would do Jay Dee’s parts back and forth.”

T.JONES: “I have to admit, on the new song ‘Disco’, it was a dope thing you did using all of the titles from ‘Fantastic Vol. 2’. Did many people get that?”
ELZHI: “I’m glad you got that, man. I played it for this girl and she missed it totally. I had to explain to her what I did. I played it over and she got it. I’m glad to hear that somebody got it.”

T.JONES: “What was it like growing up in Detroit?”
ELZHI: “It was home. I just recently started to venture out into other places. Detroit is a cool, laid back city. It’s a diverse city far as music goes. It has techno to Motown and Berry Gordy. It has rappers from Esham to Slum Village. It’s definitely a diverse city. While we were growing, up, it was hard to find hip-hop here. There were only a couple of spots and now, even those spots are gone. We only have about 2 spots out here now that are really, really dedicated to hip-hop. Poppa Chino’s and The Lush are really dedicated to that raw and uncut hip-hop. Mics are still being blazed in Detroit. A lot of the rappers that are up coming are just killing it. I have to say some names like Edward Scissorhands, Sadat, Marv-1 from the Fat Killers, Shy Dog from the Dredknots, Super Emcee, The Mountain Climbers, Piranha, Mu, and Guilty. There are a lot of people blazing mics.”

T.JONES: “What emcee or group would you like to work with in the future?”
ELZHI: “Andre 3000 (from Outkast). If I have to mention a group, I would have to say Stereolab. I definitely want to see them. They are incredible. I have at least 4 of their CDs. Eminem and I were supposed to get down on a track a long time ago. I was real young and didn’t have a way to the spot. I had to catch buses. There were a couple of times where Eminem wanted to a song before he got on and we never had a chance to do that. I would definitely love to work with him.”

T.JONES: “What producers would you like to work with in the future?”
ELZHI: “The Neptunes. I love The Neptunes. I love the album they just came out with. The concept of the name N.E.R.D. as ‘No One Ever Really Dies’ is the joint. I would also have to say Timbaland because he is a diverse producer. If you ask him to do anything, I bet he could do it. He could do anything from live to funky to mild to whatever.”

T.JONES: “What are some of your all time favorite hip-hop albums?”
ELZHI: “'Illmatic' by Nas is one. 'Midnight Marauders' by A Tribe Called Quest is another. I have to name a Tribe album.”

T.JONES: “Favorite movie?”
ELZHI: “One of my favorite movies is ‘American Beauty’. I want to see ‘Road To Perdition’. I may be going to see that tonight.”

T.JONES: “Are there any brand new songs or artists that you are feeling now?”
ELZHI: “Clipse. That song 'Grindin’'. They are produced by The Neptunes.”

T.JONES: “Favorite alcoholic beverage?”
ELZHI: “Ginger Ale and Courvoisier.”

T.JONES: “Abortion: Pro-choice or Pro-life?”
ELZHI: “I’m not with abortion. I’m pro-life.”

T.JONES: “Death Penalty- For or against?”
ELZHI: “I’m against it.”

T.JONES: “Where were during the Sept. 11th World Trade Center Terrorist Attack? How did you deal with it? How do you think it will affect hip-hop?”
ELZHI: “I was sleeping on my floor in Detroit. My boy Open Mic called me up and told me to turn on the TV. There I was, looking at those smoking buildings. I think it changed New York. I’ve been up in New York and it’s a friendlier city. You can feel it. I can feel the energy. There’s a friendlier vibe out there. As far as hip-hop music, it’s not going to change. People are always going to want music. I think what happened is not going to stop what we’re trying to do.”

T.JONES: “What is the last incident of racism that you experienced?”
ELZHI: “I probably have and just didn’t know it.”

T.JONES: “What kind of kid were you? Good? Bad?”
ELZHI: “I was rebellious. My family wanted me to work and have a computer job but I wanted to emcee. They would bring up things like ‘There are so many rappers in the world – what makes you think that you got the goods?’ They had some discouraging questions but I knew that I would make it one day.”

T.JONES: “If you weren’t in the music industry, what would you be doing for money?”
ELZHI: “Trying to write movies. Every now and then, I dibble and dabble into writing a flick but I never get to finish anything. I am heavy off into movies. I would also be thinking of different concepts for video games.”

T.JONES: “Do you have any advice for someone who is just starting in the music industry?”
ELZHI: “Yeah, I do. Stay true to what you want to do. Don’t let anybody kick sand on your dreams. Whenever somebody says something negative about you, use that for fuel in your fire. Don’t sell out yourself. When the fans aren’t there anymore, you are left with yourself. If you just want bucks, you are not going to be satisfied in the end once the music stops. Do your thing and keep your head up.”

T.JONES: “Are you (or the rest of Slum Village) ever going to do a solo album?”
ELZHI: “I think we all plan on branching off into solo projects later on down the line. As far as us being 3 separate artists, it will definitely be different from one another.”

T.JONES: “What are some major misconceptions about Slum Village?”
ELZHI: “People think we’re just a conscious group. You know, there ain’t nothing wrong with being conscious but once you have a label like that, then you can’t really do other things except for conscious hip-hop. We all are conscious. Slum Village represents human beings and human beings are diverse. Human beings contradict themselves. When we write, we write from experiences and how we feel. That’s Slum Village. One minute we may talk about having a ‘Climax’ and the next minute we may talk about not selling yourself for the industry. The next minute we may be just telling you to ‘Raise it up’. Sure, we definitely have a conscious level involved in our music but we are also regular cats who just want to make good music. We want to give it to you raw with curses, letting you know the real deal. Then, we want to give you a song like ‘Tainted’. It’s about being diverse.”

T.JONES: “What is the meaning behind the name Slum Village?”
ELZHI: “It’s a paradox. The words ‘Slum’ & ‘Village’ are two totally different things. It is basically bringing together different people under one roof to enjoy good music.”

T.JONES: “Word association time. I am going to say a name of an artist or group and you say the first word that pops in your mind. So, if I said ‘Chuck D’, you may say ‘revolutionary’. Ok?”
ELZHI: “Okay…cool.”
T.JONES: “Redman”
ELZHI: “Blunt.”
T.JONES: “Eminem”
ELZHI: “Creative.”
T.JONES: “Kool Keith”
ELZHI: “Abstract.”
T.JONES: “Sadat X”
ELZHI: “Innovative.”
T.JONES: “Big L”
ELZHI: “5 Mics.”
T.JONES: “Jamiroqaui”
ELZHI: “Soulful.”
T.JONES: “Brand New Heavies”
ELZHI: “Influential.”

T.JONES: “What can we expect from Slum Village in the future?”
ELZHI: “Be on the lookout for our band, The Ess Band. We’re bringing the band on tour but they are coming out with their own album. We are going to take part in it, The B Team. I’m going to write song lyrics with Baatin. T3 is going to do tracks for the joint and that should be tight. Be on the lookout for cats out of our camp too: Phat Kat, and Dwelle, who is on Virgin records. Be on the lookout for solo albums, up and coming movie scripts and acting too.”

T.JONES: “Do you have anything to say for the people who are reading this?”
ELZHI: “When you hear the ‘Trinity’ album, be open minded because it definitely is not ‘Fantastic Vol. 2’. It has elements of ‘Fantastic Vol.2’ but it’s something totally different. I’m excited about this album, ‘Past, Present & Future’ because this is the first album that you can listen to from front to back or you can take the ‘past’ parts of the album and listen to them first. Then, you can take the ‘present’ parts and listen to them and after that, listen to the ‘future’ parts. Next to each song title, there is a symbol. One symbol represents the past, one represents the present, and another represents the future. It’s a cool concept to put on the album. It’s just to be innovative and give back to the listeners. Just be open minded when you hear it.”

Thank you for your patience ELZHI from Slum Village!!!
You can check out SLUM VILLAGE at
http://www.slumvillage.com
http://www.slumvillage.net
http://www.barakrecords.com

-interview done by Todd E. Jones aka The New Jeru Poet
(toddejones@yahoo.com)

*You also can read my review of Slum Village's "Dirty District: A Sequence Mix Tape Session" at MVRemix.com

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