Lead Poison (released March 25, 2016)
Seconds into Elzhi’s new LP, Lead Poison, the listener is greeted with sounds of a pencil scribbling on a notepad. Elzhi mumbles a few lines to himself, revising the structure a few times, before launching into the first verse.
In those 60 or so seconds, new listeners learn all they need to know about Elzhi — he’s simply a writer striving for perfection.
Although Lead Poison is just Elzhi’s second official album, don’t be mistaken, homie is a veteran. He made his mark as a member of Detroit’s Slum Village collective before going solo and quietly dropping an array of mixtapes and EPs – mostly notably Elmatic, his ode to Nas’ Illmatic.
El takes those influences to heart. Elzhi’s a writer down to his core and Lead Poison arguably is his best manuscript to date.
Rap is its most powerful when used as a storytelling medium, bending metaphors to provide a greater understanding of our world. This is when Elzhi is in his element. On the standout single “ALIENated,” Elzhi grapples with insecurities, which often make him feel like a stranger on his own planet.
Despite I’m either out of this world or sitting on top of it
I’m just being who I am but can they say the same?
Or do they stay ashamed
Cause they eyes denies a greater flame?
Those questions could be asked of El’s personal life, and his professional career too. It makes them doubly powerful.
“CoSIGN” dives deeper into his subconscious, bearing truths about his struggle to maintain a career without record label support. “You stumblin’ on the right path/Eventually you get there” — El realizes that without a label backing him he has to be his own cheerleader.
But the subject matter isn’t always so heavy. El catches a case and winds up stuck with community service on “Weedipedia,” pines after a lost love on “Friendzone” (hilariously hurling insults at his ex’s new man between bars) and a blind date becomes an interview with a vampire on “She Sucks.” And I was ready to write off “Misright” as yet another clone of Nas’ iconic “Black Girl Lost” — a song that has birthed more mini-me’s than Bob Marley. But El won me over by running down a laundry list of failed relationships, from MisQuote and MisInformed to MisTake and MisEducated. Once MisChievous started stealing from CVS, you can’t blame Elzhi for cutting that off.
It’s not the just wild concepts that keep these songs afloat, it’s Elzhi’s tremendously underrated delivery. “February” is more than a cliche coming-of-age story, Elzhi paints a picture so vivid that you can see the winter frost on your lenses:
We played freeze tag or had a snowball fight
’til the curb on the streetlight would grow all bright
Couldn’t ride our bicycles, slippery sidewalks
Icicles cold as a deli sandwich with the sliced pickles
Some artists who focus strictly on lyricism are often criticized for overwhelming listeners with too much content. Honestly, it’s a fair complaint. But that’s not the case for Lead Poison. From Elzhi flexing his double-time flow on “The Healing Process” to the decadent soul sample of “Cloud,” Lead Poison is a diverse work that allows the listener to think and breathe at the same time.
This isn’t a 2,500-word dictionary with big words scattered around, it’s a collection of stories — stories that only get better on repeat listens.
On “Hello!!!!!” El pleads, “hope you’re nodding in agreeance and not nodding to the track.” Yeah, the beats are dope, but you’ve gotta listen to the stories being told. Trust me, they’re some of the best you’ve heard all year.
Best tracks: “February,” “ALIENated,” “Cloud”
4 stars out of 5