Photos courtesy of Elzhi
Not long before New Year's, the Detroit rapper Elzhi got some strange news: Someone online was threatening to bring a class action lawsuit against him on behalf of his Kickstarter backers on the grounds that he had failed to deliver the album he promised. His first reaction was to treat it as routine online trolling. But the concern that people might take it seriously was real.
Elzhi announced the album in November 2013 and took fan donations to the tune of $37,000. A look at the page for his campaign shows mixed reactions. Some are angry that he's touring Europe while they've never seen the product promised. Others plead patience. One common theme emerges: Can't we just get some updates?
He acknowledges he could have done better. But he decided to look on the bright side. People care. “It was almost like it was right on time,” he said over the phone from Paris recently. “Now people are talking, now people are getting interested again, right when we’re starting to campaign. So I felt like this could’ve been the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”
Whether the threat was serious or not, it was a moot point. Lead Poison is ready to be shown to the world. When it comes out in March, it will be his first official album since 2011’s Elmatic, his tribute to Nas’s classic Illmatic. Lead Poison is his recovery record, a project he threw himself into to fight off what he calls the cloud. It's an album looking inward, seeking purpose and peace of mind. El claims he's found it, says he's in the right place now. “I’m almost feeling close to 100 percent,” he says. A new surge of productivity is on the way. “Writing is a lot easier. The writer’s block isn’t how it was, contributing to the fact that it took me so long, because of the things I had to deal with. I had to deal with myself.”
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Noisey: Would you say you’re trying to turn this Kickstarter lawsuit thing into a net positive?
Elzhi: Yeah, it may appear to be negative on the surface, but what us human beings or us spiritual beings in human bodies have to realize that anything that gets thrown our way is to benefit us. Every obstacle is an opportunity, and pretty much that’s what the record is about.
I’ve been away for awhile, and one of the reasons why I’ve been gone is because I’ve been getting chased by this fucking black cloud that I can’t seem to shake. The cloud has been so crazy that it’s made me look at things in ways where, you know my perception is pretty much negative. At the end of the day, the people that knew what was going on—like the people who knew that the record existed, because they heard the record—they was excited. If someone’s trying to say that I scammed them, that’s only because they don’t know and don’t have the information that we have.
One of the things I’ve seen people say is “we don’t care if it takes a long time, we just want more updates,” and I’m just curious is that something you wish you had done differently?
I’m a perfectionist, like cut and dry. We did some updates. I did a couple of audio updates, and I did a couple of video updates. And when I look back on it, man, I just feel like this shit is wack. They wasn’t the type of tunes that I would’ve liked to put out for my fan base.
In that moment in time, when I was doing that, I was embarrassed to let my fans know where I was at in life at that time. Because I was going through a lot of shit I had to deal with. I just look at those videos, and I felt like I was faking it til I’m making it, but then I had to think about it like, “What happens when you don’t make it, you just fake it?” So I felt like I was being false and felt embarrassed and, yo I don’t want my people to see me like this. But I do wish that I could’ve done more and I wish it could’ve looked the way I would’ve liked it to look.
Lead Poison album art
Do you feel like there’s a disconnect between artists and listeners in terms of what it takes to actually get from point A to a finished product?
Yeah, it’s the lack of information, pretty much. And I put that all on me. I was trying to act like everything was okay, so I was writing music that way too.
Like I say, perception is a motherfucker. Because on one hand, they like to say that El don’t care about his fans. El didn’t give his fans any updates and he don’t really care about his fan base if he’s not letting them know what’s happening in his life. That’s one way to look at it.
But the way that I look at it and just being myself and who I am and what I stand for, I think I care too motherfucking much. I don’t want to just slap some shit on a piece of paper and go in a booth and spit phlegm or whatever and then just throw it out there like, “OK, it’s an album.” I want to put my heart and my soul into a project. I want to stand behind it. If I don’t stand behind it, it’s not coming out, simple as that. And I know it’s the perfectionist in me, but at the same time, I care too much. I care about the people that listen to my music.
You get the sense that you are a lover of the album as art form.
With the record I was trying to channel like, Tim Burton, Shel Silverstein, and Larry David. I was trying to channel that energy but still be myself. Like I say, man, it’s the realest shit I ever wrote. Anything that the fans want to know from when I disappeared out of the spotlight is in the record. And that was another thing I had on my mind, too. I’m not saying that it was cool, I’m not saying it was the right thing to do or anything, but one thing I had in the back of my mind was like you know, if someone was to hear the record, they would have some kind of clue about what was going on when they didn’t see me, when I was out of the picture. ‘Cause a lot of shit happened, and it was all due to that fucking cloud.
It always comes around and drenches me in rain drops and that’s part of the reason why it took a long time for me to do what I had to do. I knew what I had to do was instead of being safe, I had to be real and I had to take all the stress and depression and all the things I considered to be negative inside of me and get it out the only way I knew how to get it out, through writing. ‘Cause I felt like when that stuff is inside of me and you consume it, and you conceal it, it can become poisonous and it can be poison into your heart, your mind, your body, your soul. So whatever it is, I’m just encouraging anybody, like if anyone has ever felt the way that I’ve just explained, I’m encouraging anybody to find like an outlet. Whatever it is, basketball, drawing, whatever. You get it out of you, but I got it out the only way that I knew how, through my writing.
Is the cloud something you’ve dealt with for a long time or something more recent?
It’s always been there, but I couldn’t see it because I was moving around a lot. And when you moving around a lot and you doing a lot of things, a lot of stuff gets pushed to the back. Things that you need to deal with you push it to the background. It’s almost like trying to put a band-aid on a bullet wound, like it never really fully heals. Like you never really got to the core of what the problem was, of where the pain was at. And so it happened when I finally sat my ass down, and wasn’t doing anything but sitting down and thinking things over and everything just started rushing at me at the same time like everything. It felt like my world was caving in and it’s been this way for at least like four years. Even with Elmatic, being on tour with the band and doing these shows, I couldn’t even really live inside of that moment because of what I was going through. And people didn’t know it. I was acting like everything was okay.
Do you feel like specifically in hip-hop that there’s a reluctance to talk about depression and mental health issues and things like that?
Definitely. When hip-hop started, it started with the dozens. You know: Who’s the most witty, who’s the most clever, entertaining? And that spirit remains in hip-hop. You look at people talking about how much money they got, how many corks they popped, how many whips they drove—hip-hop is about being on top of your game. When you get in the game or when you’re striving to get inside of the game you just want the women to love you, you want the male fan base or the men to want to be like you. It’s about being the best, it’s about wearing the crown, and because everybody wants to hold the crown like that, it’s a competitive sport.
It’s really different in this era because everyone wants everybody else to feel like they’ve got their shit together with social media. I had to really look at that. At first, I felt something in the pit of my stomach, you know like, “Aww, do I reveal this?” But I had to, for my personal health I had to put that out there. And for the people, I feel like I owe it to my fans, to let them know what’s going on. I feel like I can’t be fake to my fan base. They gotta know I’m just like them. I just chose an occupation to write rhymes because it was a God given gift that was given to me. But I’m just like everybody else.
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