eLZHi is a 42-year-old hip hop titan from Detroit, Michigan. In 2002, he would emerge as the new star of legendary rap group Slum Village filling the void their cornerstone J Dilla left. After years of building up his credibility with the hip hop powerhouse, he would pursue a career of his own and end up creating classics in his 2008 debut The Preface and its 2011 followup Elmatic. Since then, ELZhi has remained prevalent due to his solid work and notable features but has failed to come close to the level he was at nearly a decade ago. With that said, he has just released his first solo album in four years, titled Seven Times Down Eight Times Up this weekend. With producer JR Swiftz behind the boards, will ELZhi defeat father time and prove he is still one of the illest MC’s in the game?
Revolving around themes of self-worth and dignity, eLZhi offers some of his most empowering performances to date. Cuts like “Smoke & Mirrors” and “EarlyBird Nightowl” are potent lyrical exercises that focus on the MC examining his rough past and the sacrifices he made for success. Inspiring listeners with these tales makes it easy to indulge eL’s storytelling as his voice’s evident raw pain is captivating. “Ferndale” was a definite standout as eLZhi reminisces on a relationship he had with a woman who he loved dearly. Even with all of its emotional integrity, eLZhi shows he can still enjoy the finer things in life on the songs “Hot Winter Cold Summer” and “Guns & Boats”. Building on this, the hard-hitting banger “Light One Write One” captures every defining quality of eLzhi in a potent but accessible way. Rounding things out, there is a handful of dark tracks that show eLZhi exposing the corruption embedded within our world. “Master Class”, “THUGGed Out Zombies” and ‘G.O.D.” are at the helm of this as they challenge the listener’s preconceived notions and ideas. Overall, the lyrical complexity and topical depth on this album make it one of the more thought-provoking listens all year.
Sonically, producer JR Swiftz evolves Detroit hip hop’s sound with one of the most dynamic soundtracks eLZhi’s ever rapped over. While most of the songs are built on gritty drum patterns, the layering and depth put over them keeps the listener engaged at nearly every single moment. “Light One Write One” and “Ferndale” are just a few of many testaments to this. Being able to convey different emotions with simply a few chords is another positive to this albums soundscape. From the remorsefully driven “G.O.D.” to the hatred filled “THUGGed Out Zombies”, each beat is super powerful. “Jason” was a definite standout as its organic drums and woodwind sampling makes it fearful yet calming at the same time. Behind the boards, JR Swiftz shows why he is amongst the most desired producers in the game right now.
In conclusion, Seven Times Down Eight Times Up is easily eLZhi’s best project in nearly a decade. With some of the most proficient songwriting all year, the 22-year veteran proves he is still one of the best lyricists out. Sonically JR Swiftz gets to shine as he masterfully accomplices the vocal side of things with his intricately crafted beats. In the future, I hope these two work this closely on a record again as I believe they’re just at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their chemistry.