Elzhi Recalls Meeting Eminem, Detroit's Battle Scene

Exclusive: Elzhi takes a stroll down memory lane while discussing the importance of The Rhythm Kitchen, Dilla, Proof and other staples in Detroit.

You shouldn’t be reading this right now. That’s not to say you don’t have anything better to do. But no one should have to convince a reader that is even remotely interested in Hip Hop about Elzhi’s skill level. Aside from being able to rhyme circles around nearly anyone atop the Hip Hop sales charts, Elzhi has traded bars with the likes of J Dilla, Kanye West, Eminem. So if it seems like he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves after five Slum Village albums and some impressive solo appearances, maybe it’s because he isn’t.

Before any discussion about Elzhi’s future begins, the Detroit emcee took a moment to reflect on his past. It’s a past that dates back to a time when Grant Hill was still catching passes from Joe Dumars and Eminem won an epic battle against LaPeace. Despite losing Proof, Baatin, Dilla and nearly losing Obie Trice, Detroit’s "golden era" representatives are keeping the spirit of that age alive. And it’s not in a bitter, dusty or underground manner. You can find them at the top of the charts, on equally loved and loathed Drake mixtapes and via Superbowl commercials. And Elzhi remains in the midst of it all—simultaneously representing the past, present and future.

HipHopDX: Tell me about Detroit’s Hip Hop scene during the early to mid-'90s.

Elzhi: Detroit Hip Hop started from this place called the Rhythm Kitchen. From my understanding, because I was too young to go there, it was like a restaurant. And Maurice Malone, Proof and a few other cats used to just bust freestyles in the Rhythm Kitchen…just having a little cypher. That grew into Maurice Malone’s place that was on 7 Mile Road and Foyer called The Hip Hop Shop. The Hip Hop Shop was like a clothing store that turned into an open mic on Saturdays from 4:00 to 6:00. You had Proof hosting, and it was crazy.

That’s how it all started for me, because I was in high school and I was all about emceeing. I used to be in the cafeteria on top of tables battling cats across the room in the same cafeteria. We had everybody’s attention in the cafeteria—it was serious. At one point, I was like, “Damn, I wish I was in New York, man. They have some ill emcees in New York.” I always kept hearing about The Hip Hop Shop from a lot of folks. And ever since then, I always went back.

HipHopDX: What are some of the more memorable performances you saw at The Hip Hop Shop?

Elzhi: The first cat I ever saw on the mic was Obie Trice. Later on, I would see people like Slum Village before they were “Slum Village.” I saw Phat Kat, Royce Da 5’9 and Guilty Simpson. But what’s really crazy is how I met Eminem. The first time I met Eminem was over the phone. My man Proof called me up on the three-way, and he was like, “Yo, I want you to hear my man spit.” So he had Eminem spit for me. [Proof] respected me because he kinda knew that I studied the same emcees that he and Eminem studied. We’d spend many nights just talking about patterns—like shadowboxes, mirrors and all that.

So Eminem spit for me, and when he was done, Proof was like, “So what he sound like?” And after I told him Eminem was pretty fresh, he goes, “Yeah, I bet you ain’t know he was white though?” And I didn’t, but I thought that he was pretty dope. Later on, I saw Eminem on stage demolishing cats with crazy lines.

HipHopDX: You mention your mother in your rhymes fairly often. What kind of influence did she have on you?

Elzhi: My mom influenced me to never follow…always be a leader, and do what you want to do. She was the main one that instilled in me if everyone’s going left, you go right. And that’s how I look at my career, because I’m not trying to do what everybody else is doing. I’m trying to be on my own path in my own lane and do my own thing. So big ups to my moms; I put her in so many songs. One of the songs I put her in was in “Memory Lane.” At the end I say, “I threw the deuces up to Dilla / Dapped up ‘Tin / And then I hugged my momma slow…” That line was just me kind of leaving memory lane and coming back to real life. But these are the people that I think about. They’re the reason I strive and continue to do this everyday.

HipHopDX: You mentioned Dilla also, what kind of…

Elzhi: I was overseas, man. Me and T3 was getting ready to go onstage in England. And we got the news from Tim Maynor, who was our manager at the time. He was like, “Man, Dilla just passed.” It was crazy emotions, and everybody was just trying to hold back the tears. But we still went on stage, and we had everybody say, “R.I.P. J Dilla.” When the crowd heard the news from us, that might have been their first time hearing about it too. So it was just a crazy emotion that popped off.

And then after Baatin passed, it was like, “Damn, what’s going on?” Then MC Breed and ODB passed too. It just seemed like everybody that I was working with at one point was fading away. Me and T3 had talks at the time, and it just made us want to take care of ourselves a lot better. That’s one thing that we definitely think about. When we think about Baatin, Breed, Proof and Dilla, we just gotta take care of ourselves as far as eating right, making sure we’re healthy and staying out of these streets. We just wanna stay in the studio and keep doing what we’re doing, because it’s a positive thing.

Video shot and edited by Sam Suter.

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RELATED: Elzhi Discusses Illmatic, ELmatic And "Verbal Intercourse Pt. 2"


  • Josue Silva

    Dope shit from Elzhi


    dope..."he was pretty fresh" haha. http://soundcloud.com/BassMango

  • Jake

    If he's not in your top 10 when it comes to illest emcees ever, we have nothing to talk about. IMO, even though he's been around since late 90s, he's been the illest emcee alive over the last 8 years or so (especially the last 5 years as he's been able to focus more on his solo ish w/ amazing mixtapes, features, and classic solo debut (best album of 2008 "The Preface)

  • Essex

    Elzhi is the best lyricist alive point blank period. anyone who doesn't know this doesn't know hip hop. point blank period.

  • Anonymous

    Super lyricism, now that he is getting recognition as a soloist, i hope he can keep up with himself, unlike a lot of eastcoast mc's, mainly from NY that came in the game mid 00s trying to go from world wide street hop to industry, stay in control of your own destiny in this ciber age, peace.

  • Anonymous

    umm can someone help me out...but what the fuckis shadowboxes, mirrors and all that? seriulousy cuz i wanna learn it haha

  • Anonymous

    and cinavenom obviously is biased because Elzhi is an underground rapper... Elzhi is lyrically and flow wise nowhere near, and lets not even mention creativity, storytelling, etc.....

  • IEtherianSoul9

    It's a damn shame how he's been rapping since the late 90's and due to Elmatic, he's now just getting the recognition he deserves. Elzhi is, in my honest opinion, the best MC breathing as of right now. His next album is going to be a CLASSIC.

  • Boombap1987

    memory lane by elzhi is one of my favorite tracks ever peace to nas for the original as well..

  • DrDreBeats

    If you aint ever heard Elzhi before, go take your ass to the music store and pick up Detroit Deli and Fantastic Vol 2. Then listen to eLmactic that shit is crazy. El is one of the most underrated rappers period his lyrical ability is crazy

  • honest truth

    Yall are either deaf or dont write lyrics or never heard anything elzhi put out besides slum village don't yall know ELZHI is up there with 3stacks black thought pharoah monch jay-z has no chance against him in battle

  • Hex

    Okay when the fuck has Elzhi traded bars with Eminem because as far as I'm concerned that track doesn't exist... Fuck these writers/editors who don't even bother to do research

    • Ricardo Gonalves

      dude, they traded bars over the phone. it's stated in this interview. there's no track though, they were makin' one when eminem still wasn't "eminem" but shit changed and there's no track.

  • Anonymous

    Elzhi is a great lyricist and good rapper but his voice is irritating and flow could use improvement. Still, he's better then anyone that is popular right now besides Jay and Em. Although 2011 Elzhi>2011 Jay.

    • Anonymous

      What's bad about having mainstream appeal? It doesn't get any better than unifying skills with universal success. Is it that you guys can't feel like you discovered something then?

    • Anonymous

      Both have huge talent. Jay is a GOAT contender, Elzhi is a technically gifted underground rapper, like many others. To me, you have to master both audiences.

    • Anonymous

      Him being underground has nothing to do with It, It is the same punks like you that are quick to say mac miller is a great cause he sold big numbers for an indie. So don't be a hypocrite. Jay Z has never been at elzhi's level in the same way lil wayne could never be better rapper than jay. Even If Jay Z was underground he'd be like his mentor Jaz O, again like I said mainstream appeal has kept him afloat to the point where people will still buy his shit at 70 years old.

    • Anonymous

      Jay is better than El. Stop overrateing rappers because they're underground. All of you would shit on him if he would sign to a big label like you do on Slaughterhouse out of nowhere.

    • Anonymous

      Oh you're referring to that fu schic shit he used to bite, nah son I don't think so. Jay has never really been a great rapper, period. He's just gotten by on mainstream appeal. All the way from the 90's when every member of wu tang was better than him to now when rappers like el would rap circles around him.

    • Anonymous

      "Elzhi has always been better then Jay." Jay's lyrics and entendres must be going over your head. Lyrically they are about equal but what makes Jay-Z alot better is his flow is 10,000x better.

    • Anonymous

      I would much rather listen to El's spectacular ryhme pattern these days than a hipsterish Jay Z tune.

    • cinavenom

      Better than Em too

    • Anonymous

      Elzhi has always been better than Jay lol.

  • Ozzy Salas

    Back in the days of the golden era or hiphop

  • Anonymous

    Nobody can fuck with Elzhi when it comes to skills. Brag Swag >>> your favorite rapper's career.

  • Fossie

    Thats the reason why Detox will not see the light of the day:Because people at the moment like bullshit !!!!!Dre knows that!!!lol

  • Anonymous

    Elzhi is a beast..Always been a fan of his and slum village...This is who should be representing the D not some bitter cornball like Hex Murder...

    • sincerejk

      Hex isn't even a rapper in the first place. Also, he does or did manage half of the "only rappers that matter in the D" to you, including Elzhi, Royce, Black Milk, and Guilty Simpson.

    • Anonymous

      yeah Hex Murder is the D alright.Double D bra size rapper.The only rappers that matter in the D are Royce,Elzhi,Obie,Em,Black Milk,T3 and a couple of others.(R.I.P Breed who reps Michigan btw) Hex and trick are bitter has beens who never were.fuck outta here with all that bullshit bout going to the D and getting murked for saying that.Come out the D and try it.

    • war22

      u get killed saying that in the D...retard

    • anonymous

      Hex Murda is the D dumb fuck.

  • Anonymous

    If you been THIS long into the game and still didn't make it, it's your own fault.

  • cccc

    sic mc its a shame the radio plays stupid ass music from wayne and drake but dont give real rappers and mc's with actual rhyming skills no love

    • Anonymous

      Why is it all about rhyming skills? Certainly they are important and Elzhi has them but his flow is really nothing special. Clearly he is better then YM though (that doesnt say much though.)

    • Doubl Negative

      @Showtime, as long as sites like this keep hip-hop fans informed about emcees like eL, Blu, Apathy and Fresh Daily there shouldn't be a problem. I consider myself a discerning B-Boy with a predilection for sophisticated, urbane, erudite, subterranean hip-hop music and eschew anything played on mainstream radio like Wayne, 50, Wiz or new Fat Joe ish. I'd totally given up on listening to new hip-hop until I discovered this site and Premo's radio show. Real hip-hop lives...

    • Showtime

      Yeah Its quite sad. I guess Its not catered to the tastes of what the majority like, which is why Its important that we have own proper global mediums for real hip hop. TV channels, radio channels that are available to anyone. Unless someone grabs the bull by the horns and ushers in an era of lyricism and good beats again.

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