Elzhi - ELMatic (Mixtape Review)

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Achieving a rare feat, Detroit-based emcee Elzhi seems to have tackled one of the most esteemed LP's rap has seen to date, and turned it into his own.

Remixing what a vast majority of Hip Hop fans call a “classic” album is dangerous. Even attempting to put a spin on something slightly lower on the hierarchy of epic music (on say, the “notable” level of musical quality) is a gamble. Many have tried, and few managed to live up to the original that they chose to confront. Achieving a rare feat, Detroit-based emcee Elzhi seems to have tackled one of the most esteemed LP’s rap has seen to date, and turned it into his own. And for once, the end result sounds damn good.

Nas’ Illmatic showcased the Queens spitter at arguably his rawest. His delivery and flow seemed effortless as he spun a tale of gritty New York City living, with an incredible production lineup only positively accentuating the project. There was little, if any, room for improvement on Nasir Jones’ LP, thus leaving Elzhi with quite a challenge when he chose to recreate the 1994 standout album and turn it into his own ELmatic. But this is where Elzhi got it right – rather than try to improve upon the original, it’s rather obvious that he merely personalized it. Elzhi does not try to outshine Nas, rather he reinterprets the tales of the Queensbridge Houses and tells them from a Detroit point of view. He channels Nas’ lyrical style - from his delivery and flow to the actual bars from Illmatic - and pulls it off so successfully that one would think he was born rapping that way. “New York State of Mind” merely turns into “Detroit State of Mind,” with Elzhi’s gangster dreams being fueled by bottles of Rose´, minus the Tec-9 weaponry. “Represent” shares Nas’ “straight up, shit is real” sentiment, yet Elzhi strays from Nas’ formula on cuts like “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” which doesn’t boast Elzhi excelling and prevailing. The balance is key. Elzhi isn’t completely jacking Nas’ style, but he utilizes the similarities between the two emcees’ viewpoints to tell his own tale.

Perhaps the most noticeable difference between Illmatic and ELmatic  lies within the instrumentals. Produced by Detroit’s Will Sessions band, ELmatic takes the beats that Nas fans have grown to love, and enhances them with live instrumentation. The original samples still remain front and center, never losing the basic essence of the sound that fueled Illmatic, yet the sound is different enough to be refreshing and have it feel like Elzhi didn’t simply rhyme over recycled beats. Combined with his impressive lyricism, the overall sonic feel of ELmatic is worthy of multiple replays.

The once member of Slum Village not only made Illmatic his own, but more importantly honored the original and did it justice. In the process, the similarities between Nas’ upbringing in Queens and Elzhi’s life in Detroit become evident, and it is this common ground of experiences that bridges the gap between New York City’s past and Detroit’s present. Sure, “One Time For Your Mind” may be missing, and the sequence of the tracks doesn’t match up between the two approaches, but it’s just another example of Elzhi reaching that balance between the original and his take on it. The bottom line is that Elzhi took on an intimidating task and managed to prove that he can stand up to classic material.

DX Consensus: "Free Album" (the highest possible praise for a mixtape).

Listen to Elzhi ELMatic

114 Comments

  • Go Mets

    This almost brought tears to my eyes this is just beautiful... impossible to say if its better than illmatic but this deserves to be a classic 5/5

  • SincereProducer

    I hate remakes but this one is a classic. Elzhi is one dope lyricist. 5/5.

  • papartis

    Memory lane and life is a bitch by Elzhi are just awesome. Overall ,great album remake, my hat is off.

  • Sam

    Honestly, Illmatic is my favorite album, but Elzhi murdered it. I still think Illmatic is better, but on some tracks Elzhi outdid Nas. Real talk, one love, son.

  • OneLove

    Next album...Feasible Doubt.

  • Anonymous

    This guy is a genius..iv only heard this mixtape from him but it was incredible.

  • PantsParty

    my fav album of 2011~!

  • rashard

    Elzhi is too dope! Real lyricism isn't dead! It's just to bad these NEW hip-hop fans weren't raised on it. They grew up on "50" and "Soulja Boy" not Biggie and Tupac.

    • do i need a name?

      Does that mean I don't know what lyrical shit is, because I didn't grow up on Biggie and Tupac...didn't grow up on 50 or Soulja either though, just fyi.

  • d

    Everything has been said about this tape - it's exactly what hip hop needs, we need emcees like Elzhi taking people back to a great hip hop album and bringing us back to put it in a present day context. not to say other emcees should replicate his concept, but we do need a return to an appreciation for an emcee's skill, insight, and perspective - because emcees like Elzhi spit lyrics that need to be heard and circulated, just like the words of what we like to call golden era artists needed to be heard. hip hop can be just as potent today as it was in Illmatic's era, we just need people to realize the quality and importance of music like this.

  • 2dope

    This tape is TOO ILL. How is freddie gibbs rated higher? HOW!?

  • jake

    Definition of a classic FIRE mixtape...don't forget Detroit state of mind remix that starts @ 3:37 on track 10 (Pete Rock shout out)

  • Rafael Gonzalez

    Heavy Weight Stuff.....

  • Martin Mavhiki

    this z some heavy stuff!!!!!!!!5stars no doubt

  • 5 star

    5/5 5 Star album if it was an album to...

  • John Davis

    Just found this about a month ago and it's been on constant rotation since. Great concept, great album. It's hard to imagine someone remaking Illmatic, but Elzhi has done a superb job reinterpreting it.

  • Anonymous

    We will hear several classics from Elzhi, dude has GOAT skills, he's just THAT good of a rapper. Lupe Fiasco and El are above everyone else, from a creative standpoint and skillwise. ''Armor Of God'' and ''L.A.B.O.R. (Language Arts Based On Reality''). Damn, the Midwest is unreal this year. DX needs to write a review for L.A.B.O.R., it's dope beyond belief.

    • Jake

      of the last 5-8 years at least. One Be Lo is one of my personal favorites also. Vakil is dope out of Chi, but Juice is iller to me. You ever listen to any of these other underrated emcees i mentioned (also mentioned some obvious legends, but dudes like Diabolic, Tonedeff, Louis Logic, Juice, Percee-P, Blu @ his best, Lowkey, Shad, Possessed of Rhyme Asylum, Akala, Crooked I, and MANY OTHERS are slept on super dope lyricists)

    • Jake

      I agree w/ you on Elzhi for sure...He's the illest most consistent SUPER DUPER DOPE emcee of the last 5-7 years (I know he's been around since late 90s as I first heard him on CLASSIC Binary star possee cut "KGB", but imo on that track he had the 3rd best verse behind One Be Lo and Juice, another slept on legendary lyricist). Lupe says some dope complex ish on his earlier mixtapes and first 2 albums, no doubt, but TO ME, i'm just not a HUGE fan in terms of thinking WOW THIS GUY IS UNREAL (his newest 3rd LP which was 80% trash and how he handled it didn't help) as I am/was for say Elzhi, 96/97-02 Em, Big Pun, Big L, Nas, Crooked I, Tonedeff, Diabolic, Pharoahe Monch, Common @ his best, G Rap, 91-96 2pac @ his best (not nearly as complex, but go back and listen he did have some underrated multi's/schemes in a lot of his doper tracks), Prime Redman, Black Thought, late 90s/early 2000s Mos/Kweli, Royce/Budden @ their best, Prime late 90s Canibus, Chino XL, late 80s early 90s KRS/Cube/BDK/Lord Finesse, One Be Lo, Louis Logic, Juice, Percee-P, etc No Doubt about it though Elzhi is THE ILLEST

  • adrian bodney

    this mixtape is incredible. by far my favorite mixtape. an instant classic. its just sad that now everyone is into this stupid "swag" crap so it wont get the recognition it deserves

  • Speak Da Truth

    Dope as kcuf. Nothing can actually compare to ILLMATIC, but this is definitely a breath of fresh air. Elzhi always brings it, Will Sessions did his thing with the beats, tributes to the dopeness of the originals but with his own flavor. I'm gonna order this from Elzhi.com to show support then I'll buy the instrumental album too when that drops. Support good music people.

  • T.Rowe

    OMG I've been waiting so long for this and it sure didn't disappoint!!

  • Dylann17

    Elzhi is an excellent rapper.

  • dhova313

    Best mixtape of the year

  • JFranks

    Shit is insane. 5/5 easily.

  • jake

    forgot to vote....5/5...In case you didn't know about the 2 secret songs as well, PLEASE be sure to FF Pete Rock shout out to 3:35 for DETROIT STATE OF MIND REMIX....Fire

  • Jake

    Not sure how this isn't a perfect 5 honestly. If royce came harder would it of been? Or had he gotten One Be Lo to spit a killer verse would it of? Best UNREAL lyrical hip hop project (amazing live instruments) in the last 5-7 years in my opinion (or @ worst top 5). Seeing him tonight here in Indy and I can't wait b-c IMO, Elzhi is the illest alive (for how consistently super dope he's been for the last 5 years or so). Ask ppl like Crooked I, Budden, Royce, Apathy, Diabolic, Em, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, Kweli, One Be Lo as they've all been quoted as saying this dude is not only the most underrated slept on dope emcee in the country, but arguably the best

  • cody

    Simply some of the greatest music ive ever heard

  • Anthony

    Peace 2 the Gods!!!

  • Anonymous

    beastmode....we still on hat gritty nuff respect brotha keep bangin ummm

  • Scotty Curtis

    Ehh... I can't listen to shit like this. I always try to compare it to the original.

  • djashyknuckles

    Crackalicios

  • ashyknuckles1

    Best shit of the year

  • TiiDo

    El Murdered it. Best mixtape of the year thus far. Props.

  • Andrew Anderson

    This is the Best I've heard this year Elzhi really gave his tribute. Elzhi has had this lyrical skill for a LONG time he was spitting on his solo album too. Im glad people starting to take notice now. Its a 5

  • Dulan

    its not a cover, its an entire album on its own

  • Rob Princeof Newyorkstate

    PERFECTION!!!

  • Anonymous

    Overrated, god damn, It's a fucking remake. Everyone who rates this higher than the original should be slapped into the face with the jewel case and doesn't deserve to listen to hip hop. 15 year old new school faggots who probably discovered rap last year.

  • FreeMusic King

    One word: Classic!

  • FreeMusic King

    That's that classic hip hop I like to hear!

  • Guest

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8r8377zGew We Killin It - Barton Block

  • grabberbythehurr

    I never bothered with Illmatic for one reason: Nas's pooptastic flow. Thank God Elzihi decided to tear up these tasty ass beats.

  • fyre

    My bro is a huge fan of eL, but I wasn't into him that much, but my bro copped this shit, and I cannot stop playing it...damn Illmatic is a fucking classic, and this mixtape did justice to it... COP THIS SHIT, YOU'LL PLAY THE HELL OUT OF THIS SHIT.

  • The Company Man

    I was skeptical. I was blind. But now I see. Awesome tribute.

  • Julia Cummings Apodaca

    Amazing.

  • osagz

    Lovely work, i like the way he also altered the beats and added verses. Good music.

  • Martin Røste

    I love dis... Almost more then the original :/

  • Anthony

    This is straight heat rite here. Down load this if its the last thing you do.

  • Anonymous

    One day he'll absolutely catch up with Nas!

  • illanoize

    great album…so refreshing!

  • thrillmatic

    How do you take arguably one of the best rap albums of all time and do it justice? Elzhi's got the answer. By employing intelligent lyrical flow in concert with Will Session's live band adaptation of the 10-track classic, Elzhi pays tribute to Nastradamus while adding his own spin on it. While much of the critical acclaim is focused on the instrumentals (and rightfully so), Elzhi's witty translation of the '94 classic makes it mark as it stays true to the premises of the original songs, but modernizes and localizes them to fit Elzhi's background (Detroit State of Mind, Represent, Memory Lane). Perhaps the keystone song on this album is One Love, where Elzhi beautifully transforms Nas' original from a letter to a prisoner friend into an absolutely gorgeous story of love. I can recite Illmatic verbatim; it's only going to take me about 2 more weeks until I can do the same with Elmatic. Unequivocally the best mixtape I've heard in 2011, and probably the best I've heard in the 2000s.

  • skeptic

    Y'all gassed. This is OKAY.

    • Anonymous

      He said this to keep the balance. You people are out of your mind, you're praising it like an original Illmatic wouldn't exist. There are many projects in the underground who are as good as this or even better.

    • Troof

      When I see comments like this from damn near perfect projects, it makes me wonder is there ANYTHING you consider hot??? Smdh...nigga this shit is a classic...

  • Steelz4ever

    this jawn is classic!

  • Yuri Suvorov

    YEEEEEAH!!!!! GREAT JOB!@!!

  • JtR

    INSANE!!! And it's still on repeat)

  • Dorthy Gbolo

    Such a good way to start off the summer, I will be adding this to my road trip mix!

  • Anonymous

    jakee i give yu mad respects for mentioing percee p, percee p is a fucken beast, most slept on rappers ever,his pattern game is ridiculous

  • mcmastermind

    Yo when you re-do a classic, it needs to be done right. Elzhi did Illmatic so much fucking justice. That's almost impossible to do. But then to release the mixtape for free? Just goes to show how much of a hip hopper this dude is. One of the illest MC's out and def the MOST UNDERRATED. Been playing nonstop

  • Pep

    Speechless. To step on sacred ground and do this good of a job? Incredible. 5 stars.

  • Jake

    Forgot to rate...5/5 for sure.

  • Jake

    Elzhi has been one of the best SUPER DUPER DOPE emcees breathing for the last decade, he's just crimnally slept on. Dude was on an ILL classic Binary Star track ("KGB") back in the late 90's w/ other underground legends like JUICE from Chi and One Be Lo from Pontiac Michigan (3rd best verse on that possee track of 6+ behind One Be Lo and Juice who finish off the track). Since Out of Focus EP is nice, Leftovers Mixtape, verses w/ slum village, feature on Little Brother classic "Hiding Place", tracks w/ Royce da 5'9 where he murders Royce (also a super dope lyricist over the last 10-12 years), solo debut LP (The Preface) was great in 08, and now ELmatic FINALLY comes out after being an urband legend for the last 3 years and of course.... ELZHI murders it. His rhyme schemes/patterns/mults/flow/tone/ease with which he spits/style/concepts is what makes him one of the ILLEST of all time TECHNICALLY speaking as an emcee and in 2011 arguably the most consistently sick super dope emcee. Others on that list TODAY, Tonedeff, Diabolic, Kool G Rap, Masta Ace, Louis Logic, One Be Lo, Crooked I (rest of Slaughterhouse is tight as well usually), Common, Blu, Black Thought, Pharoahe Monch, Lowkey, Shad, Possessed (from Rhyme Asylum), Percee-P, Juice, Copywrite to name a FEW of many. All time obviously includes ill emcees like 96/97-02/early 03 Slim Shady, Big L, 94-2003 Nas (still dope, but ILLmatic, It Was Written, Stillmatic, Lost Tapes are by far his 3 best albums to me even though he has solid stuff since then), Big Pun, Pac/Big early 90's to mid 90's, Chuck D/KRS One/Rakim/Big Daddy Kane/Ice Cube in their primes, Mos/Kweli from 97-02 (even though still tight...just saw Kweli live, and amazing live performer), Jay-Z (95-03), Canibus/Chino XL/Rass Kass @ their best, to name a few of many. Elzhi has always been ILL, and now he's getting a little shine from some mainstream magazines @ least. Sign him to Shady Em and he can put out an album w/ production by Primo, Rza, Black Milk, Madlib, Dre, Mr. Porter, Pete Rock, & features from Em, SH, Phaoroahe Monch, Blu, Black Thought, Nas to name a few. Would love to somehow see ILL ish make the radio like 86-02

  • Troof

    I lost my FKIN MIND when I heard Life's A Bitch...and it cut to the GAP BAND joint at the end...god DAMN this tape is sick...

  • Sean Simmons

    Five Stars easy... I would give it more if I could

  • E.C

    DOPEST MIXTAPE I'VE HEARD IN A WHILE.

  • Will Wright

    Elzhi did a classic album justice. Much love from the UK.

  • mr white

    Never thought this was coming out. Very greatful to elzhi & will sessions for getting it done and whoever else was involved. Illmatic is one of my favorite alltime albums and Elzhi definitely did it justice. Him & Royce killed Lifes A Bitch. I still think Elzhi should get drafted into slaughterhouse.

    • Talib

      Add One Be Lo and Finale, lose Eminem.

    • RIP_Proof&Dilla

      Add One Be Lo and OH My GOD

    • Troof

      I was thinkin the same thing when I was listening to this shit...but ELZhI is nicer then 3/4 of slaughterhouse (maybe even better than Royce depending on who you ask), I think he should stay solo. If anything, Royce, Em, and ELZHI need to form a supergroup to represent Detroit...

  • Notorious H.A.T.E.R.

    F*CKING CLASSIC, 5/5, NOUGH SAID

  • calibeatbox420

    Props to Fashawn for trying....but El killed it........work of art, Nasir would be proud.

  • Craig N Em

    dope mixtape, it exceeded my expectations

  • Dretch Mackem

    Heavy Rotation is all I'm sayin

  • Eric

    C'est génial!

  • natalie

    5 stars/5 mics This is the cream of the crop baby.

  • Justin JusBillz Billops

    Shit! damn my big bro' did and i love him soo much and he taught me how to rhyme and in my opinion he is the dopest out of our city Detroit and i am just soo happy he is finally gettin' his due appreciation for his contributions to our hip-hop culture this is what me and been dreamin' of to do what we love and his skills run damn deep go El elmatic is a hip-hop classic me and him love Nas and he honored him soo right u need to get this album if u love real hip-hop! my big bro' bout to kick alot of ass this year get ready niggas Detroit we in here!;) haaaaa!

  • Precise Da Precsionist

    5/5 ALL DAY ELMATIC

  • mo$money$

    closest thing to perfection! elzhi goes hard!!! top MC in the game fo sho

  • DeMarus Rogers

    its a classic!

  • dj heavy

    Elzhi and Will Sessions did it perfect. Hopefully this isn't the last time they do a project together.

  • NYbest

    I'm a MC 2 albums out in the game. ELZHI is low key the best line-for-line rapper in the game. im just being honest.

  • Anonymous02

    Finally after years of waiting it finally came out and it was worth the wait. Elzhi is the most talented lyricist in the game right now and he proves it with this mixtape. So many quotables it's insane. Hip Hop and the art of emceeing never died, you just won't find it on the radio.

  • jeff

    keepin it rotatin for days! best mixtape since purp&patron! good work elzhi and will sessions!

  • The.Watcher

    I've been bumping this non-stop pretty much ever since it came out - this album is amazing. eLZhi really did Illmatic justice and crafter what, so far, is the best album of the year for me, along with Mac Lethal's North Korean BBQ.

  • Doubl Negative

    I'm glad One Time 4 Your Mind was jettisoned from eLZ' tape. That track ruined an otherwise perferct album.

  • FLX

    Whoever gave this less than 5 stars has no clue what good (rap) music is, el couldnt have done the classic original more justice!

  • natasha

    W ay better than Fashawn's, but 4/5 tops.

  • Mike

    Glad he remade a classic with will session when will sessions did those live sessions they sounded amazing along with the detroit artist " ELzhi" glad he's back tryna to get in the game. DETROIT is making major moves u got royce, eminem, Elzhi brining Hip-Hop back I'm proud.

  • dreddy

    Amazing stuff right here--Elzhi rarely disappoints. 5/5 stars for a mixtape.