Elzhi (c) G Victor

Elzhi had been putting it off for more than three years. But the demand remained. “Every time I would go to the computer,” Elzhi says, “There’s somebody talking about ‘ELmatic.’ So it was like, ‘OK. I’ve got to do it now.’”

What started off more than three years ago as an idea from DJ House Shoes manifests today, as Elzhi releases “ELmatic” on Elzhi.com. The release is his tribute to Nas’ landmark “Illmatic” album, which was released in 1994 and is widely regarded as one of the best rap albums of all time.

In addition to being Nas’ first album, “Illmatic” was one of the first rap releases to be produced by a handful of A-List producers, not a single producer or two. Long before rappers started grabbing a track or two from Timbaland or The Neptunes for their albums, Nas recruited DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Large Professor to handle the majority of the beatwork for “Illmatic.”

Behind the Boards

So when Elzhi started working on “ELmatic,” he wanted to provide a similar sonic jolt. His idea: to have six-piece Detroit band Will Sessions provide the musical backing to the collection in order to differentiate “ELmatic” from other Nas tributes.

Using Will Sessions -- which has also backed Guilty Simpson, Phat Kat and Black Milk -- gave the “ELmatic” music extra dimensions and options. “With a live band, you get to do so much,” Elzhi says. “You get to flip stuff in the middle of certain songs. You get to change the ending of songs, change the drumlines. It adds a great feeling to it.”

Evidence exists on “Detroit State Of Mind,” the reworking of Nas’ “N.Y. State Of Mind” and on Elzhi’s reworking of “Halftime.” In addition to subtle changes in the song structure and the use of additional sounds courtesy of Will Sessions, Elzhi reworks the lyrics to both tracks, modeling some of them on Nas’ original lyrics, but also adding his own flair and storylines to each selection.

For Elzhi, “Illmatic” was an easy choice to pay homage to. “As a writer, ‘Illmatic’ definitely inspired me to become better,” he says. “That’s also the case with a lot of albums from Gang Starr and Organized Konfusion, but at the time ‘Illmatic’ came out there wasn’t nothing like it and I definitely appreciated that record. I still appreciate it to this day.”

Elzhi wants fans to appreciate “ELmatic” as its own entity -- and to listen to “Illmatic” if they aren’t familiar with it.

“I want to maybe put a new generation up on ‘Illmatic,’ if they haven’t heard it because I feel like as MCs we’ve got to play our part to preserve the culture,” he says. “There might be somebody out there that hasn’t heard that that might catch the energy of ‘Illmatic’ and that might make them want to go back and check out ‘Illmatic.’ If they’re an artist, I’m pretty sure that they can learn something from that album.”

For more from Soren Baker follow him on Twitter: @SorenBaker

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