16 March 2018

REVIEW: Elzhi & Khrysis - Elzhi & Khrysis Are Jericho Jackson

Hip Hop has four main pillars: rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti art (I know there are synonyms for each pillar, but I'm going with the Zulu Nation's wording). The mainstream influence that Hip Hop has can primarily be attributed to the music pillars: the emcee and the DJ. Yes, all four pillars form like Voltron to give us the true essence of Hip Hip culture, but the global entertainment reach Hip Hop has is because of the music.

I've said on multiple occasions that there is a certain magic that a project has when it comes from one emcee and one DJ/producer. The late 80s/early 90s gave us classic duos like: Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Eric B and Rakim, Gang Starr (Guru and DJ Premier), DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, and more (didn't feel like researching, we know there are more). The late 90s and oughts had a few gems as well: Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek), Madvillain (MF DOOM and Madlib), Murs and 9th Wonder, Blu and Exile, and Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El P) (again, we know there are more duos). I'll make one more point before this review completely gets away from me (too late?). A few years ago Royce Da 5'9" and DJ Premier formed their emcee/DJ group, PRhyme. They are actually dropping their second project today (hope to hop on that joint next). Even though it really doesn't matter, I feel there is more..commitment(?) when you name your group. So when Elzhi and Khrysis revealed that they were forming the group, Jericho Jackson, my curiosity was peaked. Actually, my expectations were SKY HIGH. My expectations were not only based on their individual pedigrees, but also the climate of recent pairings (ie, PRhyme). So how did Jericho Jackson fare? Let's go.

The intro track "World of Illusion" features a minimal piano melody with words from British philosopher Alan Watts. The speech he gives is a metaphor for information processing. You can lose yourself in your own thoughts. People who are overwhelmed with thoughts, are not able to live in reality. Instead, they live in a..world of illusion (well played Elzhi/Khrysis). The following track "Overthinking" takes the baton from the philosopher and into Elzhi's current state of mind. This track appears to be a therapy session (actually, a few tracks feel this way). Elzhi has had a few personal and professional trials the last couple of years. This track allows him to heal while contemplating over lessons learned. Elzhi works through his emotions in a sort of "book of rhymes" style. He deals with: politics, record contracts, family, fame, acceptance, social media, fake friends, street life, self awareness, hope, doubt, religion, love, revenge, and regret. Technically, the Detroit spitter is in top shape. His flows, delivery, cadence, subject matter and metaphors are all flawless. The track ends with Alan Watts predicting our current environment (I think this speech, and his intro speech, must be from the 50s or 60s). He states:

And all so called civilized peoples. Have increasingly become crazy and self-destructive. We confuse science, words, numbers, symbols, and ideas with the real world. Most of us would have rather money than tangible wealth. And a great occasion is somehow spoiled for us unless photographed. And to read about it the next day in the newspaper Is oddly, more fun for us than the original event.

The aptly named final track, "Thank you", is a beautiful and complex approach to a subject that has been touched on by many artists. Elzhi's vocals and Khrysis' SOULFUL beat are enough to make this track a stand out. But the way Elzhi navigates his way through ups and downs is masterful. The balance of how his life went vs how it easily could have gone creates an intriguing duality. His destination is important, but the journey is what made him the man he is today. Elzhi acknowledges that without his family, friends, and fans none of this would be possible. Again, not a world changing discovery. But this track Elzhi and Khrysis create is a perfect bookend to an entire album that is full of depth and emotion.

Since New Year's Eve, we've been teased with the Jericho Jackson project. Last month we got the first single "Self Made" (which is DOPE, definitely a track that has a bit more "grime" than the rest of the album) and the follow up track "Listen". Khrysis curated the entire album with a neo soul infused canvas for Elzhi to work with. The 9th Wonder disciple has clearly elevated his beat game to another level. No club bangers. Not a problem (for me). But if you need one, then go listen to Lil...Rainbow Head? The Soul Council alum is a perfect evolution of the 9th/ATCQ/Raphael Saadiq-type sounding beats. Can't wait to see what he has cooked up for the sequel. Oh, and dude got to flex his pen game in "Talkin' Bout". But of course when it comes to lyrics, we all came for Elzhi. Since his solo debut in 08, many Hip Hops were waiting for him to take his place with the top emcees. Elmatic in 2011 (damn, I swear that JUST came out) added fuel to the debate. But a DELAYED album Kickstarter (with lawsuit threats from fans that pledged money) revealed that the emcee had been dealing with depression. From that darkness Elzhi was able to give us an extremely introspective album, Lead Poison, in 2016. Really until we heard a few months ago about the Jericho Jackson project, we had no idea when we'd see him again. As I stated above (somewhere up there), my expectations where high for this one. I'm a fan of all things Jamla, and Khrysis has been on a steady incline for his whole career. And I've been a fan of Elzhi since his Slum Village days. I can gladly say that these two artists did not disappoint. This album is EXACTLY what you expect and want from this duo. We've said it before, there are some DOPE ASS LYRICISTS out there. You just gotta dig for them. This album isn't going to push 21 Savage numbers (I saw his name pop up recently, that is the extent of my knowledge of dude), it ain't gonna be poppin in the clubs, and it probably won't hit the airwaves (maybe on an XM channel somewhere). But if you want those straight up BARS and BEATS, you need look no further. I hope this is the project Elzhi needed to get better, get healthy, and get back to taking his place in the upper echelon of emcees. Peep video for Jericho Jackson's first single below. 

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