I remember living in Atlanta when Slum Villiage's sophomore effort Trinity (Past, Present, Future) was released in 2002. The big news with Slum Village at the time was the departure of J Dilla and the addition of a new emcee to the group, Elzhi. In those days, I would frequently visit the Saturday night radio show of my good friend Marcel and hang out at the station until the wee hours. It was during one of those visits when Marcel tossed me a station give-away copy of Trinity. I popped it in the cd player of my Jeep Cherokee and had a listen.
I think it took me until track four, "La La", before I fully integrated this gravity of Elzhi's introduction. But after I heard El say, "Gat slangin' with my arm in the shape of an 'L', lettin' my fingers walk/I never been down to earth, I just been deep in thought," I knew I was witnessing the emergence of an incredible artist. And even though Elzhi had been making the usual rounds in the Detroit hip hop scene, his involvement with Slum Village between 2001 and 2010 thrust him into the view of the most well-respected music makers in hip hop. He is the proverbial "favorite rapper's favorite rapper".
One thing to note about Elzhi's process is that he is a writer; he rarely, if ever, works in spontaneous rhyme. Therefore, finding a clip of him performing a non-written freestyle is next to impossible. (If you come across one, let me know!) So here's a quick clip of a written freestyle of his that was posted to youtube about a year ago. Check 'em out. He's ill.