[Editor’s Note: “The Blender” is a new series dedicated to highlighting notable new releases in the mixtape world.]
Mixtapes are often low-risk, low-reward affairs, but every now and then an MC exploits the format in the name of some rep-making (or rep-breaking) stunt. See, for example, Lil Wayne’s flood of output in the lead-up to Tha Carter III, Clipse’s ruthlessly virtuosic We Got It 4 Cheap series, or even Young Jeezy’s scorching introduction on Trap or Die. Without a doubt the past month’s most audacious mixtape came in the form of Elzi’s Elmatic. Elzhi is best known for his work with Slum Village, the long-running Michigan rap crew that also launched the career of J Dilla, but his 2008 solo LP, The Preface, is his best work, exactly the type of lost classic that diligent cratediggers (or whatever their digital equivalent is called) hope to come across as they pilfer the discographies of the obscure and overlooked. Elzhi’s got chops, no doubt, but even a man who can rhyme with the greatest MCs can’t be cavalier about revising an acknowledged masterpiece. And where hip-hop is concerned, no album occasions fearful treading quite like Nas’s Illmatic. Fortunately, Elzhi and producer Will Sessions aren’t too orthodox in their homage: The whole production is an act of reverence, so, respects paid, the pair apparently felt free to rework the classic Illmatic tracks into an album that’s instantly familiar, but still fascinating and new in its own right. Sessions adds new instrumental passages to a number of the tracks, for example, and his digressions on “Life’s a Bitch” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” are every bit as evocative and melodically pleasing as their inspirations.