Release Date: 25 March 2016
Label: Glow 365 LLC
Written by Alonge Hawes
“Writing is an often-painful task that can feel like the death of one’s past. Equally discomfiting is seeing one’s present commitments to truths crumble once one begins to tap away at the keyboard or scar the page with ink. Writing demands a different sort of apprenticeship to ideas than does speaking. It beckons one to revisit over an extended, or at least delayed, period the same material and to revise what one thinks. Revision is reading again and again what one writes so that one can think again and again about what one wants to say and in turn determine if better and deeper things can be said.”
-Michael Eric Dyson
THE WRITTEN WORD is the most important entity known to society. It is definition, it is emotion, it is a historical record of the past, a testimony of the present, and the key to the legend of the future. The written word is our legacy, the one and only elixir of immortality. For the Ancient Egyptians it was Metu Neter, scripted across papyrus or chiseled into the tablets of the pyramids, the great deeds of the Pharaohs and the Gods were recorded into the mythology of the everlasting. Through the ages there have been scribes of whom have expertly crafted the stories of their lives and surroundings into its own sort of lore, drawing inspiration from both the external as well the internal. Introducing characters, kingdoms, heroes and villains. Fleshing out narratives that have inspired generations to come; Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, William Michael Griffin, Ricky Martin Walters, Nasir Bin Olu Dara, Shawn Carter, Dennis Cole, Lonnie Rashid Lynn. Each one of these individuals have served as composers of the most vivid and descriptive works of social and environmental journalism of our time.
Jason Powers would seek to follow this path, blazing his own tale of depression, struggle, redemption, and triumph; Jason, under the pen name Elzhi, uses musical production as the stone with which to carve his own saga into the fabric of Hip Hop’s legacy. Leaving behind the chapters of a man whose love for the written word gave birth to a work of superior craftsmanship. His pen is his sword, and he wields it mightily. The album is titled Lead Poison, and just as well, for Elzhi has dipped his quill in his own blood and written from the depths of his soul.
I told my moms one day that I’ll become known
Over any track I’d get dumb on even if it’s a drum and trombone
How could I’ve lost it when I’m inspired
Then keep excuses sounding tired and possibilities exhausted
To everything that’s working out for me
But don’t read me up and down to think you know my story
Cuz even when it was written for me to be poor it wasn’t written poorly
Getting tested by dropouts and old schools who sit and score me
High grades of weed who was willing to die paid
While I stayed harpin’ over how I sharpen my blade
By trade tryin’ to snatch a dream out a nightmare
Reality out a dream even though it seem I’m right where
From the album’s first offering dropped in early February, entitled Co-sign, Elzhi waxes poetic about the humble beginnings of a boy who would become a poet. It all begins with birth by sleep, a nightmare existing from self doubt. Elzhi snatches a dream, a memory of light, from the clutches of despair and uses it as inspiration for authoring the modification of his destiny. This is a quest that can only be taken alone, for knowledge of self is achieved through the strengthening of one’s own spirit. It will not be easy, it will not come without sacrifice, he will certainly not fly to the finish line; but the belief in himself will carry him forth for he needs NO co-signs.
The project begins with the sounds of rain and thunder, painting for the listener a scene of inner turmoil and strife. Elzhi, through several pre-release interviews, has made it known that a series of personal obstacles over the past few years have contributed to his own weary state of mind as well as the album’s hold up. He has admitted to using this project as a form of therapy to cleanse himself of anxiety as well as to make a statement regarding his well respected writing prowess. The scribbling of pencil to paper represents a connective theme throughout the album of Elzhi introducing chapters of his audio novel. The first words spoken by the author are “A wise person said, RISE! A wise person said do what you do. Think with your head.” Elzhi scribbling and erasing furiously, continues to play with the concept of the wise individual imparting knowledge until inspiration catches his thoughts, and like wings he soars with the concept into a sunshine of brilliance.
A wise man told me resembling Goldie
Bumping the oldies, though watch the road please
After he let me, hold these gold keys
Of knowledge, that I acknowledge wasn’t from college
But from a lotta of mileage
He said no matter how rich you are life could trouble you
Don’t fall for the illusions of losing
Cause going through the ups and downs creates the W
He was hip to the fact that I was stressin
I asked what gave him that impression
It was my expression, he said use this info at your discretion
You might think you need a drink but you thirsting for something more refreshing
I nodded in agreeance
and told him that living in the dark could be an inconvenience
He said kiddo
whatever’s got you looking bummed out like skid row
Head hanging down hunched over with your lid low
Just know that you should never bottle things up on the inside
Then laugh it off and grin wide
That’s called foolish man pride
Cause if it one doesn’t let it out it could be fatal
To the body like for mommy without the proper prenatal
Care and there is where he gave me the idea
To let go of the wear and tear I couldn’t bare
He hadn’t heard a song nor seen a single video
It never was a question in my mind as if did he know
He was just polite and invitin, I was enlightened
I thanked him, we parted ways, went home and started writin
Then noticed how the poison from within me turned to medicine
Once it had hit the page from the pencil that the lead was in
The fog of Elzhi’s mind is quietly beginning to lift, when once it had been almost too dark to see tomorrow, Elzhi’s philosophy slowly begins to shift to one of optimism as the thoughts that are his life’s blood bleed onto the paper. I believe that the conversation spoken of isn’t an actual conversation, but a cleverly revealed story of self reflection while listening to Nas’s verse from Life’s A Bitch. Taking into account that this quest of Elzhi’s for both inner peace and for the respect of his craft MUST be taken alone, Elzhi is offered no guidance or solace from outside voices. It all comes from meditation, here he uses Nas’s iconic Illmatic verse to help himself come to terms.
“A wise man told me, resembling Goldie” is a reference to Nas, who has called himself “Wise as the old owl, plus the Golden child”. Of course the “Oldie” would be Illmatic, as Nas spits his verse, Elzhi is acknowledging the jewels being ingrained within this mind as he listens. Elzhi can relate to Nas’s lyrics of the pain and stresses of everyday life, however he also heeds Nas’s words that medication through alcohol and drugs is not the solution to his problems, “instead of saying fuck tomorrow, that buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto”. Through these lyrics he is inspired, enlightened, and re-energized to continue writing.
The second track, Introverted, continues the autobiographical theme of making his mark in the world of Hip Hop lyricism. Elzhi raps from the perspective of himself as a grown man, fully aware of his talent, struggling with the process of giving these inner monologues a public display. It is not fear holding him back, but the spectacle that comes with success. Already Elzhi is dealing with a court case, depression soothed by over-eating, and self-consciousness formed through poverty. What would the trappings of true fame bring? Transitioning into the third song, Weedipidia, Elzhi weaves a tale of the aforementioned court case due to one of his vices, Mary Jane. For the author, the arrest represents more than a minor annoyance, it is a setback keeping him from completing his quest. Emptying his wallet through unfair fines and robbing him of precious time through community service; an exhausted author, far from the fancied heights of Krs One’s Hip Hop Summit and facing a foreseeable future of collecting trash on Detroit’s highways, drifts off into slumber.
Our fourth track, February, is a beautiful ode to the embrace of painful memories. On his quest, the author must relive these nuggets of agony and either allow the snowfall to chill his heart or remain as permanent reminders of the sacrifices utilized for personal growth.
It’s February, it’s much different from the past year
That was the worst time, the opposite of cashmere
And you know when life kicks you all in your ass rear
When you down to your last blunt
While you downing your last beer
Catching your close friends in every lie
Had you wiping your hands clean ’til they were sanitary dry
Then you noticed the snow was standing very high
Because yesterday it fell from the January sky
Now it’s February and the world feels a lot colder
You and your girl parted ways so you can not hold her
She said she wanted to get married back in October
Probably why in the month of May is when you got sober
But in February you felt the teardrops slide
Down your face when your faith began to lopside
This around the same time my nigga pops died
Dress shoes, suit, the tie up at the top’s tied
Look at all the drama it brung
This time of year when I was young, snowflakes was on my tongue
We played freeze tag or had a snowball fight ’til the curb on the streetlight would grow all bright
Couldn’t ride our bicycles, slippery sidewalks Icicles cold as a deli sandwich with the sliced pickles
That’s when advice trickles down from generation
Like counting all your friends on one hand
Or if you don’t stand for anything, you’ll fall for everything
Because you wasn’t smart, it plays a part in why your heart holds a heavy sting
Oh February, February
You took a friend from me who wasn’t just some celeb you buried
He inspired us all musically
You came around and changed things, I want it how it used to be
This chain of memories cannot be forgotten, for to forget pain and regret would be to erase the elegance of the human spirit; the capacity to take loss and transform it into elevation through the belief that all life has purpose, even in its culmination. The song ends with a brief intro into the next track, Egocentric. Here Elzhi embraces his ego and turns it into a metaphor utilizing the Dr.Jekyll/Mr. Hyde concept. I didn’t love with the production choice for this particular song, but lyrically our author absolutely slaughters all doubters and naysayers of his lyrical acumen. More importantly, the Ego is a representative of the mentality needed to fully embrace the pain that comes with February. Like all great MC’s, our author is able to definitively channel pain as well as boisterousness in a manner that comes off as descriptive of personality rather than a flaw of character. Next chapter is a track whose conception comes from the tragic story of two lost souls. Framed in the context of two 16 bar verses, Elzhi goes into journalist mode, and like Jay-Z and Ghostface before him, constructs a story that is altogether as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking.
So that’s exactly what you’re getting
Me spitting a couple written verses, the first is ‘bout Quentin Younging wild, brung a child on this planet he doesn’t claim, scooped chicks using his cousin name and plays a dozen games
Thinks he knows it all, still tries to fit in like when your clothes get small
Following in those footsteps then walked towards exposed pitfalls
Momma kicked him out of her house ‘cause of his poor grades
He left right out that door straight worse than before
Made money on the streets with elites, in no time there’s receipts
From leather seats and fleets, rolling sweets, and tucking heat
Since that metal’s been on the cop providing, it’s like
Riding a bike then catch you with your chain slipping, pedalling on the block
Bang, bang, bang, he finds himself inside a shootout with some rival crew
Thinking ‘bout survival through traffic speeding
While bleeding it’s graphic, blood leaking more than an ounce
Shit, at 16 hours before his daughter’s birth, he was pronounced dead
Damn, say you wanted two 16’s
I’ma give you two 16’s
You say all you want is two 16’s
Then I’ma give you two 16’s Yeah, I’ma give you two 16’s
Yeah, I’ma give you two 16’s
Yeah, I’ma give you two, one, two, one, two (two, two) Listen as I run through
Both of these tales, I wish I could undo
The next chapter, Hello, is one of the most incredible concept songs of the last 3-4 years. It’s like Elzhi read about the critical acclaim Lupe Fiasco and Kendrick Lamar get for their respective conceptually-based songs and said “Just watch THIS!”. I will not spoil the song or quote lyrics, because the first time LISTENING to this song should be an experience all true fans of lyricism experience for themselves, suffice to say that it perfectly illuminates the author’s aspirations to be placed amongst the greatest writers Hip Hop has ever produced.
The imaginative tracks continue with Friend-Zone, a nice little track about the jealousy all men feel for a woman who simply won’t give us the time of day, over a soulful beat Elzhi’s wordplay is in top notch form. The next chapter, The Healing Process, is a “Jay Electronica circa Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind” type of production where our author waxes poetical on the path that has him headed towards spiritual and emotional peace. This is a reaffirmation that our author’s quest is all for a bigger purpose, faith is, and will remain a huge component Hip Hop’s conscience, and here Elzhi uses it to great effect. Chapter 10, Cloud, is a revisit to the mind state that we find Elzhi in right as the album begins. Either as a reminiscence or a temporary relapse of faith, Elzhi goes deeper into the situations that have led him to this current state of depressive affairs. Continuing in Alienated, Elzhi is painfully aware of his haters and those who wish him ill. The comprehension of his difference is both a fact that speaks to the Ego of being special as well as the pain of being ostracized.
I see why now they don’t include me
I used to let that rude behavior set the wrong attitude free
Then I thought I could be alienated because I’m special
Nestled in a celestial body, a godly vessel
For some I know that’s probably stressful for them to wrestle
With the idea, once they put it together like Ikea
Cause I see a bit of jealousy and envy when they pretend “we”
Friends with secret plans to offend me
I will preface the next chapter, She Sucks, with my thoughts that this song will either be a hate it or love it type song for many fans. Some will love Elzhi’s flow, lyrical creativity, and the experimentation with production. Others will be put off by both the concept (as it doesn’t, at first listen, fit into the larger narrative theme of the album) and the Nightmare On Elm Street like production. I liken it to Elzhi doing his best Stephen King impression and throwing a horror story amidst the quest of our Gunslinger searching for the Dark Tower. This song will certainly be an acquired taste, after a few listens I will concede that it is not a favorite of mine.
Having already spoken on Co-sign, I will move onto chapter 14, Misright. This song is almost right up there in the conceptual level of Hello, a fantastic usage of wordplay and metaphors to enhance a song about the fairer sex into something truly unique and special. The production on this song is truly exceptional, not to say that this is not so across the entire album, but this connection of production, flow, lyrics, and concept should be commended as that all too rare PERFECT song that is guaranteed to have your head nodding and your brain doing backflips.
The climactic chapter is, appropriately enough, named The Turning Point, it is a spoken word interlude that advocates Elzhi to embrace himself, his quest, and his determination to be great. Within the meditative mind of our author this could be interpreted as the voice of God, or the inner voice of his own consciousness pushing him forward, knowing that the answer is within reach.
The End comes in the form of Keep Dreaming, a simultaneously triumphant ending and murky beginning. The production is joyous, uplifting, and encouraging as our author’s burdens fall away, for his quest is complete and he can feel that what he has labored to deliver to the world is in fact, something of substance. Something worthy of acclaim. The peace he feels is the affirmation that one’s personal failures can lead to greater triumphs. However, there is more…
As the music fades, the sound of footsteps upon puddled water can be heard, the jubilation fades away and as the footsteps become louder we hear Elzhi declare that he is about to give us the second verse of chapter 10’s Cloud.
Everyday I walk around with my head down
Cause I’m afraid
That it’s either gonna throw shade
Or rain on my parade
It stayed close when my plane was delayed
So many hours and when my ex was vexed
For not giving her any flowers
It killed my buzz which is my luck
When it snuck in class
I thought I had passed
But I was flunking senior year
It disappeared then reappeared
By being here I find myself beneath a blue sky
I’m never seeing clear
The forecast says tomorrow maybe sunny
It be like today and the one before last
It pops up to basically end my fun
It be catching up when I walk or chasing me when I run
Even keep me up during bed hours
Always seeming to creep inside my dream when it sleep to give me led showers
Then I awake to see it laughing up a storm
It be there when I perform
And my reception isn’t warm
It even showed up at my rebuttal it wasn’t subtle
Instead it poured down on my head and left a puddle
All it do is rain rain rain rain on me
So I try to maintain and keep a sane brain
Wishing I could leave it all behind on train plain
But ought to know the water going to spill
To end the album on this note would suggest negativity, that our author still hasn’t found peace despite his success. However I believe the opposite, I believe that Elzhi is acknowledging that while he HAS indeed found a sense of inner tranquillity, he recognizes that, like his career, he is still a work in progress. We, as human beings, can find happiness in our current selves while still striving for growth and knowledge. This is the third album released in 2016 where the overarching theme has been to come full circle within the faith of man. Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo represents The Seven Deadly Sins and The Four Last Things.
Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered represents Paradise Lost (as does To Pimp A Butterfly). Elzhi’s Lead Poison represents The Pilgrim’s Progress, the story of a man burdened by the realities of his own existence and exulted by the determination of his faith in God. Whether that faith is represented more internally, as Elzhi has chosen to do, or outwardly, as Kendrick and Kanye have chosen to do’ they all exult an incredible eye to detail. Elzhi deserves to be mentioned amongst the greats because he himself recognizes that, though he is flawed, he has to the potential to BE great. Elzhi is an author, and this album is poetry. He has used the written word to craft a narrative that is enduring in its emotional conception and masterful in its usage of language. With this album he has, once and for all proven that he is not a squire within the court of Hip Hop.
He is a Knight Of The Roundtable.
Album Rating: 8/10
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