First the Fat Boys breakup…and now so too have Detroit’s underground underdogs, Slum Village. A few weeks after the sole surviving original member of S.V., T3, took to Twitter on June 30th to announce that Slum’s recently-released sixth studio album, Villa Manifesto, would be the group’s last, the latter lyrical addition to S.V., eLZhi, told XXLmag.com that his recent hiring of a new manager, and that manager’s inquiries into Slum’s contract with E1 Music for their new album, led to his contributions to said album being cut in half at the order of RJ Rice, the founder of the group’s longtime label home, Barak Records (n.k.a. Ne’Astra Music Group).
On Monday (August 2nd) eLZhi spoke to HipHopDX about the whirlwind series of events that have transpired in recent weeks regarding he and his now former group-home. And in a must read interview for any fan of Slum Village, eLZhi broke down in detail all of the circumstances, (and persons), that have contributed to his split from Slum, and just where the onetime partner-in-rhyme to T3 goes from here.
HipHopDX: I don’t want to start on a dour note, but since the one-year anniversary of Baatin’s passing was yesterday [August 1st], wanted to get any words you may have about your former group-mate.
Elzhi: Baatin was my brother. There’ll never be another like him. He was just his own individual. I respected him for being original. I respected him for being humble…spiritual. And, he actually told me about the meaning of my name. I didn’t even know what my name meant, because eLZhi came from LZ. I called myself [eLZhi] trying to be creative, and trying to like turn it into a name name instead of like two letters, ‘cause [at the time] you had AZ and Jay-Z…[do like] Eminem. So, I [found] myself trying to turn [LZ] into a name and the first thing I came up with was eLZhi. And I thought it was dope, but I’m like, “Damn, it don’t got a meaning.” So I’m thinking of ways to break it down like an acronym, but I couldn’t. Come to find out that Baatin, he was speaking Hebrew – actually, he was studying Hebrew and he knew how to speak Hebrew – and he basically told me what my name meant in Hebrew. It meant “God’s spirit,” because the El is God and Zhi is seven, and seven is a spiritual number. And I’ma always love him for that, for putting me up on game [about my name]. And I’ma always love him for just being a true brother.
DX: And, I wanted to ask you, what was Baatin talking about on “The Reunion Pt. 2” when he said “Wish my nigga El had a took me to that church”?
Elzhi: What ‘Tin was talking about was something that I had mentioned in [the original] “Reunion” [from Detroit Deli] where I recognized that he had a problem. A lot of people around him didn’t really recognize it, or [they] knew about it and just didn’t say nothing. And, I just wanted to make it known like, “Look, [this is what’s going on].” When I wrote the verse it was kinda like me having a conversation with him. And I told him before the album even came out that I wrote something about him, and I played it for him over the phone and he listened to it [over speaker phone] and he was cool wit’ it. But the thing was in the song I was saying that…you know, he needed help. Because, he had a lot of things going on. As it got out later on in the media, he had a mental illness. He was dealing with a lot of demons. So, in the verse that he had on “Reunion 2” he was basically putting people up on game and letting ‘em know that he was going through mental issues, and he had a lot of demons on his brain. And he was basically saying “I wish El woulda took me to that church,” because I mentioned that in the [original “Reunion”].
DX: And…man, I don’t want to talk ill of the dead, but I just was curious if you could clarify once and for all what the circumstances were of his passing, if it was an accidental drug overdose or [something else]?
Elzhi: I mean, I don’t really wanna speak on that. Like, I’d rather celebrate how cool he was in life. And I’d rather just think about the good memories of Baatin.
DX: That’s [understandable]. I just thought I would ask ‘cause I don’t think it was ever formally clarified in the media.
Elzhi: Yeah, and that was for good reason, ‘cause Teezy’s a legend, in my eyes.
DX: Well let’s unfortunately segue to some more unhappy [matters]. So just to clarify once and for all, RJ [Rice] dismissed Baatin from the group after Trinity and now he’s trying to do the same thing to you?
Elzhi: Well, Baatin actually left on his own terms. At the same time, that was around the time he was going through it [with his mental illness]. I couldn’t really put my finger on what was wrong with him at the time, but his situation got worse. So, around that time when he left the group, that was his own doing. He wanted to do that.
DX: I know in the media though afterwards, I think he had sort of held RJ sort of culpable for that though, sort of being pushed out.
Elzhi: Well you know, like I said in one interview, we were doing a tour for the Trinity album that came out [in 2002] and I could just recall him being on the road and really being unhappy about the situation of being on [RJ Rice’s label] Barak Records. And he would call me, with me and T3, [into] his hotel room, and he would be really talking to us real passionate, with tears coming down his eyes, telling us that we need to leave that label, and we need to go do our own thing. So, he did not like RJ Rice one bit… But as far as RJ kicking him out [of Slum Village], I can’t say RJ kicked him out. What I remember on that day, we was in RJ’s studio, we had a meeting, and Baatin basically left the group himself. And that’s what happened.
DX: This predates you, but wasn’t it RJ who was also sort of responsible for driving Dilla away from S.V.?
Elzhi: I mean, some people say that’s the reason, and some people say it’s other reasons. I can’t really say.
DX: Who do you say is the main culprit for driving eLZhi possibly away from Slum Village?
Elzhi: Oh, most definitely RJ Rice. I mean, RJ Rice is the poison in Slum Village. He’s the one that is steering Slum Village down this direction that everybody is not feeling – just because he’s not being a legitimate, genuine businessman.
DX: And you said previously that Slum’s manager, Tim Maynor, also got aggy about your new management situation?
Elzhi: Yeah I mean, it was funny because when word got out that I was working with Jae Barber, who is my new management, Tim Maynor, RJ Rice, they both just flipped they wigs, to the point where Tim Maynor just was on some real disrespectful shit... So I’m like, man, “Why is he taking it to this level? And why is RJ Rice taking it to this level?” In my opinion, or how I was thinking, was that they know the capabilities of Jae Barber, and they know they paperwork is sloppy.
DX: And just for clarification, who’s Ne’Astra Music Group, is that just Barak under a new name?
Elzhi: I think that’s what it is. But, on the surface Ne’Astra Music Group is RJ Rice’s son’s label. ‘Cause see the thing is, Barak Records, which is owned by RJ Rice, he filed for bankruptcy on that label… But, RJ Rice is still acting like he runs Ne’Astra Music. So if anybody’s talking about business, they’re talking to RJ Rice, they’re not talking to [his son and Slum Village producer] Young RJ.
DX: You never signed [a contract] with Ne’Astra, right?
Elzhi: No. I never signed to Ne’Astra.
DX: Okay…damn, damn…yeah I just noticed that looking at the [Villa Manifesto] CD, that Barak is not listed anywhere on here, this new name, this new label’s listed.
Elzhi: Yeah, I mean, it’s kinda fishy to me, I’m just gonna be real wit’chu.
DX: Now, you cite RJ as the source of these issues [and] you told XXLmag.com that T3 was initially telling you he had nothing to do with the decision to take your verses off of half the Villa Manifesto album, but at this point do you believe him or do you think he’s lying to you?
Elzhi: I mean, like I said in an interview [I did] out here in Detroit [on the radio], I honestly at this point in time feel like he’s playing both sides of the fence. He tells me that he wasn’t a fan of RJ just keeping me on seven songs, and that he wished that I would of been on all the songs that was on the album – that he’d a kept me on all the songs that was on the album. But, I’m thinking like, you got the power, brother. Like, you the head of the label – not the head of the label, but you the head of the group. So, by you being the head of the group you should have some kind of say so, or some kind of power, [to decide] who’s gonna be on your album, or who’s not gonna be on your album. You’re not gonna leave that to the label; that’s not the label’s decision.
DX: …I’m looking at the liner notes right now, [and T3’s] listed as the co-executive producer on the album.
Elzhi: That’s deep. I ain’t know that… But they had a plan to try to phase me out the group. They plan was called “Brand S.V.” And Brand S.V. was basically them trying to just brand the name Slum Village and saying that members can come and go as they please. So that’s why you see all the people you see in the “Reunion 2” video. And…I don’t wanna say that’s the reason why, but I’m assuming that had something to do with them shooting that “Reunion 2” video behind my back. So, I mean, the whole this is, basically, the shit stinks… I mean, I’ve been nothing but loyal, and then I see T3 in these interviews trying to cover up for this snake and leaving me out in the cold when I been his partner for eight years. And I don’t think that shit is right.
DX: So the obvious question is, have you and T3 spoken directly since all this spilled into the media?
Elzhi: After I did that interview with WJLB in Detroit, around like…midnight T3 texted me and he [wrote that] Ms. Yancey, Ms. Glover and Frank N Dank is gon’ speak on his behalf. When I saw that I got pissed off, ‘cause I’m like, what is he trying to do? …I left him a message saying...“I don’t like how you letting RJ Rice poison Illa J’s brain and thinking that I’m the bad guy when you know that’s not true.” And I was like, “You wrong T.”
DX: Damn. This is just amazing, I mean, everything seemed to be all good between y’all in those “Villa Chronicle” webisodes. I mean, how does shit go from putting an album together to just this type of falling apart? This is just crazy.
Elzhi: Let me tell you about the webisodes too. Like, I went in there, I did my verses, I did what I had to do and I dipped out. The energy that surrounds that studio and surround them folks, it’s a negative energy.
DX: And speaking of verses, do you think the “Faster” video was purposefully shot without anyone spittin’ their verses, just so it doesn’t look like there’s any friction? Like, obviously you’re not there [for the video shoot], obviously ‘Tin’s not there, but even T3’s not shown performing his verse. Do you think that was on purpose?
Elzhi: I definitely think that was on purpose. Because, given what was going on between the label and he and my management, I definitely feel like it was done [like that] on purpose. And I thought it was a bad judgment call actually, ‘cause I mean c’mon man, people haven’t heard Slum Village since Slum Village’s [self-titled] album, which was [five] years [ago]. So it’s like, you gon’ introduce Slum Village again with this new video and the guys in Slum Village have cameos in the video? To me I just thought that was a bad judgment call, I didn’t like it at all.
DX: You mentioned before that Illa J’s involvement in this whole situation has now started to complicate things?
Elzhi: Nah, nah, nah, Illa J isn’t complicating things. The thing is, RJ Rice was poisoning Illa J’s head and making Illa J think that I was…you know, a prima donna, I was acting Hollywood. I think he might of told Illa J that I thought that I was bigger than the group, and…just saying a bunch of foul shit to get Illa J mad at me. But me and Illa J had a talk, and once I explained to him what they were about, he felt me. And Illa J didn’t even know that they shot that “Reunion 2” video without me. He was just finding out from me when we had that talk a couple days ago. So all this time he thought that I was just on some Hollywood shit and wasn’t coming to the video, because that’s the shit that they pumped in his head over at Barak Records and Ne’Astra Music Group. So…Illa J isn’t the problem at all. Like, Illa J is only on two records, and…I got nothing but love and respect for Illa J.
DX: And, the million-dollar question: Can Slum Village survive without eLZhi?
Elzhi: I’ll let the fans answer that. I’ll let them answer that, but in my opinion it’s a wrap. And I feel like RJ Rice single-handedly dismantled a legacy and something that meant something in the Hip Hop community amongst the real listeners and people who love the art-form of soulful music. It’s just a sad day for me, man. Because, if it was up to me, I’d still be rocking shows – If it was up to me, [and] they woulda had they business together and they’d a did it correctly and they wouldn’t of been as shady as they were, and T3 woulda been a more genuine kinda guy, right now we woulda been doing shows supporting this Villa Manifesto album…with me on all the records, like it was supposed to be. But since it’s not up to me, and we living in reality, it’s fucked up. And it’s really sad for - in my opinion – Hip Hop, because I feel like Slum Village made an incredible contribution to Hip Hop. And the people that really respect Slum Village are people that’s really respectable, like Dr. Dre, Snoop [Dogg], Pharoahe [Monch], Phonte, Pharrell, the list goes on. So, it’s really a sad day for me, man.
DX: So shifting gears here, what are your plans going forward sans Slum Village?
Elzhi: I was putting off my solo stuff, like I was doing solo stuff in between the Slum Village records, but I didn’t do it at the level that I know I could’ve done it just because I wanted to make sure Slum Village was on a certain plateau. But as of today, I’m going straightforward with my solo career. You’re gonna see more videos of me, you’re gonna hear more music…be on the lookout for Elmatic. I’m in talks with Madlib, I’m in talks with Khrysis, 9th Wonder, on working on these new projects. Be on the lookout for The Feed, guest appearances [from me], and…yeah man, we ‘bout to kick it in full gear. I’m working on my solo show right now; we ‘bout to start going on the road… So, be prepared to bare witness to the new music and the new vision with eLZhi.
DX: Is it too early to predict a potential release date for that sophomore solo, The Feed?
Elzhi: Yeah it’s too early. You’re gonna hear the Elmatic before you hear The Feed.
DX: That’s where you’re flippin’ the whole Illmatic? Is it anything in addition to that, or just the straight nine cuts from Illmatic?
Elzhi: It’s in addition to that, but I’ma wait till we leak out the first [full] record and I’ma really talk about what’s going on [with that project] after that. ‘Cause we’re putting an actual twist on it, and I know a lot of people has been waiting on it – I mentioned it like two years ago, which is crazy, but as you can see, behind the scenes stuff was going on with Slum. [So] music and just life in general got in the way, that’s why people couldn’t hear it two years ago, but now it’s completed [and] we’re just waiting for things to get put together as far like the mixes and the beats… It’s definitely a new twist [on Nas' Illmatic] that I’m definitely happy about, and I think the fans [will] love it too.
DX: And are you completely comfortable declaring yourself a free agent? I mean, the contractual issues [with RJ Rice], do you feel like those are gonna hold anything up or [are] you going full steam with trying to secure new distribution deals [for your solo projects]?
Elzhi: Hey, I didn’t sign anything for this Villa Manifesto album so…that’s not gonna hold me up. We’re in the process of talking to a couple labels…
DX: But you said you’ve already clocked studio time with Khrysis and 9th Wonder?
Elzhi: Uh…that’s…[Laughs]…that’s something that I’ma unveil in the future, in the near future. So, you’ll see.
DX: Well if I can give you one suggestion [for a future project] – it’s one you’ve probably heard from the fans since “Motown 25” – [that would be] an Elzhi and Royce Da 5’9” joint project…
Elzhi: Aw yeah, Royce [Da 5'9"] is my dude. He like a brother from another mother to me. I respect his craft, I respect his person and who he is; [he’s] a real cool, genuine dude. And we’re gonna give you a glimpse of that on the new Black Milk record called “Deadly Medley.” That’s gon’ be his first single that comes off of the new Black Milk record, [Album of the Year], and we shot a video for that not too long ago so you’ll be seeing that real soon.
DX: And, I guess let’s just end this Q&A with any parting words you have for the Slum Village faithful worldwide.
Elzhi: I would like to thank everybody that’s supporting me in this time, because it’s…it’s just really like a sad day for me. Like once I strip everything away, it’s like, man, that shit is fuckin’ sad. It’s the end of a fuckin’ legacy, it’s the end of a fuckin’ era with Slum Village…but I appreciate all the love from the people that’s supporting me and speaking out, and really have faith in me in doing this on my own and walking this road by myself. I promise not to let [you] guys down.
Photo By: Gerard Victor Atillo of The JAE.B Group