elmattic header image 1

close cover before striking #2

May 22, 2011


Used to be rappers didn't cover each other's songs.  That was biting.  (Even if the 'original' hip-hop song, "Rapper's Delight," was entirely bit lyrics.)  Fresh was the word.  DJs soaked the labels off their LPs so other DJ's wouldn't know what song it was.

Times moved.  MCs started out learning lyrics of whoever was at the top of their game.  Then you spit over another MC's beats until you could get your own.  That was your apprenticeship, word to Johnny Tremain.  But hip-hop cover versions didn't really start until the mid-'00s, because a cover is an homage, history for a previously ahistorical and new format--one which was always referential but not reverential, except for its dead.  And the '00s was about that hip-hop nostalgia.  Hip-hop had no elders when it started out, just succession from one Crown Prince to another; until the '90s there weren't even long-term careers, you just fizzled away and went back to the car wash or accountancy school.

A cover version is usually a transformative homage--when Hendrix does Dylan or Sid Vicious does Sinatra, it's a totally different song, like those cover versions by white people in their indigenous styles I forced on you last time.  Because hip-hop's based on beats not bands, it's hard to transform a cover, that's why the remix is more paramount.  Even so, constant innovation causes expansion.  You don't see 2 Live Crew tribute bands at your local bar off the interstate.

So now we got this Elzhi and his mixtape called, erm, Elmatic. This is the second take on Nas' Illmatic after Fashawn's poorly received and all-around ass version, Ode To Illmatic.  Some cats think it's an instant classic.  Others are not so sure about that, B.  I agree most with Weiss' succinct account.

Elmatic has got nice live versions of the beats by Will Sessions, but they're not as interesting a take as the El Michels Affair Wu-Tang covers.  Elzhi hews pretty close to Nas' cadences and a lot of the lines themselves, so it's much more of a cover than a new take or transformation.  The whole enchilada tastes nice no doubt, but it's got tofu not beef and salsa not Tabasco.  I like it, I just don't really see the point of it.  I liked Joell Ortiz Covers The Classics and Malcolm & Martin's Criminal Minded, both of which took pains to flip the scripts but also underlined the fire of the classics.  What the fuck, is hip-hop having an anxiety of influence moment, word to Harold Bloom?

Illmatic was a hood life panorama painted on a canvas of dusty, funky grooves.  A worthy update of that dropped last year--Marcberg.  As for a heartfelt audiobiography in rhyme which is a watermark for the future, well, that dropped the same day as Elmatic--it's called Goblin (which admittedly has a lot, lot more in common with The Slim Shady LP than Illmatic.)  So yeah, Elzhi put in work here but I just don't get it.  What was he trying to do?  It's not updating Illmatic or particularly transforming it artistically.  It's a nice little mixtape but I'm not sure I wanna see more of these.  What's next, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Jay Electronica?  Enter The 36 Sean Priceses?  As Ras Kass As We Wanna Be?  Licensed To Redman?  Paid In Curren$y?  Step In The Marciano?

Anyway, here's hip-hop covers hip-hop.  Represent, represent.

Bring The Noise (Live) - N.W.A. / Criminal Minded - Malcolm & Martin / The New Style - Redman / Slow & Low - Run-D.M.C. / AZ's Chillin' - AZ / White Lines - Raekwon / Know The BK Ledge - Joell Ortiz / Mama Said Knock You Out - Street Sweeper Social Club / M.F. You Love 2 Hate - Mr. Dibbs (feat. Murs & Chris Awesome) / Kill A Man - Bambu / Ain't Goin Out Like That - Yelawolf / No Sleep Till Brooklyn '04 - M.O.P. / Shook Ones, Part II - Everlast / Take Cover - Adjust & Product / Juicy - Tek (Smif-n-Wessun) / All A Dream - Remedy / Stranded In West Los - Malkovich Music / MCs Act Like They Don't Know - Sha Stimuli, Promise, James Watts & Fashawn / Shimmy Shimmy Ya - El Michels Affair, Von Pea & Spec Boogie / No Half Smokin - Blueprint / PJ's Remix - El Michels Affair & Diamond District / Detroit State Of Mind - eLZHi