It took me too long to realize how important Elucid is to rap music. It was hearing other great emcee’s talk about how vital he is (Shout out to Curly Castro for his Elucid breakdown on Call Out Culture Podcast) that made me dig in deeper. Well…that and his performance as half of the best rap group on earth, Armand Hammer, on 2020’s Shrines. Small Bills is not a victory lap at all. The Lasso has helped cook up some very abnormal sounds that Elucid just masters. Don’t Play It Straight is going to fight off the comfortable pockets that established artists sink into and break new ground. I will remain grateful to have been able to ask him about this project.
Q-Elucid is not just a vitally important voice in music but an incredible producer. How did the production duties on Small Bills shake out?
A-Over the course of a year, Andy would send me probably 100 beats of so many different styles. I wanted to craft a distinct and memorable sound that wore our influences on its sleeve but also something that would surprise long time fans. I got a chance to wear my Quincy Jones hat with Andy.
Q-I was very excited to hear E.T. Diamond. Elucid is my favorite chanting MC (along with Kendrick) and it reminded me of Jealous God off of Save Yourself. As an instrument Elucid has a very unique voice. Did you talk about the best way to use it? Can you think of any song that surprised you in how it came out?
A-I trust my gut instinct when I’m recording vocals. What tone to use. Where to place emphasis. Where to pause. I knew how I wanted the songs to sound before they were recorded but the spontaneity of the sessions sometimes changed my course! I’d record a vocal and all of a sudden it felt like a melody. I’d rerecord it as a melody and Andy would be like “Well, that’s dope. Try it like this.” I’d try it like that, love it and be like “Ay Kayana, can you come double up on this for me?” The excitement of watching a song mutate into something greater than the sum of its parts in real time is one of my favorite things about collaboration.
I think the song Falling Up is a good example of that.
Q- You two were riding around Detroit talking about George Clinton and Sly Stone looking for fried fish together. What music was playing during those car rides? What is the music that influenced Don’t Play It Straight?
A-I don’t really remember music playing during the car rides! I do remember wanting to leave the studio for sun and arm wrestling the wind on the freeway and being generally uninterested in music not made or played in the house we recorded the album in.
Q-What’s the difference between putting a project like this out through Mello Music and just putting it out yourselves? I know Lasso put out Kirlian with Psypiritual through Mello earlier this year(great album!). How has it been working with the label?
A-Well, I’ve self released records. I’ve released records with labels, Backwoodz Studioz & Soulfolks Records and now with Mello. Working within the structure of a label, there’s a few integral things that I don’t have to worry about. I can focus on creating a dope album without worrying about if its going to sound and look amazing because of talented photographers/designers and engineers. beyond that, in my experience its been relatively the same. with every release my reach and exposure gained more and more ground. hopefully this album continues to swing up.
Q-I’m very interested in Kayana, Fielded and all the guests on this album. Kayana, in particular, shows up for five of the fourteen songs. What about Kayana made a great fit for the album? Did anyone step onto a Don’t Play It Straight track and blow your expectations away?
A-I have been a fan of Kayana for a year prior to Small Bills inception. She was a lead vocalist for a band with a lot of prog/jazz/soul elements. That hybridity speaks to me. So I always knew that she could dig wherever I was coming from sonically and that one day we would make something cool.
All of the musicians who played sax, bass, organ/keyboard were so integral to this records creation. Guys like Saxsquatch and Deep Greasy all laid their parts with Lasso over beats that I had been listening to in their first phase. Their additional layers and wrinkles gave such presence and vibe that I was able to hear new possibilities for the song. Malachi Manson was in Detroit with us. We didn’t even know he played but damn once he did! His style and his ear added a crucial element to the production process.
BONUS QUESTION-Thematically, spiritually, politically do you have anything you want listeners to think about while listening to Small Bills? I wanted to give you a chance to either set the stage or clear it and let the audience dig for the meanings themselves. Either way works.
A-I want us to think about what liberation means. I want us to think about and imagine what a free and just and liberated world looks like. I want you to think about yourself and what you bring to the table to vision these things possible.
Stream and purchase Don’t Play It Straight below: