The East NY rapper shares his thoughts on the country's current political climate.
Photo by Alexander Richter, courtesy of Elucid
Elucid is an artist for our times. That’s usually (possibly always) lazy hyperbole but what else can you call a NYC DIY dude who’s actually from here, a futurist avowed Future fan, and an avant-rapper and producer whose delivery and sonic pallet is always more direct, as the times call for, than abstract. Also staying true to 2016, Elucid, being real good, is so far wildly underappreciated. Through numerous mix tapes and as one half of Cult Favorite (with A.M. Breakup) and Armand Hammer (with billy woods), Elucid has always been a master craftsman which left little room for improvement, so it’s eminently satisfying that his first solo album, Save Yourself, is the best thing he’s done so far. The album, recorded entirely in East New York, encompasses generations of the city’s grittier and/or divine heritage. From gospel to noise rock, Elucid took it all in and produced a record that’s built for and rewards repeat listening while being heavy in just about every sense of the word.
Elucid has a new video for a medley of two extremely different tracks called "Son Still Shine" and "Obama Incense" off Save Yourself and, along with filmmaker Ali Santana, makes the collision seem intentional all along. Elucid (with occasional helpful interjections from Santana) was kind enough to answer a few questions about the new video and goth and god and whatnot.
Noisey: "Son Still Shine" appears far later in the album than "Obama Incense." Were they written to go into each other? The song change isn't jarring, if the listener didn't know any better it could be heard as just "the part where the drums kick in," but the mood and imagery of the video abruptly changes. What was the thinking behind that?
Elucid: No, they weren’t written to go together. That was all Ali’s doing.
Ali Santana: I was able to visualize both songs vividly while hearing Elucid perform live in concert. I remember texting him that I wanted to do videos for "Son Still Shine" and "Obama Incense" before he even left the stage. He emailed me the tracks and I meditated on the songs for a few days. I didn't originally envision the two songs being connected in the same video—but after playing them back to back I appreciated the way that they complimented each other. The melodic saxophone sample in "Son Still Shine" evoked a peaceful meditative vibe with a sense of calm, comfort and perspective that contrasted sharply with the heavy bass, distortion, and chaos prevalent in "Obama Incense." They were like day and night so I played on that dichotomy.
The colors shift, too. Are the colors supposed to represent the South African flag (where you are now) and if so what's your connection to South Africa? Or are they supposed to be an Obama reference with the Kenyan flag colors?
E: No, not really. It’s always interesting how art can be interpreted. I like your Kenyan flag angle. When I work with Ali, we work out a basic skeleton for what visual effects were attempting to reach. But really all of the particulars including the color scheme were Ali’s idea. Once I saw the video, the red black and green instantly registered as the colors of Black liberation. In the spirit of forthrightness, I have zero connection to South Africa. The opportunity presented itself and I snatched it. I’m taking time to explore and learn, connect, and create here.
AS: Elucid and I trekked through East New York on a cold April night to record industrial street scenes and textures which I’d use to create the back plates for "Obama Incense." I was particularly interested in capturing the movement of the streets to collage together. Caution tape blowing in the wind, flickering neon signs, traffic on Atlantic Avenue, passing elevated trains, flashing emergency lights etc.
What's your background with goth? I know you dig Swans, noise experimentation is all over your album, and you know one of my earliest favorite lines of yours is "So goth I was born black..."
I dig heavy music. I dig how massive of a sound a band like Swans can generate. Feedback and distortion are interesting musical elements that hip hop music underutilized in my opinion. Seeing noise acts live really changed the way I heard the music. Historically, the black experience in America is fraught with trauma, an obsession with death, and Christian teachings. Our lives have always hung in the balance. In reference to that line from the Armand Hammer song "Hatchet Job," I just always found it interesting when White Europeans/Americans with such privileged history as global conquerors could adopt this sort of gothic and world-weary approach when that philosophy has lived in the spirits of oppressed people all over the world. To me, it is more than looking sallow and sad or wearing all black. It’s the innate understanding that I wasn’t supposed to be here today. It’s knowing that cruel and macabre systems were put in place to destroy me and those like me. It’s the understanding that surviving the daily stressors of this system literally cuts years from my life.
What's the record playing at the beginning of the video?
That’s Cult Favorite "For Madmen Only." A few copies are still available at cultfavorite.bandcamp.com
Dig the Octavia Butler shout out. Is she/science fiction a big part of your writing process or are you just a fan?
I’m a fan of hers. I really got into Parable of the Sower and the Seed to Harvest series.
Mental health and depression seem like recurring themes in your songs. Is that something you struggle with or is it just a rational emotional response to the awfulness of the world?
Maybe a little bit of both. These are trying times. Shit gets overwhelming. We need release. Personally, I believe that self-care is a revolutionary act. Word to Audre Lorde. I want to take better care of myself. I want to challenge long held stigmas about mental health and depression.
You talk about being alienated from the city. You think you may leave someday?
I think about it sometimes. I survive in NYC but I want to thrive somewhere else. Just not sure where would be a good fit for me. Assuming I stayed in the US, New Orleans is top ranking.
You talk a lot about God and make nods to mysticism but are also firmly grounded in both the day to day to day and the larger body politic. That a hard balance to work with, or do you just writes what you write and play it as it lays?
I was raised in the church so I speak that language. I understand the stories and symbols. It’s difficult to get around. I am equally influenced by southern folklore and hoodoo. "Obama Incense" is full of references to that point. Particularly the line name checking Black Herman. Even though I would not consider myself to be a Christian, I’ve had Christians tell me that I have more scripture in my songs than their favorite Christian rappers. People seem to think the song Jealous God is a statement about Jesus being the one true God when in reality it’s a song I wrote about my insecurities surrounding a breakup. I may be able to toe that line because I don’t invest in those teachings. I observe them objectively and focus on getting free.
Zachary Lipez is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.