Elujay's 'Jentrify' Is a Love Letter to a Changing Oakland
The Oakland rapper and producer explains the vision behind his debut project, which sounds like futuristic BBQ music.
It all started on an evening after the Warriors' parade in 2015: Elujay began brainstorming his debut project, Jentrify. Over the past couple years, the 20-year-old Oakland rapper and producer has created an increasingly distinct sound and seen success with sporadic single releases. His track "Soul Food," featuring Chicago rapper Saba, was an anthem that rhythmically responded to the ongoing issues of police brutality while still exuding positive vibes in hopes for a better future. Following that he released his biggest single to date, "Flagrant" featuring YMTK, a smooth song that blew up via the internet. Following it up wasn't easy. Thinking about it, he laughs and says, "That's why it took me so long to put out another record because it was like fuck... what do I put out next? But I think the album will do it justice."
Jentrify is a project that couldn't have arrived with better timing. Not only were listeners anxiously waiting on more music—a hunch confirmed by stalking his recent Twitter mentions—but the project also aligns with the ongoing changes currently happening within the Bay Area. The transformation of San Francisco in recent years from a bastion of diverse progressivism to an upscale hang out for tech workers proved the power and dangerous effects of gentrification within historically urban communities. Its neighbor Oakland has also begun to see the impacts of this type of displacement, which has been influencing and breaking up some of the most creative communities in the city.
Elujay's project is a reflection of this shift, both thematically and sonically capturing the city's changing core. His emphasis on combining live instruments, soulful melodies, and hard-knocking beats reminiscent of classic hyphy music facilitates the perfect Oakland album. House music mixes with neo-soul, and there's rap over irresistible beats that force you to scrunch up your face. Mac Dre would be proud. Even the tracklist references specific landmarks in the city, with songs like "580" (a freeway in the Bay Area) and "EBMud" (a shout out to the local water and sewage company). Whether or not you're from Oakland you can still get a feel of the culture that still lives on throughout the city.
Yet while Jentrify encapsulates a moment in time for theBay Area, it's above all a record full of good vibes and futuristicBBQ music, in large part thanks to local producer Wax Roof. You know the music your grandparents play at family reunions while cooking up fire ass food? It's that but for the next generation. Recently Elujay and I caught up over the phone to discuss his new project,premiering below on Noisey, and the ongoing changes happening withinOakland and the rest of the Bay Area.
Noisey: Talk to me about Jentrify. What is this project about for you?
Elujay: The project revolved around watching my city changeover time. Te music itself isn't super conscious, but it weighs in on subjects that revolve around gentrification and whatnot. I wanted to make a soundtrack of Oakland before all this stuff happens. I wanted to give people nostalgic sounds and references. The culture of the city has been depleting since all of the people have been moving in, so this was a sensitive subject I've been dealing with. I go to school in Southern California, so when I would come back home,Oakland would look hella different. This project couldn't have come out at a better time. It's necessary for the culture because we're losing it day by day. It's just good vibes too, heavy instrumentation. I just want people to feel good listening to it.
Do you have any specific experiences that you've faced with the continuous changes in Oakland at all?
Honestly when I drive around just the way West and downtownOakland are so different now. Oh! One of my favorite sandwich spots,Genova's, closed down because the rent increase spiked too much,and the owners couldn't afford it anymore. It was really sad because it's been there for a hundred years. It's crazy. That's my experience with it. I've had homies who have had to move into outskirts of the Bay Area because the rent is too high now.
What song off the project have you listened to the most and why?
Probably "580." It has this bounce to it. I've always wanted to make a song like that. It has my favorite elements: hella slap, 808s and neo soul put together. It's smooth, but you can still go dumb to it.
What do you think live instruments bring to your music?
You vibe out more. I want people to feel like they're at a concert listening to my music.
It's been ten years since hyphy's pinnacle in 2006. What is your favorite song or memory from the hyphy movement?
Definitely the TrunkBoiz "Cupcake No Fillin." I'll probably play that at my wedding.
What do you want people to get out of this project?
I want people to understand that there's more than just slaps and simplicity to Oakland. I want people to leave listening to this project knowing that there's real music coming out of here. I don't have a word to describe how I want someone to feel, but as long as they feel something and it's positive that's all I can really hope for.
Photos by Andre Maliik, courtesy of Elujay.
Kwele Serrell can't leave slaps alone the game needs her. Follow her on Twitter.