“The apocalypse been in effect, go get a late pass,” raps Elucid on the first line of 2016’s “MBBTS,” taking amusement in your recent bewilderment. The United States in 2017 is finally properly painted as a modern dystopia, but Chaz Hall has been waiting for this as far back as 2007’s Smash & Grab. While the impoverished and unemployed grasped onto messages of hope during the 2008 election, he wondered why nobody questioned that our Mayor is a Billionaire. Where we fearfully quote-tweet “THIS IS NOT NORMAL” over every report of Donald Trump’s daily agenda, Elucid collects rewards on bets won regarding the 2016 election winner. As the country’s major left-leaning party tussles over the idea of being too “radical” as a plethora of white nationalists walk through the White House everyday, Hall considers a world without prisons.
Elucid’s production has worn many hats—from cutting up unconventional samples to embracing dubstep in the late-aughts—but his lyrical content has remained a scathing review of America’s passive attitude toward our bleak surroundings. Last year’s Save Yourself, a top-50 2016 album by every scientific measure, was aptly pessimistic in a year that warranted zero optimism. But the largely self-produced record introduced several new sounds. The triumphant horn samples on tracks like “Son Still Shine” and “Can’t Keep It To Myself” contrast with the blistering feedback that kicks off “If You Say So.” The finely-tuned, breezy pianos of “Cold Again” slowly and inexplicably deteriorate into madness. Synths are oftentimes dreadfully sweltering, joined by percussion that crunches like a parking lot car accident. It’s as chaotic as the mind of our executive branch.
Elucid would appropriately release his Valley Of Grace EP at the end of Trump’s first week in office, accompanied by a visual companion documenting a summer ’16 vacation to South Africa with his then-girlfriend (they’re now married). Spanning several songs of the record, the camera often transitions between home video of dirt-road villages pillaged by gentrification and shots of South Africa’s most thrillingly beautiful, wealthier quarters, glued together by apartheid-era conflict footage. Valley expands on the same lawless sonic themes of Save Yourself, and packs topics concerning critical theory, self-care, and love into a tight 28 minutes. It is already one of, if not the best record of 2017, and is met warmly into Elucid’s expansive discography. We caught up in Philadelphia, on his last day of tour with Scallops Hotel (milo), to talk about the record, his trip, the inevitability of capitalism, gentrification, and more. —Xylon Dimoff
You said in a Tiny Mix Tapes interview that you were going to South Africa soon with your girlfriend. Are you guys married now?
Elucid:We are, we are.
Congratulations! Did that happen recently?
Elucid:Yeah, September 9th. We actually tried to do it over there but it didn’t work out—for unknown reasons.
What do you mean?
Elucid:So we go into the office and the woman asks my wife, So, when does your visa work run out?” She was working there on her passport, and it expired on like some date in October. And the woman gave the exact date and said, “Yeah the marriage line is backed up until this day, and you can’t get married.” People can come here and marry, the United States is free regarding that. But other countries don’t fuck with that, South Africa’s one of those countries. Xenophobia’s real over there, one of the first things I saw when I got off the plane while driving to my hotel in Johannesburg was some graffiti that just said ‘xenophobia.’ It was so literal and I was just like, ‘Holy shit, I just got here.’
Did you go there with the intention that you were going to write something afterward? The liner notes on the Bandcamp page say, “I didn’t come in search of anything, really, but I found a few things I didn’t know I needed.” What do you mean by that?
Elucid:Going over there with my girlfriend, it was an interesting test for our relationship. I’ve heard people say, ‘I never travel with any lovers.’ But the idea is, even outside of love, you travel with people and you get to know them in a way quicker way than if you’ve just kinda known them casually for years. You’re just put under certain pressures when you travel and you can see that person for who they really are. I definitely saw that with her, I really wanted to be with this woman more than I ever wanted to be with anybody else. So that was one of the things—and that sort of just happened. But I didn’t really have expectations going over there, I wanted to see South Africa. I’d never been to Africa before. It’s like a big thing, you know?
Did you spend most of your time in Johannesburg?
Elucid:It was split. We started in Johannesburg, then we went over to Cape Town. Two completely different areas, man.
I noticed that in the video about your trip, it’s like two different worlds. The first half is dirt-road slums, and the second looks more like the gentrified areas of America.
Elucid:Yeah, Cape Town felt like New Jersey. A lot of wealth in the country is there, a lot of politicians and celebrities live there. It’s gorgeous, people just like blast holes in the mountains right there on the coast and just overlook the Indian Ocean. And we talk about gentrification here in the states—there it’s on another level. That land was obviously never theirs, they just kicked people off the land and put them in a township. So that’s what you saw. And JoBurg looks like this—like New York or Philly—it’s one of the most urban places I’ve been. There’s no trees, no parks. Everybody’s stacked on top of each other.
One of the lines that really sticks out on the EP is, “I used to think body cameras was part of the answer, but now I just feel stupid.” Did that have anything to do with what you were doing over there?
Elucid:No that was before. That particular line, like that idea, was in 2016, that was when the idea of body cameras started coming into play. In the beginning it was like, ‘Yo, now we can finally get that eye,’ even though we’ve already seen Rodney King.
It’s always been there.
Elucid:More cities were mobilizing, more cities were allocating money to do it—even in New York. But now they saying, ‘This is flawed, this particular model, it’s a flawed body camera.’ What the fuck is even the point? Even when you’ve seen these tapes brought into court, it’s like, so what. It doesn’t even matter.
So I assume you weren’t surprised at all by the election?
Elucid:Oh no no, I won two bets. billy woods was one of them.
I mean you’ve kinda been calling it in your music for the last 10 years. What do you think is a way politics should work for people in general?
Elucid:I don’t know man…Like when I think of freedom, it can’t even exist as we see it here. Everything has to be destroyed, and then we start again. We have to reimagine a whole new thing—it doesn’t work, it’s rotted at its core.
Yeah, I mean, Donald Trump just seems the logical conclusion of a country built on capitalism and slavery.
Elucid:He’s a mirror. He’s what America already is and has been. And I was just like, ‘This is the end y’all, this is who you are.’ We need such radical shifts and…I don’t know.
What do you mean by radical?
Elucid:Alright, so like, can we live in a world without jail? That’s a radical idea. I think we can. But how we get there, we gotta work that out, right? How long before we can work that out, who knows?
I was reading that you grew up around a church, and that your parents were musicians, right? But they don’t, I guess, really mess with your music on that level. So how did you develop your political ideology, or even your musical identity from that?
Elucid:I think it’s just, like, being honest. I don’t think you can ever run from your past. So if I’m being honest while I’m sitting and writing a song—how did I grow up? Who are my parents? What did we do? Who did we listen to? What could I do? What couldn’t I do? Just being as real as possible. But sometimes I write about something that’s not even about me, just like an idea, or like another character.
Your brother’s produced for you, right? Do you still work with him?
Elucid:Absolutely. I was just gonna say, we’re still working on something. We’ve been working on a little EP. But yeah, [my family’s] alright with it. It’s not like they hate it, it was never that.
Your uncle, DJ Stitches, was original De La Soul, right?
Elucid:That’s the story, man. Like as a kid I do remember being at the house and I do remember those dudes. I don’t remember seeing Mase involved, but I do remember Trugoy and Pos. They had like these bracelets, they were like leather braided bracelets, tribe colored. And they left a small paper bag of them, like three of them, and I took one.
You still have it?
Elucid:Nah, I probably lost it somewhere.
What are some of your bigger influences? Some of the stuff you released now is completely different from 10 years ago—it’s almost like harsh noise now.
Elucid:So you said noise, I always loved jazz. The kinda jazz I would be into—the more chaotic, free side of things—and there’s no real wall between free jazz and noise, actually. It’s the same kind of chaos and harshness of what’s happening, it’s the same kind of feeling. It makes people feel the same kind of way sometimes, like, ‘Oh, that’s so annoying.’ I’ve been getting more into electronic music, dubstep was the intro to me learning about electronic music. I check for a few different things, like those sounds or styles.
Are you gonna keep expanding on that sound?
Elucid:Yeah, it feels like that now. It feels like the times—the energy in that—it feels like now to me. And so was dubstep back when I was doing that too. I was getting into weed—like on other levels that I’d never been—I was really getting into molly, ecstasy, hanging out in clubs and shit. The sound comes from life.
Are you just doing music now? Or do you work also?
Elucid:Nah, I work. I wish I could make music like a full-time job like that guy [points to milo]. Yeah, I was at a restaurant. It was what it was, I had a lot of time.
How many tour dates do you have left?
Elucid:This is actually my last show, I can’t do it anymore—I have work. I don’t work at the restaurant anymore, I work with first-graders and the kids were out of school last week. This is kinda cool, I’ve been doing it for like two years now. It’s called like a “para,” so I’m like an assistant teacher. It’s cool, I get paid to tell kids I’m like 100 years old.
It’s funny to think about though, because it’s their most formative years. And you’re like the exact opposite of what the public school system is.
Elucid:On its face, yeah! And maybe even in ideology, for sure. But you know, you have to grow up to be like decent human beings. It’s important, and these young kids—it’s a black school in Bed Stuy—and we have to show kids possibilities and options. And I can use my tools to teach them.
Well how do you go about that when everything around you is just going to shit?
Elucid:Right. It is, right? But there was a way it didn’t have to go to shit.
What do you think that was? Like—
Elucid:Capitalism. We were on this path the entire time. This is how this country was built. A lot of things can’t last forever, and sometimes how your shit starts is how your shit ends.
We’re a young country, and everyone just thinks we’re gonna be around forever.
Elucid:We have so many other examples, like it happens! The Persians, the Greeks, the Babylonians, why are we exempt?
Well a lot of the people thinking that probably are exempt based on where they come from. People might just get left behind, like we’ve always been leaving people behind.
Elucid:It’s a shield. It depends on where you’ve been positioned in this society, based on what you look like. It’s really that simple. Privilege is a real fucking thing, hidden bias is a real fucking thing. Racism has debilitating effects on people. Black babies are dying at some of the fastest rates ever. Or, like white people to say anything is racist against them. Like it’s impossible, stop. There’s no such thing as reverse racism, what do you mean?
That’s why music is such a release. I can go through spells of not thinking about how fucked things are. And going back to how my family came up—like religion can delude people, right? Everybody needs some delusion, or else you’d literally just go wild constantly dwelling on how fucked up and how interconnected and how evil this whole thing shit is. And nobody would see it, because that’s what it’s designed to do. That’s how it’s supposed to make you feel.
The first song on the EP is called “Self Care is a Revolutionary Act.” Is that what music is to you?
Elucid:That’s exactly what it is, you know? It’s important.