In conversation, Brooklyn-based rapper ELUCID appears deeply self-aware and extremely cognizant about how his upbringing impacted his adulthood. Around the millennium, his father did what one might call doomsday prepping, building sheds in the yard, stocking them with provisions and blankets. Elsewhere at home, books like Milton William Cooper's Behold A Pale Horse were visibly present, though the New York native himself didn't end up reading the controversial conspiracy theory tome until his late teens.
"It's hard to get away from how you were raised, if you're interested in doing so," he says.
Another influence, one quite evident throughout his latest album I Told Bessie, is his having grown up in a Pentecostal church. (In a recent interview on Open Mike Eagle's Secret Skin podcast, billy woods speculatively posits his Armand Hammer partner as a preacher in another timeline where he didn't become a rapper.) "It looks the way it looks from the outside for people, because there's music and choirs, smiling Black faces, very joyful," ELUCID says of his churchgoing years. "But at the core of a lot of that shit, looking back on it as a grown person, it's really like a death cult. These people can't wait until the world ends so they can go to heaven."
The Rapture hits differently, if you will, in such a setting. He vividly recalls the valorized manner in which the pastor presented the coming end times to the congregation and, thus, to him as a boy. "He was like, some of y'all in this room won't see death and some of y'all in this room are gonna be caught up–but you won't die," ELUCID says, noting a collective sense of pride inherent in this notion of being among the last generation to live. While some artists might take a heavy hand with all this built-in source material, I Told Bessie is anything but a collection of overwrought armageddon musings. "Trust me, it could be way more apocalyptic," he says with a laugh.
Framed, in part, as a tribute to ELUCID's departed grandmother, with whom he shared conversations that informed some of the album's themes, the bars-centric project doesn't dwell heavily on the negative. "I do think of it as a sort of a preservation, as a remembrance," he says of I Told Bessie, further noting the photos of her incorporated in the record's artwork. "I wonder if Bessie knows how many people have called her name."
Compared with his electric yet fraught full-length debut Save Yourself, released in April of 2016 as the Obama presidency's culmination appeared to foreshadow the Trump win that coming autumn, I Told Bessie dials back the darkness considerably. Simply put, a lot has changed for ELUCID since then, and for the better. Though the pandemic's onset largely hindered or harmed hip-hop artists dependent on touring revenue, he nonetheless saw his profile elevated thanks to the buzz and successful reception surrounding Armand Hammer's back-to-back albums Shrines and Haram, the latter with production vet The Alchemist behind the boards.
"I'm a great team player, but I can do my thing solo," he says of making I Told Bessie. "I just wanted to remind cats: this is where I'm at with it."
Beyond the creative, his personal life has improved considerably as well. While Save Yourself emerged during a break-up and a period marked by uncertainty and flux, the ELUCID present on this new album is a loving partner and devoted father, a man with another child on the way. Much like the doomsaying of his youth, these new positive experiences inevitably had to have an impact on his art as well. "My life is so very different," he says. "So it's difficult to move into that downtrodden, this-is-the-end sort of energy in the music, because I don't believe it!"
As for the religious imagery and metaphors that made their way onto I Told Bessie ELUCID counters that they aren't necessarily intentional, at least not always. "I feel like I'm at a place in the artistry, in my craft, where I'm really just trying to pull direct from myself, my experiences, my thoughts and ideas," ELUCID says. "There's a lot of voices that come through in the music, and maybe I could find a better way to organize them at some point, but this is where we're at right now." Through spiritually referential tracks like "Old Magic" and "Ghoulie," he seems intent on analyzing, dissecting, and challenging his programming on his own terms. "That's the goal: dismantle what isn't serving and then download and update with what does now," he says.
Vic Spencer & Small Professor, Mudslide (buy it / stream it)
As befits his prolific release output, Chicago rapper Vic Spencer has worked with dope producers like Sonnyjim and Tree. With respect to those notables, the Philadelphia beatsmith Small Professor might have gotten the proverbial upper hand with this extremely well-executed collaborative effort. With the Wrecking Crew dude crafting its soul-tinged new bap constructions, Mudslide shines as bright a spotlight as possible on Spencer's weedy, witty, and wise rhymes on tracks like "Man In The Zone Radio" and "Selfcare Welfare." The beat flip on "WAVEZ, micro" is one for the ages, with the rapper defiant and triumphant in the face of haters and naysayers, while the cavernous "Disobey Your Thirst" fills the smokey void with some stark storytelling.
Crimeapple & DJ Skizz, Breakfast In Hradec (buy it / stream it)
This duo have some history together, having dropped the co-billed Wet Dirt back in 2019. Since then, the New Jersey rapper's underground momentum stayed heading upward, setting the stage for this solid reunion with the seasoned Brooklyn producer. The titular flex of Breakfast In Hradec matches Crimeapple's already established wanderlust, one that flourishes over these reliably robust beats. Much of what we hear lyrically comes from 35,000 feet above, an opportunity for reflection and braggadocio on "Penthouse Suite" and "The Count Of Monte Cristo." He spits mid-thought in mid-flight on quiet stormer "Rezamos," a vibe complemented promptly thereafter by the refurbished funk reminiscing of "Wonder Years." When he lands on "Currency Exchange," the saga continues...
YL & Eyedress, The Hills Have Eyes (buy it / stream it)
One of the most unpredictable artists of the moment, Eyedress switches up his sound between releases with an admirable creative restlessness. Those who follow along have been rewarded with records like the YUNGMORPHEUS collab Affable With Pointed Teeth. Markedly shorter than that one, his similarly hip-hop focused effort The Hills Have Eyes applies a DIY ethos to the stoop poetry of New York's YL. The rising rapper excels amid the melty boom bap of "Shady," convulses on the mic over the psychedelic warble of "Disneyland," and grooves to the retro boogie of "Tom Brady." Superior to whatever generic "lofi beats" playlist your cousin sent you, this uncut gem of a record will leave you with a refreshed sense of hip-hop wonderment.