There’s something special to me about albums named or dedicated after loved ones not with us physically anymore. They often carry the weight of their spirits, auras and personalities with us, so channeling their energies through music or any other form of art is inspiring and beautiful. In ELUCID’s case, it’s his paternal grandmother, Bessie Hall, who is celebrated on his new and highly anticipated album I Told Bessie. Her presence and impact on ELUCID’s life until her passing in 2017 was immense, as he recalls “I remember her silver afro like a halo atop her head. I remember the Westerns that were always on television in the living room. I remember. I remember her pouring early ideals of Black consciousness into me. I remember the stories and lore”. In many ways, his third solo studio album reflects on these long conversations with his grandmother, and tells them with his usually precise and abstract lyricism, over some of the punchiest and most experimental beats I’ve heard so far this year. What initially started as an idea for a self-produced album turned into one involving some of the most creative and boundary-pushing producers working today in Child Actor, The Alchemist, P.U.D.G.E., Sebb Bash, The Lasso, Kenny Segal, August Fanon, and Messiah Musik. The soundsapes they are all able to create are disorienting, loud, abrasive and at times soulful and delicate. ELUCID, over 13 tracks sounds re-vitalised and re-energised, finding pockets within these incredible beats that he owns and just flows over perfectly.
The lead single “Spellling” opens the album triumphantly with a spacious, thumping beat from Child Actor, as ELUCID raps “Just got to heaven and I can’t sit down”. ELUCID’s flows are complemented by incredible precision on the mic, displaying moments of dazzling sibilence, not only on this opening track but on the entire album. He enunciates his words fiercely, and even though there is a lot of abstraction withing his poems, a lot of which I’m yet to fully digest (this comes with a lot more listens and time), I just love hearing him rap. The Sebb Bash-produced “Bunny Chow” is one of my favourite tracks on the album. For one, the beat is absolutely insane, with a subdued vocal sample that jumps in and out of my ear like a fly, but in a way that sounds warm and inviting. ELUCID’s short verses are filled with introspective lyrics about his own lived experiences – “You feelin’ bad for me? I’m living what I see / I didn’t ask to dream, slumped, back of the bus, last to leave.” He delivers his bars with intensity yet a sense of self-control. I don’t know how exactly to explain it, but it’s really mesmerising to listen to and experience. Tracks like “Old Magic”, produced by Child Actor, feels almost suffocating, with anxious, almost urgent lyrics about Black struggle and gun violence among other things. “Slow to reach the gun, dig a hole the deepest” is one of my favourite lines, as he draws parallels with gun violence, and people’s treatment of Black folk and how that resorts them to dig their own grave. “Sardonyx”, produced by Sebb Bash and featuring Pink Siifu, billy woods and Quelle Chris is another standout to me. Over this eerie beat, all four emcees just kill it, providing so much food for thought. Whether it’s Pink Siifu’s urgent and unsettling verse, ELUCID’s sex-referencing yet animated verse, billy woods’ always intricate and visual verse, or Quelle Chris’ goofy yet clever verse, it really feels like the independent hip-hop Mount Rushmore have come together yet again to kill it. Tracks like “Ghoulie” (prod. The Lasso) and “Split Tongue” (prod. Child Actor) are more cinematic and melodic in their aura and energy. The former has this booming bass, but complemented by these angelic synths that add a lightness to it. The latter has these warm synths and basslines that give ELUCID the soundscape to bring an almost spoken word-like verse. “Talking to myself and not listening / Who cares what the picture thinks” is an oddly relatable line, as being observed and judged for being yourself by people who are mere observers and pictures to you shouldn’t matter. I have to briefly touch on the billy woods features throughout the album, as all of them are just incredible. On “Nostrand”, produced by The Alchemist, he tells his usually visually visceral stories. “The world different from the back of a police car / Mom look old, Daddy beat down and small / Some hid when they heard the call, some slid” is such a sobering and haunting lyric, recounting his experiences as a kid experiencing the monstrosities of state power. “Mangosteen” produced by Child Actor is another good cut on the album, as both ELUCID and billy woods rap effortlessly over this light and soulful beat. “Jumanji” produced by Kenny Segal is another clear highlight on the album. From the fierce, drum-heavy and pummelling beat, to the subtle brass instrumentation, as well as ELUCID and billy woods’ heady, cerebral verses that are going to take some time to digest and fully appreciate. Example – “Three quarters water, halfway to destination / Do what thou wilt / You see me lord, body rollin’ on stilts / Tryin’ not to slip where it spilt”. There is quite a lot of religious imagery and lines relating to God and the church. On the insanely produced “Betamax” – shoutout to P.U.D.G.E because that beat is crazy, ELUCID rhymes “Craving silence, mass choirs singing gospel of doom”. This dichotomy between the good churches can bring as far as community and a sense of belonging goes, and this ritualistic, cult-like effect they can have on people is clearly displayed on this track but also subtly throughout the album. Always trying to speak his own truth and challenging the status quo, ELUCID’s lyrics feel liberating yet heavy with complex themes linking his own personal experiences with God, the cosmos and the wider mysteries of the world as a whole. All this over some of the most creative, abrasive and reverb-heavy production. The heavy guitar sample on “Smile Lines” produced by August Fanon is one of the loudest tracks on the album, yet one of the more sombre and sad moments, reflecting the generational trauma of Black people, using gospel and the church as a means of escape. But the darkness that surrounds him and his people remains, and this is reflective in his work as a whole. The album ends with the Messiah Musik-produced “Guy R. Brewer” is a reflective closer to the album. The distorted, almost drunk-sounding sample gives ELUCID the space to speak his truth one last time, with an optimistic conclusion, giving lightness to an otherwise heavy and reflective listen.
I Told Bessie is simply ELUCID’s most complete work to date. Filled with moments of introspection, vulnerability and angst, he is able to, combined with the prodigious producers on the album, create this cacophonous sound that combines experimental soundscapes with futuristic and sharply written verses. It’s an album that requires patience and multiple listens – I really did scratch the surface with the review, but one that, once it clicks, is one of the better musical journeys and experiences you’ll go through this year.