I love data, and I would happily spend my evenings fixing all the inaccuracies found on streaming platforms when it comes to release dates. Elzhi recently confirmed that his debut LP “The Preface” is now back on streaming platforms, but is unfortunately now listed as a 2024 release which may be misleading to some. Hearing it make its way into new playlist algorithms only confirmed its timeless qualities, continuing to sound better than whatever else recently dropped. The production is crisp and punchy, and each song is densely written – it’s a modern classic of Hip-Hop. Contrarily, it made me recall that Elzhi did release a new album with Oh No a few months ago, which seemed to go under many a radar. The curse of December releases, perhaps. 

“Heavy Vibrato”, much like any Elzhi album title, is a play on words. I’ll save you the Google, but vibrato refers to musical notes changing pitch, subtly and quickly. A heavy vibrato then is partly a paradox, but also accurately describes both Elzhi’s output and this project produced by Alchemist’s Gangrene partner. Early Elzhi, including his Slum Village work, was largely soulful, no doubt influenced by his Detroit roots, but has increasingly branched into more experimental areas. “Lead Poison”, possibly my favorite album of his (lyrically, at least) has sometimes been criticised for its production, but sounds largely ordinary by comparison. Peers such as Blu and Guilty Simpson have experimented too, with more mixed results, (both appear on this album) but Elzhi’s level of lyricism can often blossom when not distracted by ferocious beats. 

You’re guaranteed something different with Elzhi, and the first track “Trick Dice” is fairly conventional but is so expertly delivered with precise diction, slick alliteration and clever imagery, that it’s hard not to enjoy lines like “Times got rougher than an hourglass in a sandstorm”. especially with Oh No laying some of the hardest snares over the top.

There’s a brilliant duet with Guilty Simpson on “RIP” that had me nodding in approval as it cuts right to the heart of what’s wrong with Hip-Hop, particularly in the underground scene. It’s not hard to unpick who this is aimed at:


“Why’d y’all put, a prop here beside a closed casket?
I watched you drop a few levels like exposed acid
Y’all robbed it blind, by wearing a pantyhose mask
with a jack bag, and a black Mag’ snub-nose plastic
Made it all about flashin’, fashion shows, fabric
Now it’s just washed-up name brands in your clothes basket
You turned it into a theme, it overdosed drastic
I made it dope because the rhyme schemes and the flow’s classic
Why y’all do that, yo tell me why y’all do that
You’re worse than the cigar smokin’ execs gettin’ too fat
Off of what we built, ’cause they have no guilt
Startin’ the 90s coast wars that got our two legends killed
Blood was spilt, out in Nevada and out in Cali
Shall we, tally the death toll before the finale
Look what y’all did, y’all crippled the most
Educated, creative, story-telling, body-rockin’, mind-bogglin’
Wine gargling, grimy
News reports with ebonics
That had me on point in Detroit since ’96
I’m hearing nonsense, 365
The stripper culture make me wonder would these chicks be wives, out here?
Because nowadays it’s all about, rear injections
Bottle sections, no connections, just when the check amount clear
Y’all made it to OnlyFans, got it ‘Flewed Out’ and then took money out of my homies hands
They turned it into artificial intelligence
Wasn’t there from the start, and aren’t aware of the art’s traditional elements
And I’ll be there with a shovel to dig it up
For those who only listen to playlists or their music on shuffle
Brush the dirt off, and turn it to an album
I’ll vow from this day forward to make your dial go up to max volume
And next up, Guilty’s about to address
How you not the best, ’cause you ain’t confess there’s a vest on your chest?
That don’t impress”

The Guilty verse is a treat too, proving his more simplistic style is no less lethal when directed at weak rappers. It surprised me how nobody is talking about this, as the start feels like it’s aimed at either Kanye West or Westside Gunn, but I guess it’s coded well enough to keep listeners guessing. That’s one of Elzhi’s strengths – his music is always densely detailed but open to interpretation. One of my favorite features on Elzhi albums are his horror stories: “Lead Poison” had “She Sucks” and “Seven Times Down” had the ferocious lyrical showpiece “JASON”. Given Oh No’s quirky instrumentals, it’s no surprise we’re treated to two songs: “Possessed” and “Twilight Zone”. The latter in particular is two short stories, making reality in the projects comparable to an alien planet. Concrete is parallel to metal, bloodthirsty thugs akin to merciless extraterrestrials. It certainly got me thinking.

If you weren’t convinced Elzhi makes music for hardcore rap fans, he tells the story of Bishop from the film “Juice”, while throwing in all sorts of Tupac Shakur references. It’s a rap nerd treat.

Elzhi is noticeably angrier, with songs like “Say It Don’t Spray It” seeing the Detroit veteran take a huge breath before firing off on everyone and anyone. It’s like Jeru the Damaja’s “My Mind Spray” if Jeru stubbed his toe on a coffee table before he walked in the booth. “Last Nerve” is similar, full of pet peeves and grievances that get on his tits. It’s not enough to put me off of the messages, but “Heavy Vibrato” isn’t a perfect album by any means. Production will take a while to fully appreciate. I’ve rinsed this release dry, but still bounce off of “Smoke”, with Blu and Fes Roc, the one song that’s too distracting with its chaotic instrumental. The rest all grew on me, and possess that chunky style Oh No heft he’s known for.

It feels wrong to criticise an artist as creative as Elzhi, as his bar is set so high, but “Heavy Vibrato” is such a great Elzhi album almost to the detriment of it being a great album. Production can be a bit of an acquired taste, more abrasive than usual which makes it harder to revisit. And you’ll need to revisit Elzhi as his rhymes often possess hidden meanings. What “Heavy Vibrato” provides is an angrier, more emotional side of Elzhi – I almost wish he was taking aim and naming names – let them have it El!

As part of a stellar discography, this one may not stick out like “The Preface” or “Jericho Jackson” as an easy listen, but Oh No’s beats won’t date. This could be on Spotify with the year 2044 and it would make sense, as not only is Elzhi ahead of his time, he may well be an alien from the future.

Elzhi & Oh No :: Heavy Vibrato
8.5Overall Score