BLK ODYSSY’s Classic Up to date – SPIN

Blue Chips is a month-to-month rap column that highlights distinctive rising rappers. To learn earlier columns, click on right here.

Quickly, a music critic will write an essay on the glut of “new” artists copying their influences wholesale. Mentioned critic might shortly level to the hordes of double cup-clutching Future aspirants with larger probabilities of rehab stints than platinum information or the Younger Thug-clone industrial complicated. To supply an antithesis to the plague of parodies, they could look to Juwan Elcock, the 25-year-old frontman of BLK ODYSSY. Impressed by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, Elcock wades deeply into private, cultural, and sociopolitical waters whereas deftly fusing many years of Black music on BLK ODYSSY’s 2021 debut, BLK VINTAGE, and late June’s BLK VINTAGE: THE REPRISE.

“[TPAB] actually modified my perspective on music,” Elcock explains over Zoom in late July, the New Jersey native nonetheless using the excessive of attending his first Kendrick live performance the earlier night. “It created this need for me to have the identical affect on different individuals.”

Elcock moved to Texas in 2015 and speaks from the again of a Lyft en path to an Austin recording studio, his braids dangling from beneath a navy blue Dodgers cap and his gold chain glinting above a white tank prime. Most days, he makes this identical studio-bound trek from his residence in Lakeway, a waterfront metropolis alongside the drought-plagued Colorado River. Earlier than the solar heats the arid panorama to scorching temperatures, he goes for morning jogs alongside the native dam.

“I used to be at all times within the metropolis my entire life, so this was a pleasant probability to disconnect and have a change of surroundings,” Elcock says. “When it’s time to cease working and get away from the entire music trade, I prefer to disappear into this space of city.”

(Credit score: Alex Figueroa)

BLK VINTAGE’s 10 tracks and the 5 further songs on THE REPRISE, almost all of which have play counts within the lots of of hundreds, stemmed from a yr and alter within the studio. Elcock labored with the BLK ODYSSY band to create full suites and produced beats in Logic from their periods, each compositional approaches leading to immersive hybrids of funk, hip-hop, neo-soul, jazz, and extra. Expansive, nearly cinematic instrumentals envelop Elock’s sparse but pointed writing as he strikes from a falsetto that sits between Curtis Mayfield and D’Angelo to a half-rapped supply paying homage to Anderson .Paak weighted with Lamar’s heightened emotional depth.

“I used to be by no means known as a rapper [before], however I’m listening to the information that I’m engaged on and I’m like, ‘I’m form of rapping on that,’” he says. “I’m simply embracing it at this level.”

BLK VINTAGE and THE REPRISE embrace varied strains of Black music with out dropping cohesion. The sensual, Parliament-meets-Voodoo “Funkentology” coexists with “Murda,” an Afrobeat protest of police homicide. “Suicide Doorways” is extra rap-centric, discovering Elcock melodically spitting traces that appear empathetic towards and demanding of self-medication and materialism as coping mechanisms for cyclical Black-on-Black violence. Many songs, just like the Benny the Butcher and George Clinton that includes “Benny’s Bought a Gun,” are third-person narratives with the tenor of Greek tragedy, however they don’t sacrifice soul or swing. “Consuming Good,” alternatively, is a pained first-person requiem for Elcock’s older brother, who was killed by New Jersey police in 2010.


“The most important lesson I discovered from my brother being killed was forgiveness. I had a lot anger for a very long time when it got here to the police, and it made me act a distinct manner… I needed to give it to God and persuade myself to forgive these officers,” he says, reflecting on the tune. “I used to be like, ‘I’m going to take the craziness of that disaster and switch it into one thing constructive for actual.”

In hindsight, Elcock appeared fated to create BLK VINTAGE and THE REPRISE, their many influences soundtracking Elcock’s childhood. His father, a former professional basketball participant in Europe, drove him to highschool and basketball observe whereas taking part in Erykah Badu, Outkast, Parliament, and Marvin Gaye on their Volvo stereo and put him and his brothers to sleep to Miles Davis. Elcock’s neighborhood within the predominantly Black Plainfield was replete with native musicians, together with Garry Shider, the guitarist and musical director for Parliament-Funkadelic often known as “Diaperman” for the diaper-like loincloth he usually sported on stage. Elcock stepped away from music after a brief however harrowing center college expertise on the American Boychoir College, which shut down following many years of sexual abuse allegations. However he and Shider’s nephew spent their extracurricular hours off the basketball court docket making music on Shider’s devices and posting the outcomes to SoundCloud all through highschool.

Elcock briefly performed basketball at Kean College in close by Union, however he realized he’d by no means make it to the subsequent degree when somebody blocked his shot so exhausting that he thought he’d damaged his arm. After leaving college, he hoped to interrupt out of his musical circle in New Jersey.

“I wanted to get in an atmosphere with individuals who didn’t know who I used to be and construct worth from there,” Elcock says of his determination to go away. “That’s how you actually know when you’re doing the appropriate factor. Strangers received’t misinform you want your mates will.”

Throughout his lunch break from a division retailer, Elcock met guitarist Alejandro Rios on the close by pizza store the place Rios labored. The pair quickly convened to work on music and kind the band that grew to become BLK ODYSSY, briefly recording songs that leaned towards rock and Americana as Sam Houston (Elcock’s former pseudonym) & BLK ODYSSY.

Firstly of the pandemic, Elcock ditched the previous sobriquet and locked in for a yr of recording BLK VINTAGE, which they launched independently via Alpha Pup, the L.A.-based label helmed by Grammy-winning engineer Daddy Kev, whose work on albums by artists like Flying Lotus and Thundercat immediately fed into TPAB. When the album dropped, the A&Rs who Elcock had messaged in years prior had been instantly in his DMs.

“[We never thought], ‘We want singles, we’d like hits.’ We by no means thought of that in any respect,” Elcock says. “We simply needed music that’s going to resonate with individuals,”

Slightly than bounce proper into his second album, he and BLK ODYSSY refined and expanded tracks left on they’d left on the reducing room ground, working with Elcock’s childhood idol, George Clinton, and believing that the general public wanted extra time to find and digest the album in both iteration. They had been proper. Even earlier than releasing THE REPRISE, he obtained curiosity from influences reminiscent of The Alchemist and Terrace Martin, the producer, saxophonist, and TPAB composer. Within the wake of THE REPRISE, Elcock and BLK ODYSSY are happening a two-month U.S. tour this August and speaking with Kendrick’s longtime collaborator DJ Dahi. He’s nonetheless reeling from impacting the very individuals who impressed him.

“I’ve been amazed by among the outreach,” Elcock says earlier than heading into the studio. “I’ve been amazed by the neighborhood that’s nonetheless rising with it. It’s been lovely for me.”

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