Hip-hop heads were greeted with a pleasant surprise when 9th Wonder took to his Instagram to announce that a collaborative album from Detroit wordsmith Elzhi and North Carolina producer Khrysis was on its way.
Although the pairing may seem random to some, those who have followed the careers of Elzhi and Khrysis are keenly aware that these two have a history of working together. It also begs the question of why it took so long for this to come to fruition.
For the uninitiated, Elzhi has long been recognized as one of the premier lyricists in hip-hop. However, his sporadic output of music has often left fans wanting more, especially in an era where rappers are churning out new music on a near-weekly basis.
Khrysis may not be a household name, but rest assured that you’ve heard his production, as he’s worked with everyone from Sean Price and Jean Grae to Little Brother and Masta Ace. His work on Rapsody’s Laila’s Wisdom also garnered critical acclaim, and a Grammy nomination at this year’s ceremonies.
Elzhi and Khrysis — now known collectively as Jericho Jackson — sat down for an exclusive interview with Billboard to discuss their project, Elzhi’s battles with depression, how 9th Wonder essentially kidnaped Elzhi and held him hostage in North Carolina for 90 days until they finished the self-titled album and just what the hell is a Jericho Jackson.
Billboard: How did you two connect for this project?
Khrysis: We met when Elzhi had his verse for “Hiding Place” on (Little Brother’s) The Minstrel Show. A year later we ran into each other in Ann Arbor and that’s when we exchanged numbers. When I got home, I sent him some beats man, and we’ve been chit-chatting since then. That’s 12 years of us just staying in touch. We’ve been wanting to work together. The stars had to align, that’s all.
Elzhi, why did this take so long to come to fruition? Did the delay have anything to do with your bouts of depression that you outlined on your last album Lead Poison?
Elzhi: Partly. I was dealing with things I was dealing with, and that’s how the Lead Poison [project] came about. We have worked together on a few songs. But that’s partly why it took this long. We’ve always been working together and talking about a project. It just finally came together. And now we got Jericho Jackson.
Did you record this album together or was it something where you sent beats and lyrics back and forth to each other?
Elzhi: All I know is, one day 9th Wonder hit me and Khrysis up like, “Y’all trying to do this?” So 9th flew me out to North Carolina and we cut the whole record out there in a little under a month and half.
You spent an entire month and change out there?
Elzhi: Yeah. They had me off that Bojangles! But, it was live, you know what I’m saying? The energy in the studio was so dope. I don’t want to give our secrets away of how we put it together. But, yeah we was in the same room and just vibing.
Khrysis, what’s it like working with Elzhi on an entire project?
Khrysis: I would say that it was an interesting process, and I’m not gonna give it away, but the way he explained to me the way that he writes, and the style that he writes is very interesting. There was some shit that I’ve never seen or heard of before. Once I was able to figure out how he was doing it, I was pretty much able to fly from there. It was like working with a brother.
What is Jericho Jackson?
Khrysis: I came up with it. We had to come up with a name for the group and, honestly, I just started looking up stuff online to see if there was something that we could relate to. I was going through movies and I came across Action Jackson. Carl Weather’s name in that movie is Jericho Jackson and it takes place in Detroit. So, it was just like, all right, I like movies. He’s from Detroit. Let’s do this. And that kind of just stuck.
There was a huge response from the internet when 9th Wonder posted the announcement that this Jericho Jackson project was coming. Was that response expected?
Elzhi: It was humbling for me. I knew this would be something that people would want to hear but I didn’t think it was gonna spread that fast. I think we might’ve been like halfway through the album when 9th Wonder announced it on his Instagram. We didn’t even know that announcement was gonna pop up…
Khrysis: I was out getting something to eat and 9th is like, “Yo, send me the record.” Fifteen minutes later he posts it on his Instagram.
Wait. He put it out without either of you knowing? Did that add any pressure on getting the album done at that point?
Khrysis: No, no, no. It let us know that the fans want it, and that we really have to get in the studio and knock it out. It wasn’t really pressure, it was more like, okay we know that it’s a group of people that want to hear it, so let’s get this cranked out quick.
Elzhi, how have your fans reacted since opening up about your bouts with depression on Lead Poison?
Elzhi: A lot of people have come to me after I put the Lead Poison out and shared their stories with me, so I definitely appreciate that. That’s what Lead Poison was really for. It was therapy on my behalf to get it out. And it was also to put something out there that someone could probably relate to, and maybe deal with their situations. I’m grateful if it helped anybody out. I’ve always felt like I was a vessel. So, I’m just trying to guide my light any way possible.
A lot of the themes in Lead Poison have manifested themselves on Jericho Jackson with songs like “Overthinking” and “Friends.” Was that on purpose?
Elzhi: Definitely. It’s a process and it’s just about healing over time. Jericho Jackson is me regaining my footing, the ability to stand back on my own two and get back to business. I’m still trying to be a voice for people that might be dealing with some issues of their own.
The album is stitched together by interludes that gives the project a therapeutic feel. How did that come about?
Khrysis: I wanted to find something that would set the tone, especially for the first record, and I guess set the tone for the ying and the yang of how things can come together. Basically sum up what Elzhi was talking about, and maybe help other people who are dealing with depression, and give some type of relief to anybody who may be feeling that way.
“Listen” is a song that is a departure from what we’ve heard from both of you in the past. How did this come together?
Khrysis: Well, he actually had the verses already. Amber Navran was in town while touring with Moonchild, and she just hit me like, “Yo I’m in town.” So I was like, “Yo, yeah, pull up.” She pulled up, laid the hook down, and then we put the verses to that beat, dressed it up, and there you have it.
Elzhi: “Listen” is about the relationship between a man and a woman, where I’m trying to let this person know that we have a lot in common. You might be scared to invest in this relationship but you need to listen. Like, you need to hear me out that we got something special together, and it’s just me trying to put that into perspective for somebody that I care for.
Is it a true story?
Elzhi: Is it a true story? Yeah. I mean, you know, I write about my life.
“Seventeen” is another song that will certainly resonate with people.
Elzhi: It pretty much it came together through the music. I’m the type of writer that when I hear music I let the music dictate what the content is gonna be. So, when I heard the beat that Khrysis laid down, it just kind of put me in that mode. If you recall, I had a song on Lead Poison called “Two 16’s.” “Seventeen” is just my way of continuing that concept.
There will likely be an entirely new audience that will hear you for the first time with this project. What’s the message to someone who is being introduced to Elzhi and Khrysis for the first time?
Khrysis: Come on in and join the fun. And for our old fans, don’t be a jerk to the new fans. Don’t be like, “Yo. You don’t know nothing about these cats.” Let them in. Let them enjoy and educate them. I can’t wait. What I love is to see them go through the back catalogs of our music for us. So, come on in. You’re all welcome.
Elzhi: Everybody’s welcome. The one thing I’d like to say in this phase in my career right now, man, I’m really about trying to drop as many jewels as I can in my music, so hopefully they can take from that, and grow off that.
Can we expect more from Jericho Jackson?
Khrysis: Absolutely. I didn’t intend it to be a one-and-done thing. Did you, Elzhi?
Elzhi: Hell no.
Khrysis: We had that conversation in the studio. We are gonna hit them with this album, and then the next one is gonna hit them with something else. We always thought it was gonna be a continuation. We’re not trying to let it be one and done. This is a formula that we can definitely expand on. Plus, it’s not the end of the story. You know what I mean? This is just the beginning.