The DMV-raised, Taunton-based hip-hop artist follows the release of his third mixtape with candid conversation on prioritizing the art while avoiding its ornamentations.
The lexicon of DMV-raised and Taunton-based hip-hop artist Malik Elijah contains neither “rest” nor any of its synonyms. Amidst a landscape that “separates the dogs away from feline[s]” — a macro observation of life embedded in his most streamed track, “DONTPLAY” — Elijah has spent a decade sharpening his axe, a previously uncharted depth of his outlook revealed in every new verse he pens. With the recent release of his third mixtape, SONIT, Elijah’s understanding of the focus and effort required to cultivate and maintain an audience rings loud and clear.
The proof of concept lies in his journey, which began with the composition of his first song at the age of 16. “I made a song called ‘Bombs and Tanks,’ and it was trash,” Elijah chuckles as he spits the shell of a sunflower seed out the window of his black Chevy. “It was completely garbage, but it was enough for my brother to see that I had some sort of potential.” Elijah credits his brother for introducing him to rap music, his library previously composed of gospel tracks and go-go remixes. Exposure to the early work of Wiz Khalifa, as well as Kendrick Lamar (“Back when he was still going by K. Dot,” Elijah clarifies) galvanized Elijah to write lyrics of his own.
Ten years later — a degree from Husson University, a move to the Boston area, two mixtapes, a slew of EPs and features, and several live shows spanning the country all under his belt — Elijah has released SONIT, his third mixtape that underwent numerous iterations over the course of three years before the eight-song tracklist solidified this past June. “I went through countless records to get those eight,” Elijah explains, detailing his selection process. “A lot of the records that made it were newer ones I pieced together, but some of them were joints I made a few months prior that just happened to fit in.”
Elijah’s fine-tuning results in a compact body of work, concentrated with varied takes on atmospheric hip-hop production best served after sunset. Whether trap, boom bap, or even funk percussion loops, hazy textures reside beneath no-frills perspectives on manifesting the luxury that succeeds the laser-eyed focus necessary to get there. When asked about the overarching purpose this tape serves in the context of his catalog, Elijah reflects, “SONIT was mainly just a project that I wanted to hear, and that’s the main reason why I made it: it’s some shit that I could smoke to, listen to at nighttime. I like to go on night drives and listen to that type of record, so I wanted to be conceptual with it.”
Prior to the release of SONIT, Elijah teased the project with the lead single “GREENLIGHT” — an entrancing instrumental combination of a strings loop with a whirling siren behind a refrain encapsulating the pedal-to-the-metal mentality soon to permeate the tape: “I don’t slow down for the yellow, that don’t settle good in my soul/I can’t stop for the red, that shit dead, that don’t settle good in my soul.” An added layer of versatility surfaces on an “EXTENDED” version of the track, featuring a punchy minute-long beat breakdown with a synth-heavy drop that transports the listener to a house party mosh pit threatening to cave the floorboards.
While he questions whether he should have released the self-labeled “banger” of the project, “HYDROPONICS,” as the lead single instead, Elijah ultimately teased the project with “GREENLIGHT” due to its all-encompassing subject matter. “I enjoyed putting out ‘GREENLIGHT’ as the lead single because I feel like ‘HYDROPONICS’ wouldn’t have shown what the record was going to be about,” Elijah remarks on the decision. “I like to do that with my singles, but maybe next time around I’ll put the banger out.”
The anomalous qualities of “HYDROPONICS” manifest in both content and instrumentation, as Elijah dials the groove knob up considerably while opting for a detour from the grit and grind to get down to a different type of business. “I like to throw a curveball and show that I can make other records besides standard ‘hip-hop,’ or whatever,” Elijah passionately states. “I just want to show that I have range, but I want to do it my way and inch it in as it goes. Plus, it came after a few slower songs, so I wanted some shit that moved.” The track may depart from the intensity that percolates through most other moments on SONIT, yet even in Elijah’s more playful showcases dwells the utmost intentionality.
Outside of “HYDROPONICS” and the dance break on “GREENLIGHT,” SONIT compels the masses to sink deeper into cushioned seats and ruminate on Elijah’s musings. If “GREENLIGHT” functions as the preview of the project, consider the refrain of “YAH” the thesis statement: “I ain’t here for the beeswax, I’m here for the business.” When asked what constitutes “the beeswax” in his world, Elijah takes a second and replies, “The beeswax is the bullshit… and the bullshit is anything that doesn’t really concern me, doesn’t serve me, and doesn’t put any value on my life.” In a similar three-pronged vein, Elijah defines being “here for the business” as being “here to execute, here to make good records, and here to enjoy [his] life.”
Being “here for the business,” however, has become a glorified and at times disingenuous concept in the eyes of Elijah — one that prioritizes aesthetic and image while concealing the frustrations that plague budding independent artists. “Frustrations are feeling like you have to constantly network, constantly look a certain way, be a certain way, fill a certain character, finding something that separates you because there are millions of artists out there who want to do what you do,” Elijah rattles off his irritants. “People only see the glitz and glamor, the perception that is being given from top artists or artists on my level. We give a perception, but you don’t see half of the shit we have to go through daily.”
With a small team of two managers, Elijah has booked the majority of his shows himself, as well as taped flyers for those shows around their host cities. Possessing an abundance of experience on the ground has aided his understanding of what must come first: making the music and delivering it consistently. “Before anybody focuses on doing a show, before they’re like, ‘Oh, I need a manager, I need a publisher’… all that shit comes after you fucking put out music,” Elijah unwaveringly asserts. “SONIT isn’t my be all end all, and DETOUR wasn’t my be all end all. They’re steps I have to take to be successful. That’s my practice — I’m still always chasing better than what I’ve put out before.”
Freshly out of a self-described “getting lost in the sauce and dreading everything” phase, Elijah is taking his own advice off of the outro track “SZN” — “And when I need a reboot, I’ma sleep on it, sleep on it, sleep on it” — by logging off of his social media platforms and reigniting his love for the craft. “Stripping myself from that feels so freeing,” Elijah reveals with razor-sharp clarity. “Sometimes artists get scared because they feel like they need to post all the time, but why do you need to post if you have nothing to say? Go back in the cut, work on your shit that you have to work on, execute the plan, and then go forth with what you want to do.” With consistent output and roughly 50 stages conquered in the past year and a half, it is apparent that Elijah recognizes when the battery demands recharging.
Outside of a headliner performance at Rockwood Music Hall on September 1st — alongside R&B artist Notebook P as part of the Get To The Gig Boston concert series — what will come next for Elijah has no name or theme yet… but don’t mistake a lack of a label for a lack of a vision. “I’m bringing it back to when I was 16 years old, and I need to get back to how 16-year-old me felt so that I don’t lose my way while I’m making music,” Elijah reflects with an unquestioned honesty. “At the end of the day it was because I love making music, I love hearing music and being addicted to hearing my voice. I just want to get back to that.”
Tickets to Malik Elijah’s headliner show at Rockwood Music Hall on September 1st can be purchased here.