I Against I


Some rappers fast-rap for naught and forget that nothing is still nothing, even if it’s disguised in a rodeo double-time. Los Angeles’s Ellay Khule just writes good, long songs and plays them at high tempo, never forgetting to punch the carriage-return in the mouth. It’s a classy fast, with its own assembly line of hard swings and staccato asides, teetering dramas and gangsta lean, words spilling into but never biting each other. Ellay’s typewriter-tapdance is so improbably clear that you can pinpoint the exact words that are writtentogether and spot the dangling orphans; you intuitively know where the line breaks go.

Time was when Ellay and his Project Blowed compadres seemed like rap’s future. In the mid 1990s, they ran a gladiator school out of the back of a Los Angeles health food store. Those unable to hang with the “chop hop”—cause-bearer Ellay’s name for their bouncy speed raps—were chaff. Today, their micro-attention to detail and stern, arms-folded belief in craft just seem old-fashioned.

On his latest, he double-times himself, splitting into purist Ellay (contorting for the love of contortion) and Rifleman (pistol-grip pump in his lap at all times). The former thanks his white fans in the liners; the latter blames them for fucking his head up. Self-conflict may be hip-hop’s new cool pose, but this isn’t just another guilt-stricken rapper trying to rationalize the word bitch. In the absence of the robust career his talent has long deserved, real-life Ellay has indeed toyed with both good and bad.

Rifleman’s riffs are sassy, nasty, and mean. “Rifleman! He one tight rapper/Slashin’ niggas, crackin’ crackers,” he exclaims in “Livewire,” before threatening comers with Brillo pads to the cheek. Rifleman celebrates his feet-upon-the-table irreverence and defers to his basest instincts. In “Battle,” he pulls the trigger on Ellay, scoffing at his funny style: “Speed rap?/I don’t need that/Give me a bomb bitch and a weed sack/The-only-thing-you-get-from-me-is-negative-feedback/Keep talkin’ shit you gon’ bleed, black.”

In the end, nobody really wins. Ellay’s half isn’t so much do-gooder as it is not-as-myopic. He fidgets, sifts, and roots for reasons to stay true: “No need to bling bling/ ‘Cause I’m on L.A.’s dream team!” He celebrates the underground’s possibility, from the rap-rock standout “Crack Dat Whip” to his gravity-defying guest rappers. He dispatches Rifleman with playful aplomb, accusing the would-be gunner of shooting blanks. Can’t he all just get along?