ELUCID is sitting at home in a “proudly crumbling brownstone” in East New York that he affectionately calls his “broke-down palace.” The MC and producer is talking about rap, religion, and finding gospel records to sample for his debut solo album, Save Yourself, which arrived April 15. Its seventeen songs are a mind-warp, threading together clattering drum lines with devilish, dub-soaked atmospheric effects. ELUCID’s been self-releasing mixtapes for the best part of a decade. But from the opening track of Save Yourself, “A 1000 Faces,” he makes clear this debut album is a rebirth: “Think I’ll perform my first miracle at 33/Black Jesus walks, river waters turn to burgundy.”
Raised in Queens and Long Island, ELUCID moved to East New York in 2014 after a seven-year relationship ended and he walked away from a job he hated. From this new place, he immediately started working on what became Save Yourself. “[It’s] the culmination of so many things,” says Billy Woods, who performs with ELUCID as the duo Armand Hammer and guests on the album. “It’s as though ELUCID built a bridge to this album in the years prior and, perhaps, burned it behind him.”
ELUCID affectionately calls his new neighborhood “really the last stop in Brooklyn,” although gentrification has already begun to creep in, he says. “I don’t know if I’ll be there in a couple of years, it’s kinda wild.” Inside his new run-down abode (“decrepit but cheap”) he found a happy isolation. “[It] is good for creativity,” he says. “It allows you to shut off and tune into yourself. Everyone is loud in this neighborhood: I could be as loud as I want as late as I want with my music and nobody cares.” Among other things, he treats his neighbors to recycled fragments of free-jazz and noise music samples.
A subtle part of this sonic coagulation comes from Psychic Twin, a synthpop artist ELUCID met when they were working at the same Brooklyn restaurant. After discovering they each made music, she invited ELUCID to her rehearsal space in Bushwick for a jam session. They took a “stream of consciousness” approach to crafting songs, she says. “I loved adding textural synths to rap music.” Her contributions have her playing the role of a celestial cyborg angel to ELUCID’s earthbound being. “It made me think of like Tricky and Martina [Topley-Bird],” says ELUCID of their dynamic. “I was like, ‘Ah, it works, this really pretty voice over these really heavy beats,’ ”
One of the major, and unexpected, components of ELUCID’s own raps are the number of religious references. It’s something from childhood he can’t shake, he says – his parents required him to go to church, but he managed to turn the mandate in his favor, recording his first demos in the chapel’s A/V room. “[I don’t] try to consciously use biblical images and terminology, but that’s my direct frame of reference, because that’s how I was raised,” he explains. “That sheltered little world [is] where it all comes from.”
The only thing the rapper writes about as much as church is New York City. On “No Grand Agenda” we find our protagonist buying “pancake mix from a basehead on Franklin Avenue/For the sheer absurdity of his hustle.” The steely “Cold Again” follows a fast-food restaurant shivving. Adding a lighter touch to the city stories, “Lest They Forget” mentions the time Parrish Smith, a/k/a/ PMD from EPMD, walked into the McDonald’s where ELUCID worked (he ordered a Big Mac Extra Value Meal, supersized).
These earthly dispatches are complemented by allusions to futurist spirituality. On “NY Blanks” ELUCID raps, “Flashlight, open sky/Space is black, this is why/My human suit’s a cage, I just want to fly.” ELUCID later devotes a song, “MBTTS,” to Kodwo Eshun’s More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, the definitive text on the role of music in Afrofuturism. “I never heard rap being discussed that way – intellectualized and academicized,” says ELUCID.
Tying all these concepts together is the album’s cover photograph, of ELUCID in an all-black outfit, crouched on the top of a white Cadillac El Dorado that he found abandoned in his neighborhood. The dashboard held a clump of parking tickets; the car tilts fractionally upward because of a flat back tire. “It reminded me of a spaceship,” he says. “The way it’s perched up on an angle, it was looking like it was about to take off.” Just, he hopes, like him.
ELUCID plays Shea Stadium BK on September 28