Back in July Elujay was in Chicago on tour. Hailing from Oakland, California the 21-year-old rapper/singer brings an infectious bounce to his music that is as dynamic as his hometown. He mixes dance music with neo-soul and lays down some serious bars on top of it all to create a decidedly unique catalog, and that’s with only one record out. He came by the office before his show to talk about his sound, his city, his future and how they all tie together, check out the full interview below.
rubyhornet: All right. So let’s start off easy. How’d you get your name?
Elujay: Someone in middle school called me Elu. My name’s actually Ian. And then Jay is short for Jackson.
rubyhornet: And it just stuck?
Elujay: Yeah, it just stuck.
rubyhornet: So now, we’re in it. Okay so I don’t know exactly how to put this one but it’s something I have been thinking about a lot. When I think of the music that comes out of the Bay, it’s more Mac Dre, and E-40, and more hype-y, beat-focused shit. And you’re making some really soulful shit. I guess my question is, has there been a cultural shift, or are you an anomaly?
Elujay: I don’t know. I don’t know. I like all that shit. I have made hype-y shit. I’m still down to. I like stuff I grew up on.
rubyhornet: What did you grow up listening to?
Elujay: Oh, A Tribe Called Quest, D’Angelo, even Mac Dre, Badu, Musiq Soulchild, Kanye, Wu Tang Clan, Jay-Z, Nas, The Gorillaz.
rubyhornet: Was it your parents that were playing that? Or how did you find it?
Elujay: MTV, my brother. Yeah. My brother played that shit. Watching TV, VH1, all that stuff. I don’t know. You know when CDs were around and shit? At Amoeba they would have the hottest CD that’s coming out. College Dropout or Reasonable Doubt. You just got to get it you know? But I would be like, “Yo, Dad. Can y’all get Speakerboxxx/The Love Below? I want to listen to that.” I was eight years old. That changed my life. So shit like that. Hella hip-hop/rap music, R&B, soul-funk, Earth, Wind, and Fire, even rock music too. Even some weird shit like Avenged Sevenfold. I fuck with it all all. I was fucking with everything. Linkin Park. I fucked with Linkin Park. Green Day too. Green Day was hard. I can go on and on about what I used to listen to.
rubyhornet: American Idiot was the first time I played a song that swore in it in front of my mom. I think I was like 10. That shit was iconic.
Elujay: I used to have the clean versions. It was not until I turned…I think I turned 13 or something and then we started getting parental advisory. Remember? They wasn’t letting us get parental advisory. I can go on and on. That’s the basis right there.
rubyhornet: Do you think that music is changing in Oakland at all? Is there more vibe-y music? Not like the old stuff isn’t vibe-y but I think it’s lyrically-driven is the thing that really sets it apart for me. Not that E-40 isn’t rapping hard but you’re really saying shit.
Elujay: The thing is, we had harder vocalists.
rubyhornet: Like the Coup.
Elujay: The Coup, yeah. Boots Riley. Shout out to Boots Riley. Yeah. It’s just kind of generations that come and go but we’re mostly seen as this hype-y turn up type shit. Which I fuck with too but I just fuck with the vibes. The vibes are just kind of is what I’m in to. Goosebumps going. Hair stick up. I like it. I love it all, man. I’m not opposed to anything.
rubyhornet: Oakland has changed a lot. I guess that’s where a lot of these questions are coming from. I was in Oakland for the first time three or four years ago and I’m from Denver. So I have a very different… My first experience with Oakland was the Raiders, and Raiders fans, and Raiders fans specifically in Colorado who are out here fucking shit up.
Elujay: It wasn’t savage when you went there, huh?
rubyhornet: No, not at all. I was amazed. There was artisanal everything. Bike shops everywhere. I couldn’t tell the difference between Berkeley and Oakland.
Elujay: That’s just the climate of gentrification and the way that things are changing around the entire globe though. You know? Everything is kind of getting -they’re pushing more of the lower-income people, working class people further away outside of Oakland into the suburbs. More of the wealthier people are coming into the low-income areas. Kind of like you changing it, putting our own stamp on it which is pretty wack. We were just talking about it this morning. A lot of the culture is dissipating. So yeah. You came at the wrong time. You should’ve came in 2005 when you couldn’t go out past 10. Jesse was telling me you couldn’t go to Lake Merritt with a backpack past 10. We would’ve took that shit. It’s just changed man.
rubyhornet: Yeah. You made a whole project about it.
Elujay: Yeah, I did.
rubyhornet: But Jentrify wasn’t really just about gentrification?
Elujay: It was just everything leading up until when I started making music until then. It was the first project that I made like five different albums and I scrapped them all.
Elujay: Yeah. For me, I just try to go hella different sound directions. I tried to do hype-y music. It didn’t work out. I tried to do Raider Clan type shit. That didn’t work out. And I was like, I’m not going to force myself to be anything I’m not.
rubyhornet: Right. Do you have a background singing? Did you sing in church? Did you sing in school?
Elujay: I used to play instruments though. I used to play guitar. I still do. I kind of got back into it. I used to play trumpet. No, I don’t really have a… Do I have a background? I don’t know. My family’s pretty musical. My mom plays piano, he plays piano, he used to play piano. My dad actually still plays drums. He used to play in an R&B band back in the day, man.
rubyhornet: You make really melodic music which is impressive. And it’s like…
Elujay: Everyone does now.
rubyhornet: Yeah, sure. Actually, okay, so the one person I would compare you to before anyone else is Smino. You know Smino?
Elujay: Oh, okay. Yeah.
rubyhornet: Yeah. Just off of like how out there… you just hit some really wild rhythms. And then out of nowhere it’ll be like you’re singing. Like for real singing. Do you listen to music from Chicago?
Elujay: Yeah. Yeah. For sure, dude. Or I used to. Not so much anymore.
Hunter: You fuck with Valee though, right?
Elujay: Huh? I fuck with Valee. Yeah. Valee’s pretty hard. I found his music two year ago. And then now, everyone’s sucking his nuts. Hunter, I told you.
Hunter: Yeah, you did.
Elujay: I was like, “Bro, this nigga’s finna blow up.” And look. I found him when he had 300 followers on Spotify. He’s the shit. But that’s just how it is. I used to always find hella obscure shit. Me and this nigga found “I Got Me Some Bapes” by Soulja Boy when it only had like 10,000 views.
Hunter: You also found Chance though, didn’t you?
Elujay: I found Chance too, yeah. I used to listen to him. But not so much anymore.
rubyhornet: Well, he hasn’t put anything out in like two years.
Elujay: He hasn’t put anything out. I fuck with Smino. I don’t really know who else in Chicago that I like.
Elujay: Saba is, yeah, Saba is tight.
rubyhornet: Yeah. So they talk about the cultural renaissance right now in Chicago which is all these artists that are coming up. And art has really been elevated within the culture of the city. And your sound just fits in really well with that. When I first heard you, I thought you were from here.
Elujay: Oh, yeah. A lot of people did.
Elujay: Yeah. I don’t know if there’s a renaissance in Oakland. Not really. Who else? Oh, yeah. We got Raj. Yeah, Rexx Life Raj]. You ever heard of him?
rubyhornet: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. You have a feature with him. He was featured on Jentrify.
Elujay: He was on one of my songs. Collaborate?
rubyhornet: He’s raw. He’s from the Bay?
Elujay: No, he’s not. Sacramento. Same kind of… it’s like being from Iowa and singing in Chicago. What is that? Like an hour away?
rubyhornet: That’s like three hours away. We got mad people from the ‘burbs who say they’re from Chicago. There’s not really another city, though. It’s not like California where there’s multiple big cities. It’s kind of just like Chicago and Illinois. I mean, it’s not that important, anyway what was the process going into making that album?
Elujay: Really not shit. I got suspended from school for the semester-
rubyhornet: From what school? From high school?
Elujay: No, it was college. I was at University of Redmond. Yeah. I was halfway done with it kind of. Like 45%. But then I could just hyper focus on it when I came back home in Oakland. I don’t remember. I just powered through it. I was living at the studio down there. Yeah, every night. It was tight. It was cool. Kind of miss those times.
rubyhornet: Yeah. What’s the next one? It’s been awhile.
Elujay: Yeah. It’s coming, man. It’s completely different.
rubyhornet: How’s that?
Elujay: You couldn’t put it up next to Jentrify. More singing, more guitar type shit.I don’t know how to explain it. Kind of similar to. how do I explain this? Just wait for it, man. It’s vibes though, man. It’s pretty tight.
rubyhornet: Okay. You got a name?
Elujay: It’s going to be called Adagio. That’s the name of my band too.
rubyhornet: Okay. So you’re playing with a band?
Elujay: Yeah, I play with a band.
rubyhornet: Have you always?
Elujay: Yeah. I’ve been playing with a band but not the same one. We got a new squad with us. Yeah. Next one’s going to be more alternative, funk, R&B type shit. Stevie Wonder chorus, but at the same time bringing some of the ’90s/early 2000 sound back in. Because that’s some of favorite shit. That time period. Just bringing it all together. And I’m going to see if it’ll stick. I’m not really worried though because I’m here in Chicago, so.
rubyhornet: How was Colors?
Elujay: It was cool, man. Yeah. It was dope. A dope process.
rubyhornet: Did they let you pick your own color?
Elujay: No, they didn’t. We could’ve though. Yeah. We could’ve. They kind of just did their own thing. After we shot it, they just kind of picked it.
rubyhornet: I thought that was dope just to see it. I fuck with them a lot. So what’s up with Lacy Mcgrady?
Elujay: Lacy Mcgrady. Lacy really with the game. Yeah. Lacy Mcgrady. It’s like a play on Tracy Mcgrady. It’s just an alter-ego. I got multiple.
rubyhornet: I want to see a Steve Lacy Mcgrady.
Elujay: Steve Lacy Mcgrady?
rubyhornet: You know when Steve and Lacy getting together.
Elujay: Oh, yeah, man. I’d be down to. I fuck with the Internet. Someone did tweet me that. I fuck with it. I’d be down. I for sure fuck with Steve. He’s hard.
rubyhornet: So that’s the interesting thing, right? It’s like you could be the Chicago sound but there’s also the Internet, and Tyler the Creator… it’s not actually exclusive to hear. It’s like-
Elujay: Oh, my sound? Yeah-
rubyhornet: Yeah. I’m not trying to even say that your sound is like everybody else. Because it’s not. But if we’re putting people in categories, there is this newer wave in California that’s some real soulful shit.
Elujay: Yeah, we were just talking about that. My shit could fit into 100 different boxes. Yeah, I definitely fuck with that wave but I’m just trying to do me. I don’t want people to compare to anyone.
rubyhornet: Totally. What do you want people to take away when they listen to your shit? Or how do you want people to feel when they listen to your shit?
Elujay: Man, I honestly want to give people that same feeling that Pharrell gave me. That same just like, damn. That shit blew me away, man, when I first heard that song. I don’t know. I feel like he gave me the tools and I’m here to flip it. Do my own thing with it. And I want to inspire somebody so them be like… “Yeah. Elujay gave me the confidence to actually try this different sound.” I have guitar, harp in my songs over a trap feel or a boom-bap beat. You know? Just inspire people mainly. Because that’s really brought me. I feel like inspiration… inspiring somebody is the key to happiness. It’s a two-way street because when you get inspired, that just fuels your passion so hard. I don’t know about anyone else, but I can speak for myself that when I get inspired, I don’t stop. If I see something that I like, I’m like, “Damn. I can do that too?” I’m just driven.
rubyhornet: What do you want to inspire people to do?
Elujay: Whether it’s lifestyle, music, whether it’s them making music, whether their art. But yeah, just inspire people to do art, live their life, be happy.
rubyhornet: Late at night, you’re at the corner store, what’re you going for? What’s the late-night snack?
Elujay: Shit. Some Takis.
rubyhornet: Takis? Like that special one?
Elujay: No, just the normal one. Takis and the Arizona tea.
rubyhornet: What flavor though?
Elujay: Shit, mango.
rubyhornet: Hell yeah, every time.
rubyhornet: Is there anything you want to talk about?
Elujay: I need sleep. Niggas ain’t slept that well. I’ve only gotten three hours in the past 36 hours. Three or four hours. Our apartment complex got broken into the other night. So, I mean, that fucked me up. There was an alarm that went off at 4 AM. Fucked me up, bro. Then I had to get on a plane yesterday. I couldn’t sleep. We got in at 3 AM, right? I couldn’t sleep, bro. It was so fucking uncomfortable.
rubyhornet: Isn’t it funny that that’s the goal in the music industry is to be like, “I want to be on a plane every night. I want to be as uncomfortable as possible.”
Elujay: Shit is not lit, bro.
rubyhornet: That’s horrible.
Elujay: It’s not horrible. But it’s not fun.
Keep an eye out for Adaggio coming soon.