Complacency Is Poison: An Interview with Elujay by Photographer Khufu Najee

"Right now, I’m in a different space."
Author:
Publish date:
Elujay, 2019

Somehow, Elujay always knew when I didn’t like something. Maybe it’s because he knew whenever I closed my eyes and listened, I was taken somewhere, and when that didn’t happen, he thought there was more work to do. Maybe that’s why Elujay and I have worked together so intensively since that first meeting. What started as conversations about inspirations and his methods of writing shifted to talks about energy and the importance of trusting your gut. Elujay lost sight of that over the years, but I've challenged his thought-process every step of the way.

I’ve heard Elujay, 22, say, “The energy isn’t there” more times than I can count. He also uses the word energy a lot, which makes sense once you learn how important it is to him. There’s a sense of positivity that's radiant whenever he’s around. When he speaks, his eyes drift upward towards the sky. He always pauses before he answers a question. He’s different in comparison to a lot of musicians I’ve spent time around. He rarely looks at his phone when he’s having a conversation, which, in 2019, is rare, and he prefers making music in his home studio because “there’s an energy [there] you can’t feel elsewhere.”

Home is where the Oakland-native recorded his forthcoming album, Adojio. Amidst a new relationship, an ever-expanding musical palette, and not wanting to be boxed in by consumers or media types, the singer/songwriter has adopted a completely new sound. Taking inspiration from the likes of Björk, Sunship, and Jamiroquai, Adojio is as warm as it is experimental. After throwing cohesiveness out the window, Elujay created a project that he’s proud of, and for him, that’s enough.

At the time of this writing, I just finished listening to the thirteenth version of "Leisure," arguably my favorite song on the project. I had to open up my eyes to finish this sentence. I think that’s the one.

KHUFU: How are you with [the internet] these days?

Elujay: I see it. I read it. It’s kinda weird. People calling me an R&B artist.

Considering the current sound and approach you’ve taken with your music, that label makes sense. No?

I just feel like it’s a little weird. I don’t really want that. I don’t want people to see me as just one thing. I wear so many different hats. I just want to be creative. I want to do everything. After I turn these mixes in I’m about to take a second and immerse myself back in the mediums I loved before I was making music.

What mediums are those?

Painting. Photography. Making a zine. Graphic design. I did everything before all this music shit. I want to start creating visual art again.

The music has taken you away from that?

No. It’s just that I have put 100% focus into the music to make sure it comes out the way that I want it to. I’m not the best at shifting my focus.

I find the process of making music so fucking interesting. There are Basquiat’s of the world, people who will step over their own painting just to work on another, and then there are the Picasso’s. You’d never see a shoe print on a Picasso. I now know you and I’ve seen your process. I don’t see many shoe prints in your art.

It’s not that my work needs to be super polished but it needs to have that emotion and that energy. I can send something to my engineer and what I get back can be too polished. On the song "Leisure," there are background noises that you’d never notice unless you’re really listening for it. You can hear a jacket hitting the base on that three-note baseline if you really pay attention. But, energy is there on that baseline and I wouldn’t want to recreate it.

You can’t recreate that.

A lot of people think you can recreate and destroy energy but energy can only be conjured. And I feel the same way with music and art. But I do hear what you’re saying. It might sound as if I’m fine-tuning but what I’m really trying to do is preserve that same energy.

But that is fine-tuning. Fine-tuning energy. Fine-tuning those perfect imperfections.

Yeah, I feel that same way. I [fine-tune] at the crib. I would rather be at the house. There’s an energy to your home you can’t feel elsewhere. I’ve always felt comfortable in my home. I get studio intimidation. I feel like I’m wasting an engineers time if I’m not getting the vocal take that I want. I get frustrated and I have to deal with their energy. So many things. But when I’m in my living space I can be whoever I want. I can sing falsetto and not care that there’s someone sitting on the couch looking at me thinking, “This dude can’t sing.” Now I’m thinking about what they’re thinking about. That’s not good energy when making art.

I know how much the music has changed from Jentrify to Adojio, but how has Elujay changed?

Right now, I’m in a different space. I’m in a relationship with a person who has put me in a different state of mind. I feel like your partner has a huge influence on the way that you act as a being. It doesn’t mean that I’m a completely different person but it definitely shifts something in me.

Elujay, 2019

Do you think this sound was something that was always in you or is it a result of this new person and chapter in your life?

It was always in me but there was definitely a bit of her that came through the music. I’m a huge jazz fan. I’ve always been a jazz fan. And I was in a bit of a weird place when it came to how I wanted to make music post-Jentrify. I started to think about what makes up a rapper and what you have to do and it felt like too much effort.

Too much effort to be a rapper? How so?

Yeah, just trying to fit those shoes didn’t feel like me. Feeling like I always had to say super metaphorical shit. I felt like I couldn’t stretch out words. When I sing I can stretch words out, I can play with my voice, I can use my voice as an instrument. It just feels better.

How do you see music?

I kind of see music as colors. I don’t really know any musical terms. If you didn’t go to art school you just look at color. You don’t look at hues or the different gradients or how there could be shadows in colors. You just look at a color and say, “Oh that’s black or that’s orange.” You kind of just look at color as it is. I hear harmonies. I hear runs. I don’t know what note that’s in but it's a harmony. I’m not too technical. Whatever feels good.

That has to free you in so many different ways when you’re creating.

That’s the only thing that should matter in art. These drums slap and they make the song better for that reason alone. Period. I don’t care about the fluff. If you’re making music you shouldn’t make music for consumption. It shouldn’t be, “This person is going to like this for that reason." It should be, “This feels good. This feels right.” That should be enough. It’s about yourself first. Do I get anything from this? Would I listen to this if I wasn’t the person who made it?

When did that mentality arrive?

Halfway through Jentrify. Some of my best songs came after I thought I was done. But for this project, I went through so many phases. I went through an indie phase. An acid jazz phase, where I was listening to nothing but Jamiroquai. Funky house music. Garage music. Sunship is one of my favorite groups from the UK. They’re fire. With this tape, I just wanted to be super freeform and not confine myself to a sound. I didn’t care if it wasn't cohesive.

Every artist wants to make a cohesive concept album. I wish more artists would just be like, “I made these songs over the course of the year and I like them. I hope you do too.”

That was my mindset when I made these songs. Yeah, they may sound different from each other but they feel good.

You don’t consider yourself an R&B act. You don’t think the music you make belongs in that category, yet there are people out there who do. Isn’t that what you want? To span genres?

It’s not far off. But I think that’s cool. I think it’s cool people call it that because I know there are hella other people who would call it alternative. There are people from the bedroom pop world who dig what I’m doing. People from the R&B world who dig it. People from the Hyphy world. It’s a lot of different people. It’s kind of weird.

That sounds to me like a success. Trying to be genre-less. You’re doing just that.

That was something I always wanted to accomplish but couldn’t by making rapping music. But I’m starting to feel like I need to get even weirder.

Weird is subjective.

I need to get more experimental. I need to do things that I haven’t done before. When I put out Blu, a lot of people were like, “This is growth.” And that’s the most beautiful shit about all the new stuff I’m putting out. I feel like I’m growing and the fans feel the same way. But I can get more uncomfortable with what I’m doing. I feel like I get better as an artist when I do stuff like that.

Complacency is poison.

Yeah. I wanna break out of the lane that I’m in now. I want to do more. I’ve been here long enough. I think the next project will really show people that I won’t stay in a box. I’m not going to live in this realm.

Related