Boston’s Black EL Is Taking it Slow
The Boston emcee is allowing positivity to set the course for 2016.
“This shit ain’t the same,” Black EL murmurs on his newest song, “Take It Slow,” his voice appearing between shimmering synths and rumbling, low background vocals. “In admission, what we missin, standin here just reminiscin / This a mission, some submission, compliments, you get deficient,” he quickly spits, his change in tone immediate as the rhythm shifts from melodic to staccato. This is him telling it like it is to whomever he’s telling it to. But, his change in inflection—even the opening line—is telling of something larger, reflective of an adjustment in his attitude and approach.
If you spoke to Black EL a year ago, his spirit was different. That is to say, he has always appeared as a cheerful person—an easy-going guy who will crack a joke, laugh, and then say something serious in the same breath—but his essence was melancholic. He was discouraged and depressed, something you could never guess but something he’ll readily admit. His 2014 debut project, L_ST (pronounced “lost”), encapsulated that feeling.
“L_ST was more like hopelessly optimistic, that’s how I describe it. I was at a point in my life where I hated my job, I woke up and I was like yo something’s gonna happen, I feel like it’s gonna change…I was stuck in between wanting to have the cash and having my salary and shit and a good job, and also like pursuing my dream,” EL says.
You could say that exploring feelings of being lost is trite, but the way in which Black EL presents it is sharp, albeit in soft focus. On L_ST, he begins to reveal himself, introducing his genre of space wave and its airy, synthy qualities. His delivery is fairly positive, masking his doubt and pain; in order to pinpoint either of those feelings, you have to look a little closer. As developed as his space wave sound is, L_ST is a thematic first step; the project is EL dipping his toes in the water.
But now, this shit really ain’t the same.
“I felt like I was kinda half way doing it—right now, I feel like I’m going for it all the way. I’m still figuring it out, but I definitely feel a lot more found these days than I was. I feel like I have more of a path and direction that I’m heading towards… There are other challenges that will always present themselves; I’m ready to meet that shit now. I’m like yo, whatever happens, good or bad, it’s gonna be straight, I’m gonna work through it. I have a better knowledge of self now.”
“Take It Slow,” which we are premiering today, is a snapshot of a particular moment in his life—his appeal to himself to slow down and appreciate what he has—and also a bigger move toward transparency. Though the song sounds aesthetically different from what EL initially presented to us as space wave—lacking many of the house elements and Auto-Tune that L_ST was flush with—for him, “Take It Slow” is another facet of space wave, proving that it’s more than a genre and touches everything he does.
“I know that there’s hope; I know that I can create something that sounds more optimistic within like the rhythms that I’m using and [my] experimentation with melodies. I’m using less Auto-Tune on [my upcoming project Anywhere But Here] too, cuz I’m more comfortable with like the limited range that I have,” he says, laughing, “[Anywhere But Here] is personal, it’s just personal in a different way. It’s not all dark. It’s a little bit more comical at times.”
One of the ways he’s been able to dig even deeper into his music is by compartmentalizing his own personality, which has helped streamline his point of view and pacify his depression. He sees himself in four parts: Blake, who is genuine, nostalgic, and humble; EL-EL Cool Che, who is suave and swaggy; Baker Man, who is playful and child-like; and El Negro, who is socially conscious and aware.
“All human beings are complex, and you gotta understand the only way to simplify it is to compartmentalize the different beings within ourselves. We all have multiple parts of ourselves and interests that make us who we are as individuals, who make us unique. I finally understand that. A lot of my new music falls under one of those four personas, but it’s unified under the style and the way that I do it.”
On “Take It Slow” and Anywhere But Here, he’s determining his sound, its various components, and the magnitude of it all. Within that, he’s also attempting to interweave his pessimism and doubt with something that’s markedly more confident.
Although he’s figured out a lot, EL is still sorting through some adversity. He had to move back to his parents’ house—hence the title for his next project—something he has continuously viewed as a metaphor for his life (he’s had to move back a couple times), equating it with failure. “When I got depressed a lot, I always felt like certain situations were like out of my control…I’m 31-years-old and most of my friends have been married for a couple years or like they just got married. They’ve bought a house and shit. What the fuck am I doing?” he chuckles.
Still, EL is allowing positivity to set the course for 2016; and moving home has allowed him more comfort, giving him a soft landing for experimentation. Hopefully, he’s figured out that space wave—rather than his parents’ house—might be the actual metaphor he’s seeking.