Black Elephant
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Black Elephant

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The best kept secret in music


"Hiatus Review"

The Milwaukee area doesn't seem to be the most likely place to find the next big thing. In recent years, Miwaukee's own Citizen King got commercial airplay, but fell under as quick as they came up. Coo Coo Cal sang a little report about his projects, but returned to those same projects and hasn't been heard from since. Now a hip-hop trio named Black Elephant is slipping through the cracks of Milwaukee hoping to blow up and make their presence known.

Black Elephant, consisting of Dameon Ellzey, Verbal High, and the female voice of Element, look like an opening act for a Common and Talib Kweli show on the cover of their album Hiatus, with a confident look saying "tough act to follow." Ironically, that's the attitude on the CD itself. They don't come out and say it, but the music speaks for itself.

Hiatus covers a variety of issues, like love, betrayal and everything to do with a brash attitude towards being supreme lyricists. The title track not only introduces the CD, but also the rappers themselves. A mellow vibe moves the album along musically, but the lyrical attitude is far from that. "Love Supreme" deals with a couple singing about each other from their own points of view. Element's verse tells the story about an abusive man who tries to keep his woman by giving her gifts, but that wasn't enough. The male's point of view comes out in the next verse, telling a story of a woman who wasn't faithful and wasn't there when he needed her, screaming, "Where was the love then?"
Other songs like "15 Min. of Fame" and a quick ditty about a man and his pick-up lines called "Them Jeans" lead up to a louder, faster track called "Stand Still." The song is basically about how "you don't want none of this" and was the only song that bothered me. F bombs fall like rain and sounds eerily close to Redman's "Muh-F***a" off Malpractice. It's not bad, but that fact turned me off to it.

"Cigarette Break" marks the middle of Hiatus, sounding like something between an intermission and a conversation about smoking music like you would other substances (use your imagination). It's an interesting thought if you listen to their points of view. "Sincerely," continues the album with Element rhyming a letter to her man in prison about what she's been doing while he's been gone. You'll have to listen to find out.
Two of the best songs on Hiatus would have to be "Middle Passage" and "Dorothy," with the latter being the best. "Dorothy" begins with a man handing a package to another man, saying he's done a good job for the other, so he is deciding to promote him. The inference is of an illegal delivery of some sort, and the song heightens that inference with the deliverer telling a story of how he has to get out of the game of hustling. Laced in and out of the story is the journey to find Dorothy on the tenth floor. Things like police taking a man to jail and a nappy-headed kid with a black shirt scare him off, but he continues on. The final twist makes the man look like a good guy, but it's too good to give away.

Hiatus, to me, was like a really good book. I just couldn't stop listening because the stories in most of the songs sounded true. It sounded like a lot of other hip-hop acts, but then again it didn't. I can't really explain it, but Black Elephant has a familiar uniqueness (what?). They twist their sound to make it their own, and perhaps will be the next Milwaukee act to make it big. If the formula stays the same, they won't slip back under the cracks of Milwaukee.
(7 of 8)
- UWM Campus Newspaper- The Leader

"Brew City hip-hop trio Black Elephant hits hard with new CD"

Brew City hip-hop trio Black Elephant hits hard with new CD

By Bobby Tanzilo

If you think Milwaukee isn't bumpin' with hip-hop, then you're just not looking around. For example, Black Elephant, a trio that released its first CD to critical and fan acclaim in summer 2002, has been thriving.

After "Hiatus " came out, ironically, the group -- which comprises Dameon Ellzey, Verbal (aka Valentino) and Element C. Everest -- did anything but take time off. Instead the rapper opened for De La Soul and Jurassic 5 in a year that saw them performing nearly 100 shows, at universities across the Midwest and at the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta. The disc ultimately went on to sell nearly 4,000 copies; quite a feat for a record without major label distribution.

Now, two years on, Black Elephant is ready to unleash its second disc, "Eat This Album," with 17 tracks packed full of intelligent lyrics and hard-hitting beats. We talked to the trio to find out what's going on in the world of Black Elephant and Milwaukee hip-hop.

OMC: Does Milwaukee have a good hip-hop scene?

Verbal: I believe we do. Although the amount of venues appears to be getting smaller, we have a number of talented artists who all bring something to it. Also, I've notice more and more Milwaukee artist collaborating on projects and performances. As a fan, you'll definitely receive what you put into the hip-hop scene. You just have to look for it.

Dameon: To me Milwaukee has a great hip-hop scene, it may not be as prominent as it is in other cities but it's definitely crackin. The only negative thing about Milwaukee hip-hop is we find ourselves imitating what we see and hear from other places because we don't recognize the greatness we have within our own city limits. We think if it comes from New York, L.A., Chicago etc. that it must be better than what we're doing, not that joints and sounds that come from these areas aren't hot. But from what I've seen and heard from going around doing shows in other spots Milwaukee definitely has some heat and we just have to respect ourselves, respect the music, and build upon what we have. And what we have is a lot of talent.

OMC: Does it get support here from radio, clubs, media and fans?

Verbal: No, the radio appears to be somewhat reluctant in supporting local artists. However, this is not to place the blame completely on DJ's and personalities. I do understand that for the most part they have a play list in which they are required to stick to. I also understand that diverting from this play list has helped further the careers of many artists in other cities. The fans can be impatient at times but overall wonderful. We have received a ton of support from the media and club outlets.

OMC: Tell us about recording the disc. You've got a lot of guests on it; it must have been fun to make.

Element: Oh it was wonderful; we have a lot of talented artist from Milwaukee and Chicago. We recorded 30 songs for this project, so we were in a zone and it wasn't work for us "if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life."

Dameon: Hey we don't have any guests on the CD, they're all family and friends. You know how you have friends that come over to your house so much they can tell you where the remote is! That's the way I feel about all the people on the CD. As we went along we would let them hear stuff or they probably were sitting right there as we recorded it giving us feedback. And that goes from the musicians to the emcee's to the singers. So no guest just fam. Just fam baby.

OMC: Who are some of your musical inspirations?

Element: Zap Mama, Queens of the Stone Age, La Esparanza, The Roots, Marvin Gaye, David Ruffin, Prince, Sade, Stevie Wonder, Tupac Shakur, Jimi Hendrix. Our inspirations are so diverse; we could be here all day.

OMC: Did the first record do well in Milwaukee? How about outside Milwaukee?

Dameon: Yes and yes. We sold some joints on line in Germany. One time this young lady in Madison came to our show and told us the first time she heard us was in Spain. Now this doesn't mean we're super international or nothing. It just means that's fan base out there that's checking for us.

Verbal: The first album did really well in Milwaukee. The only problem was it took a second to catch on. I mean, the album had been out for about six months before certain radio personalities heard it and went bananas. In contrast, with this album we're trying to make sure that it's promoted more heavily and that people have access to it. What good is a hidden gem !

OMC: What are your hopes for "Eat This Album"?

Element: To be extremely successful not just here, but world wide we want to bring our music to people who haven't had to opportunity to hear it.

OMC: What's next for Black Elephant?

Verbal: "The world Chico, and everything in it" (Al Pacino from the movie "Scarface.")


"Eat This Album"

Black Elephant: Eat This Album
by Yolanda D. White

If spoken word poetry and hip-hop music were to make passionate love, their offspring would be Milwaukee’s own Black Elephant. If you’ve heard their second album, you’ll understand the analogy. If you haven’t – you should.

This trio is conglomeration of intellect, insight, ingenuity and yes, good looks. If Harriet Tubman was the sojourner of slaves to the freedom land, then Black Elephant are the sojourners of soul stirring music for all free people.

At Onopa on July 31, at one of three recent album release parties, the group took the stage for a diverse audience, from hillbillies with cowboy hats to hip-hop heads in Phat Pharm. Judging from the high energy and french kissing in the crowd, they all dug it just the same.

The digging and listening was so intense, that white people danced a hip-hop, sped up version of a Lord of the Rings foot dance, while too-cool-for-this black people bobbed their heads to the beat. The concert was a hip-hop heaven, it was a Utopia.

She, Element graced the stage in a chocolate brown apron that begged the question, “Why is this night different from all the other nights? Don’t ask.” Her arm never stopped pumping, the beat seldom stopped thumping, as Verbal and Dameon quickly engaged in a dynamic verbal showcase resembling a competition in which all were skillful players, all winners.

Response from the crowd ranged from carefree, off beat wiggles to full blown Holy Ghost moves. Black Elephant’s music hit hard, like music of the 70s and early 80s. Their delivery goes beyond the senseless rap, bravado and hyper female sexuality that is the signature of recent mainstream hip-hop/rap music. The formula for their music is to not follow the formula.

“This is for my people,” the group proclaimed from the crowded corner stage. Their live, full band (complete with horns, saxophone, bass and drums) accompanied a version of “For My People” from Eat This Album, their sophomore release. The song was a tribute to the audience, loyal friends, family, and supporters of the group. This and other melodic “appetizer” songs fed the audience a small but flavorful taste of the 17-song compilation.

It wouldn’t be enough to say this group of two locals and one Michagander have an astute social awareness that is reflected in their songs. The topics are most familiar - mayor/police chief conflicts, three-strike offense laws, and the ill effects of drugs. Black Elephant is braver than that, though, lyrically delving into prevalent but unspoken dilemmas, like the inappropriateness of preachers, and their misgivings or “miscomings.”

Brutally honest but refreshingly inoffensive, Eat This Album does for Milwaukee’s hip-hop music scene what Al Jarreau did for the jazz scene: legitimizing it and adding some much needed class and depth to an often times trashy, shallow-versed, and lyrically repetitive cesspool of drum machine producers, hoochie mamas and half-naked rumpshakers.

- Riverwest Currents

"Black Elephant defies hip-hop tradition"

Black Elephant defies hip-hop tradition Group breaks hip-hop mold with thought-provoking lyrics and its own band


The members of Milwaukee's Black Elephant have a trunk-load of talent.

"Eat This Album," the hip-hop group's sophomore effort, arrives in stores today, full of food-for-thought rhymes and club-worthy beats. Their powerful live show, feeding off a skilled backing band and their own vibrant stage presence, will be on display tonight at Bean Head Cafe, 1835 N. King Drive.

The trio, influenced in equal parts by old school soul, social activism and poetry, shares a unique vision for what hip-hop can be and how rich it can sound.

Black Elephant stands out proudly from the crowd - and that's the trouble with the group.

"That there's a formula to making hip-hop is a problem. Everybody looks the same, buys the same clothes, sounds the same," said Black Elephant vocalist Element C. Everest.

"It's all cookie cutter. It's a problem with all music in general," added fellow wordsmith Dameon Ellzey.

Radio and television programming monopolies such as MTV and Clear Channel Entertainment, myopic record labels afraid to take a chance and a "get rich quick " mentality among acts more interested in copying a hit than expressing their own vision have led, many feel, to a glut of uninspired, derivative artists.

"Hip-hop at times lacks creativity. The live instrumentation is usually missing. When you can just put on a beat, it doesn't take as much creativity," said Derrick "Verbal" Harriell, the group's third member.

Black Elephant has performed around the Midwest and as far away as Georgia backed by Cigarette Break, an ensemble flavored with jazz, funk and even gospel.

But live instrumentation is indeed a rarity in hip-hop, and artists who assemble a backing band or pick up instruments themselves, such as The Roots and Common, tend to be relegated to alt-hip-hop purgatory. The sub-genre often struggles to be heard on radio - largely because it's less repetitive and more lyrically substantive than the relentless beats and superficial sexcentric "club bangers" that are easy sells for the top 40 format.

You don't have to think when listening to most commercial hip-hop, you just have to nod your head.

Black Elephant wants its audiences to do both.

"The CD is about laying down a message, getting a point across," Ellzey said. "Live, entertaining people is the most important thing. Entertain them - and give them something to chew on later."

An ear-pleasing mix of soul and hip-hop, the 17 tracks on "Eat This Album" were selected from 30 songs the trio collaborated on for a year. In songs such as "Nutrition" and skits sprinkled throughout the disc, the group uses food as a metaphor for spiritual sustenance and for music itself.

Black Elephant hopes hip-hop fans will expand their tastes and opt for more substantive fare than the repetitive, rapidly manufactured McRap dominating the charts.

"People need to be exposed to hip-hop that's not part of the formula. That's what 'Eat This Album' is about - to give people something nutritious and filling," Everest said.

Seated at a conference table in the office building where the group rehearses, Everest is soft-spoken and thoughtful. Onstage, she's strong without being confrontational, holding her own with Harriell and Ellzey. She has an economy of movement, nodding along to the beat, occasionally punctuating her words with a raised fist.

Harriell is a coiled spring, light on his feet and weaving side to side like a boxer, sometimes nodding his head loosely like a sideways bobblehead.

Ellzey works the ground between them with a more aggressive posture, leaning into his mic like a linebacker looking to take down Brett Favre.

It's the onstage chemistry between the vocalists, the dynamic of a tight backing band and the group's dedication to intelligent but entertaining song-craft that has made Black Elephant a star on the local scene since it formed in 2002.

"Black Elephant is one of the most unique groups in Milwaukee," said Jelani Nation, part-owner and general manager of Bean Head Cafe. "It's the combination of hip-hop and neo-soul as well as having the element of a live band."

Nation expects a capacity crowd at tonight's CD release party, the kick-off event for "Eat This Album." The group also will perform additional shows in town this weekend. A larger national tour is in the works for the fall, according to Black Elephant's manager, Geraud Blanks, including possible spots at showcases such as the CMJ Music Marathon in New York in October.

Dubbed "the Phil Jackson" of the group for his coaching skills, Blanks works tirelessly to get the group's name out to labels, bookers and radio stations, while at the same time pushing group members to see themselves as more than a local act. Blanks booked Black Elephant on a successful college tour that took the group as far away as Atlanta in support of its - Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel


Musically, Black Elephant has not just found their niche in the local hip-hop/rap scene, they have carved a trench via their socially conscious lyrics, powerfully poetic verse and rhythm that backs their every vibe. They have a knack for making the hard-core sound inoffensive and real, while dropping a dollop of soulful harmonizing that satisfies the most discriminating eardrum. With their second CD, they are growing together as artists, rooting themselves deeply as steadfast representatives of a new, more prolific generation of music in Milwaukee. (Yolanda D. White)

- Sheperd Express


Hiatus, LP
Eat This Album, LP


Feeling a bit camera shy


Like an elephant navigating its way through the jungle, the group’s social aspirations keep them focused with uncompromising musical integrity. Accompanied at performances by a 5 piece instrumental ensemble they blend a rich love of Hip-Hop with a neo-soul aesthetic.

Poet Verbal received national acclaim for his writing; his poetry can be read in the anthologies, A Budding of Joy, and the National Library of Poetry’s Best Poems and Poets of 2001 and the Cream City Review. Verbal has performed with spoken word poets such as Malik Yusef, Jessica Care Moore, The Last Poets, Saul Williams and Amiri Baraka.

Element, writer, singer, rapper, poet and songwriter, describes herself as "an artist 24/7.". Element made her national solo debut on the soundtrack to the new feature film, "Deliver Us From Eva" starring rap artist LL Cool J and actress Gabriel Union, released February 7th 2003. Her onstage persona ranges from an angelic melodic line to some rapid-fire rhymes of her own in a confident, socially-focused style reminiscent of Queen Latifah or Lauryn Hill.

Rapper/producer Dameon Ellzey’s lyrical prowess is only matched by his performance intensity. Ellzey works the ground between Element and Verbal with a more aggressive posture, leaning into his mic like a linebacker looking to take down Brett Favre. When he's not delivering rapid-fire rhymes onstage, Ellzey stays active working local political campaigns and voter registration drives.
Black Elephant's debut CD Hiatus combines elements of hip-hop, soul, R&B, and spoken word helping them appeal to broad audiences.

Black Elephant released their sophomore album, Eat This Album on July 27th. An ear-pleasing mix of soul and hip-hop, the group uses food as a metaphor for spiritual sustenance and for music itself. Black Elephant hopes hip-hop fans will expand their tastes and opt for more substantive fare than the repetitive, rapidly manufactured McRap dominating the charts.

Voted Milwaukee's Best Hip-Hop group (Shepherd Express Best of 2004) Black Elephant has played some of the largest outdoor festivals in the Midwest as well as over 50 universities throughout the country, opening for national recording artists Beanie Siegel, The Bar-Kays, and De La Soul, and Jurassic 5.