I Told Bessie

Chaz Hall grew up in Jamaica, Queens, and lays his head in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. But for a few years he lived with his grandmother Bessie in the Crown Heights family brownstone, crafting the sound and shape of the persona that would become Elucid, the rapper/producer best known for his work in Armand Hammer. Before her passing in 2017, Bessie was one of his earliest supporters, a confidant who first taught him about Malcolm X and Marcus Garvey, and who listened from two floors below as he conjured beats and rhymes in their ancestral home. I Told Bessie, Elucid’s latest solo LP, is a record of those conjurations, a tribute to her memory that doubles as a statement of identity.

Most of Elucid’s work in Armand Hammer exudes a dark, murky mood informed by a pro-Black, anti-capitalist perspective. I Told Bessie feels more abstract yet equally expressive, with dissociative raps that are often rooted in narrative but free from the burden of plot. A latecomer to rock music, he’s professed a love for the chaotic lyrical stylings of the Mars Volta, a band whose disjointed storytelling can seem indecipherable both in spite and in service of the author’s intention. Elucid’s abstractions are similarly both dizzying and profound, obscuring metaphor and clever wordplay in a fog of loose association: “With emphasis, the spirits say/Every hole speak when the mirrors play/Fear of plague, sense-making stop/Hoof-and-mouth to pox, chasing clocks to bed/Spin your top and your TV’s cut,” he raps on “Smile Lines.”

Elucid’s collaborators do more than just add color to his songs; they tend to pull him into their orbit, shaping his own style in the process. He’s said that he finds billy woods (his partner in Armand Hammer) to be more precise and calculated, while Rory Ferreira (his partner in Nostrum Grocers) is a bit jazzier, more comfortable with improvisation and embracing mistakes. You can hear Elucid split the difference on I Told Bessie, his precision ebbing and flowing with the music, growing more chaotic as the production unravels. The album’s production feels confrontational and uncomfortable, colored by warped vocal samples, off-kilter rhythms, and hypnotic loops. Even the smoother parts, like the funereal horn on “Impasse,” get disrupted by chaotic percussion and other subtle, unsettling elements.

Despite I Told Bessie’s status as a solo record, billy woods is deeply involved, with guest vocals on four tracks and an executive producer credit. woods’ gravitational force exerts itself on Elucid’s verses, which feel more focused and precise than on the tracks without him. Any of them feel like they could appear on Armand Hammer records, but “Nostrand” in particular—with its twinkling piano and horror-film bass line—feels like a Haram outtake. woods’ EP credit is more than just vanity; he manages to sequence tracks from eight different producers into a cohesive mood, climaxing with the analog static of “Betamax,” in which Elucid hints at finding meaning in rhythmic patterns.