By Steve Furay ::: This article originally appeared in The Michigan Citizen.
Over the holiday season, Detroit’s own 5 ELA re-released the classic 5 Elementz “YesterYears” EP on their group’s website. “YesterYears” is a five-song record from 1994 that helped define the sound of Motown hip hop during the 90s. After many years and different evolutions of the group, 5 ELA continues to release new music with a progressive Detroit sound, but the re-emergence of this classic EP makes for an exciting addition.
“A lot of the hip hop that people know as neo-soul, we are the creators of that,” said Thyme of 5 ELA during a seminar in November at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. “There wasn’t a record that sounded like that, hip hop wise, until we did (‘YesterYears’).”
“YesterYears” features emcees Proof, Thyme and Mudd over a soulful track produced by the late James “Jay Dee” Yancey, known to the world as J Dilla. The cassette sold by the hundreds in Detroit, before the world had gotten a taste of Jay Dee’s own group Slum Village, with the release of “Fantastic Volume 1.”
Proof became best known to the world as the leader of the group D12, which skyrocketed to international fame, selling millions of albums sold because of their association with Eminem. The group was loosely depicted in the movie “8 Mile” as the entourage of the film’s star, Eminem. Before his death, Proof was widely known to be the single biggest influence on the mega-star’s rap skill.
Thyme, Mudd and Proof were the founding member of 5 Elementz, assembling together as a group while in school at Osborn High School on Detroit’s East Side. Proof was establishing himself throughout the city as one of the city’s fiercest battle rappers, and along with Thyme and Mudd would spend time together writing songs and practicing their live shows.
In 1993, Proof and Thyme were hired by clothing designer Maurice Malone to run the Hip Hop Shop, with Mudd joining the team soon after — creating what would become the world’s most influential hip hop cipher of the time. The city’s top rap talent, including greats like Eminem and Elzhi, would flock to the store on Saturday afternoons to prove themselves. Jay Dee, Baatin and T3 of Slum Village were also friends and peers of 5 Elementz, performing and collaborating with each other often.
Proof would host the weekly cipher while Thyme and Mudd would orchestrate the store; Detroit unity was always the theme of the event. Outside of the rap, the three were spiritual students in a homegrown school called the Order of Divine Reality, and they would use those lessons in practicing the art of hip hop.
Mudd explains that his roots in hip hop go back to his earlier curiosity to learn the meaning of words and phrases during the era of conscious hip hop in the late 1980s, led by groups like Public Enemy and X-Clan.
“I can remember Big Daddy Kane one time saying ‘Throw up the peace sign, assalamu alaikum,’” said Mudd at the UM-Dearborn seminar. “And these words, I thought it was jibberish. I thought he didn’t know what to say at the end of the rap. I didn’t know what the situation was because I was fairly young at that age. Out of ignorance, I was like, ‘why did he say that?’ So I would ask.”
This passion for knowledge in the schools, church and community helped draw him further in hip hop culture, which had quickly swept throughout the country’s urban cities with an energy unlike anything else at the time.
“Myself, I was just interested in the culture,” said Mudd. “I wanted some turntables. I couldn’t afford them, Mom wasn’t having that. So what’s the cheapest thing to do? Rhyme. So just based off the rhyming and just getting into the culture — the words and the flairs, the battles and the politics — certain people in my neighborhood were rhyming as well, and Thyme was one of those people. He lived right around the corner from me, and I would see him recording, performing, having his own identity — he had the gold chains. I was just like ‘dang, I feel that,’ that’s just something I wanted to do.”
By the time they were ready to record, they had crafted a new style that Motown could call their own, which eventually evolved into neo-soul. Eminem and J Dilla have gained global fame for defining Detroit hip hop since then, and now it is 5 ELA’s turn to share their music and story with the world so people can pay respects to the pioneers.
“J Dilla produced the whole thing (i.e. ‘YesterYears’), but really it was a 5 ELA production,” said Thyme. “We all sat down — we wanted to make the beats sound the way we wanted them, which later became known as neo-soul.
“We have realized that we have touched so much and given so much, we appreciate it on every level. Right now it’s just time. Where Detroit is, it needs a regeneration of energy, and we see no reason why we can’t do it again like we did it before.”
For more information about 5 ELA and the 5 Elementz “YesterYears” EP, visit www.the5elementz.com and www.reverbnation.com/the5ive.