With ‘Aura III,’ Atlanta’s ELHAE Explores the Range of he and his City’s Sound
Evan Dale // April 9, 2021
The broad dichotomy of the modern Atlanta cultural web comes fully into focus in the sounds of ELHAE. A rapper, a singer, and most notably, almost always seeming to do both at once or neither at all with a unique texture the floats effortlessly in the grey areas between hip-hop and R&B. His is a sound that echoes a modern inadherence to stylistic lane, and instead celebrates a notion of post-genre where expectations of one-sound artistry have largely come to pass. Having been a figure on the scene for something like a decade, ELHAE’s unique blendaline inventions aren’t only a product of the modern sound – a sound that in so many ways owes itself to the broadly talented and minutely traditional creatives of Atlanta – but also helped to build out a scene from the roots that sees artists today consistently merging and twisting the tenets of hip-hop and R&B into a new, unique aesthetic of their liking. Think of artists like K CAMP and Sy Ari Da Kid, and you’ll hear a similar, albeit completely differentiated mosaic of the blended Atlanta hip-hop and R&B spectrum. Think back to artists like TLC, and then you’ll realize that Atlanta has never played by the rules, and that constructing the rapped-sung sound is just part of the city’s cultural DNA. It shouldn’t be a surprise then that ELHAE's new project, Aura III feels so inventive and unique, yet so established and easy to consume all at once.
At the tail end of 2020, he released leading single, Fun Fact and a subsequent acoustic ballad edition, all in step with introducing his new signing to Motown records. And though his sound bled of the same signature – and by that, we mean that it was the kind of unique blendaline unpredictability we’ve come to expect from ELHAE – there is always progression to be unearthed in an artist’s newest work. Aura III’s two leading tracks shined a light on the bookending corners of his musicality – the first, a raw ability to rap through the track’s verses next to one of the greats: Rick Ross; the second, the clear and coherent talent to hold the stage all to himself with only an unwavering register and a whole lot of emotion. He had pulled into frame just how rangy his sound has always been, yet how focused it could be upon deconstruction.
And once the range of his texture had been outlined, he called in a friend that never plays by the rules. No one has ever quite sounded like Masego, and a lot of that truth has to do with the fact that even if someone wanted to, they probably couldn’t. A compositional genius, his jazzy, funky, soulful blend of everything that has influenced him through the years – including himself – Masego – like ELHAE – is to say the least, dynamic. And together, the two are gold. My City is an anthemic Summertime bop, fit with a music video that might very well be the year’s best. It also unendingly puts on an exhibition of musical range for both artists and sets the stage further for ELAHE’s Aura III.
The EP – as the title would suggest – is a part of his Aura series that has always given him a chance to put on exhibitions of intermissionary progression. And since 2019 album, Trouble in Paradise, it’s also his first collection in almost two years. But like every step ELHAE has taken along his decade long journey, Aura III is another shining example of just why he’s such a unique influence on the larger sliding sale of hip-hop and R&B, and why alongside the two scene’s constant evolutions, his sound is, too, always evolving.
Backdropped by bass-heavy beats that seem to always find effervescence in the playful keys of their production, ELHAE spends the duration of the 11-track Aura III seamlessly meandering his own musicality and his own mind. From the hard-hitting verses (Fun Fact), to the vocally vulnerable croons (Cold), to ELHAE’s comfort in the moving middle grounds (Face), his sound knows less boundaries than ever before. From the braggadocious (My City), to the sensual (Only One), to the downright romantic (In My Corner), ELHAE’s songwriting opens a diary of sorts for the listener to get a glimpse into the daily life of an established Atlanta figure, and an emerging global star. And even amongst such range over a short half-hour exhibiting the breadth of modern Atlanta music, Aura III also never feels lost. Instead, it encapsulates a listener’s attention from the jump, pulls them into ELHAE’s world, and gives us a Springtime taste of what is ultimately to come.