Malik Elijah's 'Free Lemonade' Mixtape is an Exhibition of Hip-Hop Fluidity
Evan Dale // Oct 16, 2020
From the lyrically prominent position from where its roots draw water, the changes in pace – the stylistic pivots of direction – from Free Lemonade’s beginning notes to its final breaths, may at first feel jarring. But when one realizes that Malik Elijah, a Maryland rapper musically founded in church choirs as a youngin’, is as wide ranging as he puts on exhibition throughout the project, the differentiation feels more like progression. Free Lemonade after all, need only be fluid.
And fluid it is. Through Free Lemonade, Malik Elijah is as broadly unique as they come, and regardless of which of his lanes one might be attracted to at first listen, each change of pace yields consistency if only through his clear obsession with pursuing his many directions with fervency. A rapper, yes. But a lyrically endowed one at that, a hype crafter of the party anthem, too, a soulfully adept vocalist, a vivid storyteller, and an all-around composer curating his own complexities into a single body of work, Mailk Elijah transcends the many boundless directions that hip-hop takes in its modern form.
Personally, my introduction came by way of the pen and further, its interwoven relationship with a special electrofunk beat from Italian producer Ciro Mont. After I Had heard Space Glow, I knew to expect creativity en masse with next single, Human. But Human was – is – different. A patch of the greater quilt that will go on to be sewn larger and heavier with every coming day in the fight for Black civil liberties, Malik Elijah’s addition to a Summer steeped in protest is one of its most eye-opening ear-shots. Quick-cadenced, poetic, and most importantly, meaningful, Human is a protest anthem cut of the modern hip-hop cloth. And though an adherence to instilling meaning into his work never subsides through Free Lemonade’s runtime, it does invoke different forms: an exploration of meaning through music; an open letter penned from Malik Elijah.
From its lyrically in-depth introductory twosome, Self Reflect & Human, Malik willfully evolves as an artist, providing differing ratios of the melodic, the rapped, and even the produced from his own centric position as an all-encompassing creative. But, that’s not to say friends aren’t involved. Though meshed into the grander grandeur of a Malik Elijah aesthetic, various producers, vocalists, and rappers lend their sounds to the Free Lemonade. And with the first featuring name, comes Free Lemonade’s first change of stylistic direction.
Done, which features Rockstar Johnny, rides a melodically infused direction from both artists, and does so over an electronically nuanced beat that serves the jam up as a proper party anthem. Its follow-up inclusion, Same Shit – which is produced by Malik, himself – boasts a similar aesthetic, and pulls into frame an even deeper dive into a direction that the Malik Elijah seems to have begun mastering: high-octane raps, an addicting chorus, and an atmospheric beat serve up a dynamic hype anthem from a lyrically endowed force always searching for how to differentiate one lyrically intensive rap from the next. Here, and everywhere else on Free Lemonade, it ultimately succeeds.
And in no space is that a more noteworthy achievement than with Simmer. Far and away Free Lemonade’s most trap-derived banger, an ear not really listening to Simmer won’t hear a rapper able to seamlessly infuse the most hard-hitting corner of hip-hop with equally hard-hitting penmanship. With Bag, folding in the flow of Louie Bagz, another must-listen, must-move, high-energy hip-hop exhibition explodes not only as a display of the oomph modern rappers can pack, but the professionalism an up-and-comer like Malik Elijah is able to bring to his music.
And then, the slow down. First tapping longtime friend and collaborator Ciro Mont, with whom Malik crafted 2018 EP, Lazy, Malik Elijah and accompanying voice, Cool J bring a sultry, upbeat, R&B adjacent delivery with Blackened. And with OneOfOne, Malik takes the romantic, melodic edge one step further for a rap ballad written for, as he describes in our interview with him, the love of his life.
For a final two-piece exploration of sorts, Malik Elijah closes Free Lemonade with Marcus Allen & Cuban Link. Expectedly lyrical, expectedly high-energy, and expectedly unique not only when weighed against the rest of hip-hop, but when weighed against his own ultimate range, he finishes where he started, if not really at all.
When we’re talking mixtapes, Free Lemonade is masterful. It would earn that delineation, too, had it been a full-length EP, or a debut album. In a modern scene that prioritizes an artist’s ability to do more than where their ‘rapper’ title draws their music, Malik Elijah does the most – earns the most – with Free Lemonade – a mixtape in constant flux, but never out of fluid balanced.