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Malik Elijah’s final mixtape, ‘VINTAGE NOSTALGIA’ is a cinematic vision of his evolution before the next chapter unfolds

Evan Dale // July 9, 2024

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When in the Fall of 2020, Malik Elijah – then in Maryland, born and raised – released Free Lemonade, it felt like the kind of angst-ridden, old-school nuanced poeticism that the world needed to help digest the tumult that had defined that year-to-date. Reenforced with immersive visuals set into a retro footed television, a track like Human shone the light on an emerging lyricist who was anything but struggling to find his way, let alone his voice. Instead, hard-nosed poeticism delving into the struggles that his community were having projected out to the world in wake of pushes for societal and civil equality that marked the Summer of 2020, vintage visual cues in his accompanying videos amalgamed to bring into focus the image of an artist who was young, but understood something innately sewn into the fabric of hip-hop at its roots – as a form of artistic protest that its audience can relate to wholeheartedly; as a form of emotive communication at its most raw. Outlined with a balance between energetic angst and lyrical dynamism, Malik Elijah’s first mixtape was a glimpse into the ones to come.

Four years later – now based in Boston – with his fourth and final mixtape, VINTAGE NOSTALGIA, Malik Elijah is harvesting the seeds he planted in 2020 and even before, more fruitful, more balanced, and more ready than ever for his next chapter.

Beats minted by jazzy instrumentation and a mosaic of samples cut signature to his unique aesthetic long in development. The tape opens with FLAWLESS VICTORY, where the calls from a squall of seagulls place the listener coastal, as a barrage of vocal samples rising almost like a string section, and are underlined by steady, deep chords. Here, Malik Elijah, too, joins in on some melodic humming to sign off on the beat before embarking on his signature flow. That flow – one of many he seems to have in his bag – is the one that first introduced us to Free Lemonade. No-nonsense, unyielding, and firm, he pushes through his poetry with force, saying what he wants to say without any room to interject. It’s the flow that has drawn the comparisons to emcees past and present whose own auditory aesthetics, too, make their listeners reminisce on rap’s most simple and definitive pillars: rhythm and poetry.

But there’s more to Malik Elijah than a nostalgia-wielding lyricist boiling over his sample-spotted beatscapes with a high-energy delivery. There’s an artist that can subtly infuse another edge of his sound with a melodic flow, where a track like PEGASUS can shine a light on the range of the skillset he’s bolstered most over these past four years. Overtop a chime and keystroke strewn beat, Malik’s verses are never without a melodic edge that, it should be said, is incredibly well-defiend. The man can sing, and that is expressed even more full-throatedly at the track’s hook. Other cuts like SWITCH GEARS and WORK BOOTS expand on that threshold of his musicality even further.

His own expanded wide range as a rapper and as an artist at large is cosigned by VINTAGE NOSTALGIA’s featuring names. Fellow Bostonian, Latrell James drops off a lightning-fast verse on SPIRIT GUN, where a quick-fire, experimentally cyber-cypher beat lays the foundation for both rappers to get playful with their sounds. Fellow Marylander, Kinrose drops off an off-kilter, wavy verse on the downtempo and hypnotic FOG. Boston legend, Cousin Stizz pulls his signature flow into frame for a spoon-fed verse expectedly brimming with clever word-play on DRAPED UP. And Virginia’s Mynameisntjmack – who himself just dropped his illustrious and acclaimed mynameisnt – brings his unique sound to RESPECT THAT.

And even amongst so many other talented fellow artists, Malik Elijah – at the helm of his fourth and final mixtape – stands out not only for continuing to develop his engrained knack at spitting good old-fashioned bars, but for continuing to expand the reaches of his artistry, infusing nearly every corner of VINTAGE NOSTALGIA with melody and emotion, and pushing forth a colorful mosaic of sharpened skillsets and unique deliveries into a signature sound all his own.

Au revoir à Mixtape Malik, et à demain à Album Elijah. Nous attendrons.

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