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Eli Cash's 'StereoType Assassin' is an opus more than 10 years in the making

Eli Cash's latest album took quite a bit longer than he expected to complete. The rapper first began recording the songs that would become "StereoType Assassin" more than a decade ago with his longtime producer/collaborator Steezy Wonder, but it was only after the pandemic hit this year that the two finally got around to compiling them into a finished product.

Eli Cash and Steezy Wonder | Photo credit: Sarah Julius

For most rap projects, that delay would be the kiss of death, but Eli Cash specializes in the kind of rap that doesn't really have an expiration date: turntable-heavy, golden-era-indebted hip-hop that sounds just as classic in 2020 as it would have in 2010 or 1995. We talked to Eli Cash and Steezy Wonder about the album's long gestation, and what it is that draws them to that cherished era of hip-hop.
Eli Cash

Evan: This is Evan Rytlewski from Radio Milwaukee, and I’m joined now by rapper Eli Cash and producer Steezy Wonder, talking about their new album "Stereotype Assassin." This is a collection of recordings that you guys have made over the last decade. How did you go about assembling recordings that date back from that long ago into a coherent album?

Eli Cash: We always had a basic tracklist kind of in mind for how the album would flow, but we had never finalized it. We didn't have cover art and stuff, but we always knew that all of these songs were going to make it on the album. And from there, it was just a matter of going back through different takes and remastering the songs. Justin, Steezy, here was able to master the songs again and you create some new interludes to kind of help sequence the album, like the intro and outro and everything. But aside from that, I mean, the songs were always written to be a concept to begin with. So it was just a matter of going back in the archive, so to speak, and digging them all back out again and making them sound good.

Evan: Why did it take so long for you to use them? Did you have plans for them immediately or could you just not find the proper project to put them on?

Eli Cash: It was kind of a matter of us both being kind of perfectionist a little bit. We kept wanting to change the songs more. And then right around the time that we recorded the last song, which was in like 2012, that's when I had my first kid. And then life happens and other priorities came into the mix, you know, and it just kinda got put on the shelf and then it turned into a thing of, “Oh, maybe it's been too long. Maybe we should just move on from it.” But after revisiting the songs and realizing they still sound good and stood the test of time, it seemed like it would be a shame to not still put it out. 

Steezy Wonder: You know, it was a labor of love for sure. We were working together for a number of years before this and we put out a couple of albums and this was something that I was really, really proud of from a production standpoint. And we always had plans of releasing it, but as Chris said, you know, life happens. I was involved in several side projects with another Milwaukee artist, and I sort of dabbled in the indie rock scene for a while. And so life got in the way, but we were really, really excited about this album. It was always playing at my house. I love all the songs and it was just something I wanted to share with the world at the right time. And as odd as it sounds, 2020 was the right time.

Evan: The album almost reminds me of some of Dan The Automator’s projects, just because there's such a big premium placed on the turntablism and it’s got sort of a science fiction concept running through it.

Eli Cash: Yeah, Dan The Automator was an influence, specifically like Deltron 3030. We listened to that a lot, but all of his work for Handsome Boy Modeling School and all his production has a really cool cinematic feel, which is always something we kind of were going for with the Stereotype Assassin theme song. It almost sounds like a theme for “Superfly” or something. You know, it has almost like a superhero vibe to it. And we kind of wanted the whole album to feel like that, like it could be a movie in itself, you know, and we always just toyed around with adding other instruments, and it was fun. We only had the one turntable setup just in that studio, but we were able to get some cool scratches out of it. And that was always just like a fun thing to add to it, to give it more of an old school vibe. You know, we always try to make stuff sound like it could be classic. Like it could be from the golden age '90s, or it could be something current. And, and that's something that I think is a good bridge between the two.

Evan: What is it about that golden age that appeals to you guys?

Eli Cash: Well, for me, that's like what I was kind of like raised on listening. Like from a really young age, I had uncles who were like big into hip-hop. So like the first CD I ever bought was A Tribe Called Quest. And I was really obsessed with Tribe and then got into Nas a lot. And, you know, all of those artists, I heard them like pretty much as they were coming out. And that to me was like, what hip-hop was supposed to sound like, you know? And from there I went back and got into Rakim and more of like the traditional classic rappers, but something with the golden age sound, it always just had a feel to it that I feel like a lot of the later rap just didn't have. And you know,  it feels less digital, it feels more like actual analog work and it's almost like more like you can hear the production being done. It doesn't sound like it's been put together by a computer or something, you know, and there's something to that.

Steezy Wonder: Yeah, the golden era was big.I love the big 808 drums, love the feel, the sampling, That era used was really important to us. DJ Shadow's another big influence of mine from instrumental sampling, and trip-hop. We really wanted to create a cinematic moving album and, even from a film cinematic standpoint, Tarantino films like “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” at the time had a big influence on the soundtrack feel of the album. I was really thinking, how can we put together a musical album that really has a cinematic or movie feel to it, and so pulling from those influences really helped tie it together.