Elzhi isn't the first MC to pay homage to a classic, but he's sure upped the ante for tributes.

Elmatic, a 10-track mixtape that revisits Nas' epic 1994 debut, Illmatic, finds the Detroit lyricist rhyming over reworked live versions of the original album's instrumentals produced by Detroit funk band Will Sessions. Released exclusively with XXLMag.com last Tuesday (May 10), the project became a trending topic on Twitter and has received rave reviews.

Minutes before boarding a plane for a European tour that took him to France, Ireland, Norway and the UK, El phoned in to XXL to discuss why Elmatic took three years to make, almost scrapping his project when Fashawn dropped Ode to Illmatic last year and never meeting Nas. —Carl Chery

XXLMag.com: What made you want to use live instrumentation?

Elzhi: The reason why I chose to go live was because some people knew about [Elmatic] within the time span of three years. And within that time span, you had people doing their own tributes to Illmatic so I guess I wanted to put a different spin to it and go the live route.

XXL: You came up with the idea three years ago?

Elzhi: I didn’t come up with the idea. It was an idea that was given to me by DJ House Shoes three years ago.

XXL: What was your reaction when you saw Fashawn release Ode to Illmatic last year? Did you think about scrapping your project?

Elzhi: It was kinda like, "Ok, well, I didn’t get into the idea when I should have." It was a lot of stuff going on and then when I seen he put the tribute out. I was like, "Ok, that’s what’s up." That’s dope because he was paying homage in his own way, but I felt like since it took me so long to do that and he put that out there, I was like maybe I should just scrap it. But it was people through the years that I would check online and see that they still wanted it so if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have even finished it.

XXL: What are some of the things that made the project take so long?

Elzhi: Really, just my situation with Slum Village, my life situation. That’s really it. When I got in the studio with Sam from Will Sessions, it was only like a month and a half. We recorded everything so it didn’t really take that long.

XXL: You referenced some of Nas’ lyrics from Illmatic, but you didn’t overdo it. You make a quick reference and got right back into your flow.

Elzhi: I kinda wanted to put my own twist on it, man. So, a song like “Memory Lane,” he had a concept for that, that was pretty dope so I wanted to kinda flip that concept in my own way and put a little me into it. Really I wanted to keep the essence of Illmatic. It was really strategic where I was gonna put certain parts of his line, certain parts of the rhyme. I just wanted to bring what I do to the project as well, coming from a fan’s point of view.

XXL: When you’re not referencing his lines in certain parts it sounds like you’re rhyming off the same words Nas rhymed off of at the same time on the song.

Elzhi: You know, what, subconsciously it might have popped off like. I didn’t really planned that.