“I love creating, it feels right,” states Elijah Neblett, an assured but cheeky grin on his face, a cap covering his characteristic flat top. Now going by his stage name Lij, the young Kiwi splits his time between full time employment and the beginnings of a career in hip hop. It’s a well worn family path – his jazz musician father, James Gaylyn, has always been a strong influence in his life.
“Ever since I was young I’ve been down in the studio with him. I started singing when I was two. I got my first album at seven or eight, and began to learn all the words. Then I learnt to say them fast. I’ve been rapping for a long time.”
That generational influence extends to his admiration of things that have come before. “I am the friend of old school music. Anything… jazz, blues, hip hop. I consider that real music, I consider it the core… I grew up on old school hip hop.”
Sporting influences from classic artists like Biggie, Tupac and Eminem, alongside newer successes such as Kendrick Lamar, Logic and J Cole, Lij is no stranger to the history of American hip hop. A career in music was always just around the corner.
“Last year was the year I really went for music. I had a contact in New York who asked if I had any projects to listen to. And I hadn’t. I knew I needed to make a project but had never really done one before.”
An EP, ‘Attention Metropolitan’, was carefully pieced together over eight months, before releasing in November 2015. The sequence of its creation is surprising and idiosyncratic. “Before I did anything – the beats, the rapping – I wanted the artwork.”
Lij approached artist and friend Brynn Kettle, to conceptualise a cover. “I wanted my face. And I wanted to involve the city somehow.” Soon enough the pair had decided – combining a cartoon image of his body with a miniature city, replacing his flat top hair with highrises.
It’s no accident that the cover sees Lij disoriented by the city (and perhaps by society itself). “Essentially with the EP I wanted to bring up issues that I felt close to in society. ‘Attention Metropolitan’ is trying to gain everyone’s attention.”
Though supported by lead single Just Another Monday, a playful track about relationships, the EP delves into far more pivotal issues, some founded in the growing Black Lives Matter movement in the US.
“Obviously I wasn’t born or raised there, but I feel quite a kinship to America. A lot of things happened last year in the States, Eric Garner and police brutality… all for no reason. The EP is almost like a growing up phase. You’ve got My Escape which talks about childhood, then Just Another Monday where you’re starting to get girlfriends, teenage years. You get a little bit more emotional. And then suddenly, it’s that I Can’t Breathe, where you’re feeling emotional about other issues in the world as well.”
Taking a laid-back, boom-bap approach to the instrumentation, the EP is akin to early Homebrew, the relaxed production leaving plenty of room for Lij to flex his lyrical muscles, “…gripping on a vodka bottle in the corner of your room hoping you don’t see tomorrow.” But ‘Attention Metropolitan’ is only the beginning for Lij. The young rapper plans to move to New York later this year, to see if American waters hold more promise for a fast growing musician.