Lord T & Eloise, the world's first aristocrunk rappers, are back in Memphis with a show at the Young Avenue Deli on Saturday, October 12th. The duo is known for combining rap culture's monetary braggadocio with crunk — Memphis' distinct contribution to the hip-hop soundscape — into a meta consideration of wealth, celebrity, and partying your fool head off.
Lord T, the 18th-century aristocrat with the dirty-south drawl, is the alter ego of Elliott Ives. The harder-barking Eloise, allegedly covered in 24-karat gold skin, is the second self of Robert Anthony, the writer and editor responsible for this perhaps insane concept. Crazy as it may sound, Lord T & Eloise have been a success.
Ives, currently touring and recording as guitarist for Justin Timberlake, recalls the whole concept catching on faster than they ever planned.
"Robert came up with this crazy idea from the perspective of these two characters," Ives says. "I never thought it would come out. I was like, 'Man, don't. Let's not put that out. These [songs] are stupid.' But we had 20 something songs.
"Next thing I know: 'Man, let's not do a show. We can't do a show.' We did a show, and all of a sudden we had a booking agent and were doing national tours. We were wondering what the hell happened. It was my side project at the time."
The original lineup included DJ Witnesse — who is still part of the team — and Cameron Mann, recent head of the Music Resource Center for the Memphis Music Foundation and now the manager of development and communications at Shelby Farms Park. Mann's father, Don, started Young Avenue Sound in 2001. (Cameron left the group in 2008.)
Ives was an upstart engineer at Young Avenue Sound in 2006 and orchestrated the purchase of an Akai MPC, the essential sampling tool that was the technological basis of hip-hop as digital technology replaced the hard-to-learn handwork and expense of turntables. The studio became a haven for local hip-hop.
"I convinced Don to buy an MPC, because the studio's clients were rappers and producers. So I was just grinding out beats and learning that machine," Ives says.
Aristocrunk, Lord T & Eloise's 2006 debut album and manifesto, combined the sensibility of the .01 percent with a very heavy dose of Prince Mongo. The Flyer gave the album an A. The sound was essentially Memphian.
Ives had marinated in the horrorcore hip-hip of Orange Mound, with clients working in the shadows of Three 6 Mafia. Where Craig Brewer's character Shelby from his hip-hop film Hustle & Flow — allegedly based on real-life math teacher and synth whiz Shelby Bryant — ventured alone into rap collaboration, Ives enjoyed a steady stream of hip-hop work through the mid-1990s, honing his sensibility and technical efficiency. Later, this work would inform his musical output in FreeSol, a rap-driven funk-pop outfit that backed Timberlake and which led to his current gig with the pop superstar.
Ives just returned home from touring with Timberlake.
"I have a couple days off," he says. "We just finished a promo tour and we had a summer tour. It's been crazy. We did Rio with 95,000 people. You couldn't see the back. You couldn't see the sides. It was absolutely insane. The people are so far away from you. It's not like the Hi-Tone where you have 200 people right in your face. That's hard to play."
Lord T & Eloise return to the intimacy of Memphis this Saturday. Despite the recent highs of playing to tens of thousands, Ives is excited about this homecoming:
"It's going to be really cool. We haven't played for a while, but we were getting to a really cool place. We have a rotating cast of characters. We have Paul the Tailor playing drums. That's going to be awesome. Biggs Strings is on bass. And DJ Witnesse."
As time allows, the band will continue working on the next mixtape, which will be their fourth album, following 2008's Chairmen of the Bored and Rapocalyse from 2010.
"We have a bunch of unfinished material for Blackout Crunk Vol. 1, which is not finished," Ives says. "We have it all mapped out. The songs are there."
Sadly, Ives reports that Anthony has become stuck in character and is receiving medical attention. Our request for an interview with Anthony was answered with a carrier-pigeon-delivered scroll offering financial-advisory services. But the show will go on.
Lord T & Eloise with Spaceface Young Avenue Deli Saturday, October 12th, 9 p.m.-2 a.m.