In case you’re not familiar, Zeroh is a Los Angeles MC that totally embodies the word “experimental.” He’s always gone over unorthodox beats with a more-than-unique flow so if that’s your idea of pleasure, you’re listening to me talk about someone you should definitely acquaint yourself with. I came across Zeroh when I randomly found his album “Elliot Blaqbird” while nerding out on Google. Since then, he’s been one of my favorites in the indie experimental hip hop scene…if that’s even a scene. I may have just made that up. Anyway, his albums, to me, have all been both challenging and rewarding and I must say I’ve enjoyed every minute of them. He has a pretty extensive catalog and I couldn’t suggest more that you check them all out. But, for now, let’s talk about his latest release, Tape.
On the last track, Atinlid, Zeroh says, “Motherfucker, I’m certified in lo-fi.” This statement couldn’t be more true. Zeroh is not one of those people that’s a stickler for excessively polished production. So if you’re looking for some Kanye/Pharell style production, you can stop reading now. I don’t think I’d be off base by saying that this could be Zeroh’s most challenging release. There are no production credits, so I can only assume that he produced everything. On this release he’s exploring territory that he’s kind of only skimmed on other releases. What’s even better is that he takes the elements that I’ve appreciated from his other releases and built on them. Nothing is super tangible on this album. Every song is mind-bending and thought-provoking in its own way. The beats are all sporadic and experimental in a different way on each track. While each all of them are weird by default, they’re not all the same type of weird. This means, production wise, there’s nothing one-dimensional at all with Tape. He goes from random glitchy Nintendo sounds to free jazz samples to drones. You’d probably think to yourself how in the hell he could mix all those sounds into one project. Trust me…it works. With all the different sounds Zeroh uses on this release, it does come across as a bit of a hodgepodge of styles, but it still comes together enough to enjoy. From the first track’s odd video game sounds you know you’re in for a weird ride, so all the sounds coming together after that, for some reason, aren’t shocking.
As I described above, Tape starts off with the track “Make Shit Up And Do It” which sees Zeroh doing this odd scat thing over this beat that sounds like it samples the background song to one of your favorite childhood arcade games. His vocals are a bit drowned out, which makes it really hard to make out what he’s saying. And being that Zeroh is such an interesting wordsmith, it makes me really wish he would start releasing a Word doc with his lyrics along with his albums. The only lines I could catch were “passive aggressive white boy” and what sounded like “fuck your yellow shirt.” Zeroh doesn’t actually rap until the third track, “Kingmidaswell.” He comes in with a flow that sounds more like a beatnik slam poet over your average spitter. “You’re never too inept to conceptualize or fathom the grand planned destined enterprise. Even lies are acceptable because you decide. Whatever you believe in then, well, we tend to die.” That’s definitely not something you’d hear on your average Young Money release. Zeroh has his own style that I can’t really compare to anyone. It’s hard to be truly unique in today’s vast world of hip hop, but Zeroh sure does make it seem easy.
Track four, “Weoutchea”, was a definite standout for me. It may be the most accessible beat on Tape and his flow is killer. “Even my stutter is butter to your brain.” Like a lot of other experimental artists, Zeroh chooses to employ the stream-of-consciousness style with his rhymes, but, in my opinion, he’s one of better MCs doing it. Track five, “Blk&wht”, was also standout track due to the slow and minimal droney backdrop. His approach to this song is especially interesting in the way his first verse is slow and choppy to go along with the beat, but then his second verse goes back to the unorthodox rhyme pattern than we’re used to from Zeroh and, somehow, he makes it fix nicely. I can’t talk about this album and not mention the end of Atinlid, when the beat speeds and he just starts bouncing back and forth between singing and rapping. I feel that was one of the most powerful moments on the album.
As a whole, I think Tape is a dope project from Zeroh. To me it’s actually a big more eclectic than his other albums. In fact, with the sounds he chooses to mesh together, it actually reminds me of quite a few non-hop hop groups that I enjoy. When I hear Tape I hear bits of older ambient industrial groups like COIL, SPK or Throbbing Gristle due to his use of varied samples and vocal recordings. Listen to TG’s What A Day and tell me I’m crazy in thinking the sounds used are similar. Even Nurse With Wound came to mind when I was listening to Weoutchea.
The only thing that bothered me about this release is that it was a bit short. Right when I felt like I was really getting into it, I looked at my iPod and it was over. The rather short length of the project combined with the randomness of the sounds makes Tape seem a bit unfocused. I can’t tell, but maybe he was shooting for the idea of a disjointed album. If so, that sort of sound appeals to people like me, but I can definitely see it turning other people off.
I love when artists decide to stretch the boundaries of hip hop. I’ve heard some doing it successfully. I’ve heard a lot more fail miserably. Obviously, Zeroh is a great example of the former. This new approach makes me really excited to hear what Zeroh does next.
“Man, I refuse to be worried. Hurried through hurdles buried in hurt. Commercial sorcery forced to be high alert.”
Download the album here.