It wasn’t Odd Future ransacking Fallon, but this week quietly marked another milestone first for another gifted rap crew, when Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro made their debut on Philly’s NPR outlet, XPN. Re-working songs from 2009’s “Slow Twilight” for the Key Studio Sessions, the pair brought live guitar, deft flourishes, and a pinpoint refinement to what they’re awkwardly but accurately branding “noir-hop.” Think Raymond Chandler rap slumped in the shadows, expensive bourbon, felt hats, and femme fatales crossed with the spiteful vengeance of South Philly.
I’m unsure how many of you have been reading since the early days when I used to write weird screeds about car theft and gay wrestlers. The halcyon period when the site used to be funny — word to Sandy Bates. During that time, Zilla was the first Passion of the Weiss columnist, laying the groundwork for Sach O to get bassed, Douglas Martin to get chill, and everyone else to run their respective lanes. Accordingly, any notions of objectivity towards his music have long since been obliterated. But it’s a source of pride and partial validation to see someone whose talent you deeply respect, getting attention from quarters outside of the hermetic blog bubble.
Often lost in the groundswell of attention rightfully lavished on Odd Future is the rebirth felt all across rap. From teen swag rap to 21st Century trunk muzik, to the Detroit underground, to the Roc Marciano school of New York goon rap, the genre’s in the midst of a Renaissance, only 18 months after critics wrote its obit. Throughout the era, Zilla’s been ahead of the curve, working with Planet Mu-signed international bass sensation Starkey back in 05, rocking Elliot Smith and Spindrift samples years before Kidz in the Hall saw their first Grizzly Bear. He’s been freestyling over Joker beats since most people thought he was a Heath Ledger character. And six months before carpet-bagging rappers discover Flying Lotus, he’s massacring obscure Shlomo beats.
Since I only post a fraction of his music on the blog, there’s a lot I’m leaving out. Zilla’s Bad Weather Classic EP drops today on Justin Boland’s World Around Records. It’s available for free download on Bandcamp, and is highly recommended for fans of TCM, Aesop Rock, and frigid climes. Curly Castro’s Winston’s Appeal dropped recently, amidst a week-long tribute from 33 Jones. It’s a scattershot but solid effort somewhere between Blueprint and Vordul Mega of Cannibal Ox at his most effective. Between these efforts and the Key Studio Sessions, the Shadowboxers have established a singular and original aesthetic. This is hip hop at its most murky: bad weather and baleful rhymes. Special techniques.