The Brown Noise ordinarily rumbles here.
If you’ve paid attention to the mainstream media’s coverage of the California hip-hop scene over the past few years, you’d be forgiven if you thought that all the region had to offer rap-wise was a sea of Oakland slap hustlers, TDE, Odd Future wannabes, and post-hyphy skinny jean advocates. It’s partially due to the way New Media works. Deadlines are shorter, and so are attention-spans, so everybody from press to producers push more product to more people for lesser reward. If you don’t play that game, it may not matter how talented you are.
This puts artists like Zeroh in a bind. A rapper-producer based in Long Beach and a member of the We Did It Collective, which also includes Shlohmo, Jonwayne, and RL Grime, Zeroh is more artist than self-promoter. At a recent We Did It Collective showcase, instead of performing his songs, Zeroh played host, weaving brief monologues and introductions in between his friend’s short performances. He seems like he’d rather spend time reading spiritual texts or biographies of Miles Davis than tweeting about being in the studio with such-and-such rapper, making a hit. His tracks would never crack Top-40 radio, utilizing the sort of esoteric doom-bap scuzz that fellow Angeleno Flying Lotus drops at The Low End Theory, the famous club where Zeroh had his first hip-hop epiphany.
When I interviewed him earlier this year about the scene in his adopted hometown, he told me that he had mixed feelings about the so-called “beat scene”: ‘I’m usually too in my own world, concerned with everyday life shit to feel a part of it. Everybody’s got their little thing they do but personally I don’t feel “ready”. I find the so called “scene” too much to handle sometimes. I trip out on mere existence… I can’t decode the matrix yet. I just like sharing, kickin’ it with homies, and developing my shit.’
It’s the sort of mentality you might expect from an uncompromising art-house filmmaker, not a status-obsessed rapper. This perfectionist ideology runs throughout his discography, all the way down to his rap name. He has gone through about three of them, beginning as Zeroh G7, then dropping it for Zeroh, and more recently, has created the character of Blqbrd, a brasher, more confident version of Zeroh’s everyman rap persona.
He’s funny in a self-effacing way, and has a powerful charisma on guest features for close friends like Jonwayne that allows him to command the lion’s share of attention on every track he rides. He can also rap really well. See the lyrics from his song “Barkpench”:
“While thought roars / scale bars like parkour, respect it / hardcore Wachowski-directed effects / but far more complex than vexed X-Men / I’m Phoenix reborn in man, intellect flexin’ / Cyclops, my third eye watch, through laser specs and / bend time, space, with wise grace, most high perfection”
His songs are best described as outsider rap, the assaulting, technical lyricism and eccentric humor of MF DOOM mixed with the jazzy yap and space-age inventiveness of Erykah Badu. His tapes are wildly schizophrenic, featuring a mix of borrowed production and original compositions. In one moment, he can be spraying saliva all over a slowed-down version of Timbaland’s beat for “Pass That Dutch,” and in the next, he can be clowning a scenester friend over the phone for bragging about an acquaintance’s new buddies in Odd Future.
For all his good-natured joshing of the Golf Wang, Tyler, The Creator and Zeroh have much in common — they’re singular, gruff-voiced artists who make music for themselves to enjoy. Another close analogue is avant-rappers Shabazz Palaces. Signed to Sub Pop early last year and billed as the Seattle indie rock label’s first hip-hop act, the enigmatic duo, led by former Digable Planets emcee Butterfly, garnered both critical accolades and the respect of audiences both in and outside the hip-hop world. Like Zeroh, they trade in dystopian, otherworldly textures, are often obtusely lyrical, and prefer to keep their music low-key. On paper, promoting a Shabazz Palaces record would seem like a bad idea, yet they were one of Sub Pop’s great success stories last year. Why couldn’t Zeroh have the same success? He’s younger, charming, and packs an incredibly versatile flow.
It’s a shame that more people don’t know about Zeroh. So think of the ZIP below as a “Greatest Hits” compilation, except Zeroh’s never had any “hits” in the conventional sense, and probably never will. Some of them are from his five mixtapes under his own name. Some of them are from albums his friends put out. Still others are loosies, rarities that haven’t found a home on an album yet, or have been wiped off the face of the internet altogether. I hope that you love and appreciate them as much as I do.
ZIP: Zeroh — The Bluffer’s Guide to Zeroh (Left-Click)
01 Zeroh – Barkpench [Loosie]
02 Zeroh – okay, the real intro [More Throwaways…]
03 Zeroh – Peace and Light (Juji) [G7 University]
04 Zeroh G7 – Very Rough [Elliot Blaqbird]
05 Jonwayne – Play Deader (feat. Zeroh) [This is False]
06 Zeroh – weoutchea [tape]
07 Zeroh – FKIT [awfulalterations]
08 Jonwayne – Experiment 17 (feat. Blqbrd) [I Don’t Care]
09 Zeroh G7 – I drank a lil’ bit (the fall) [Elliot Blaqbird]
10 Zeroh – FKTUP [awfulalterations]
11 Zeroh G7 – Discretion (Killa) [Elliot Blaqbird]
12 Zeroh & Chels – SolPlane (feat. AshtreJenkins)
13 Zeroh – astroburger [tape]
14 Zeroh – I was sad (old cryptic shit) [More Throwaways]
15 Zeroh – Shoes [Loosie]
16 Zeroh – Yea, i said it… fucka outro [More Throwaways…]