Because the Internet: The Unoriginal Shangozeropoint

Max Bell’s hall closet is cluttered with heat Rap is one of the few genres where listeners expect an artist to write his or her own lyrics. Biting is grounds for eviscerating rebuke, and, in...
By    October 1, 2014

Max Bell’s hall closet is cluttered with heat

Rap is one of the few genres where listeners expect an artist to write his or her own lyrics. Biting is grounds for eviscerating rebuke, and, in some circles, banishment. Those with ghostwriters are exposed like [insert ‘fappening’ celebrity]. So it goes that rap songs and rap discussions have always been punctuated by boasts of originality.

Regardless of whether or not you feel the aforementioned rhetoric remains prevalent in 2014, rap has always evolved because of those who’ve come before. No matter how you flip it, a sample is still a sample, music originally made by someone else. And despite how much your favorite rapper may claim ‘original’, his or her music didn’t develop in a vacuum devoid of beats, rhymes, and life. They inevitably and undoubtedly heard rap growing up, bits of bars and styles they consciously or unconsciously absorbed, adopted, and eventually used to forge their own style. L.A. based rapper shangozeropoint knows this. Moreover, he openly admits it.

Thus, the 19-year-old Fort Lauderdale, FL native titled his first official full-length Nothing is Original. The cover is a blatantly obvious take on The Chronic, the title derived from an Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist) TED talk in which he advises artists to steal from their inspirations. After listening to Nothing is Original, it’s fair to say that shangozeropoint is both a wordsmith and kleptomaniac with good taste.

Shangozeropoint’s shameless, transparent theft is best evinced by the record’s production, nearly all of which comes from other people’s projects (e.g. Jonwayne and zeroh). Unintentional “O.P.P.” references aside, soliciting beats from producers and/or making your own is of course laudable and closer to ‘original’. But there’s something to be said for borrowing beats from your favorite rappers/producers and making them your own. Before mixtapes became synonymous with the words ‘free album’, committing lyrical homicide over someone else’s work was something to aspire to. It’s also how I remember the mixtapes I enjoyed in the mid-aughts. (Two of my favorite Freddie Gibbs songs feature classic, widely rapped over beats.) To that end, shangozeropoint’s ability to cull beats from an array of producers and arrange them in a way that feels both organic and relatively seamless elevates his work above those mixtapes, many of which felt slapped together in the wee blunted hours of the morning.

Lyrically, shangozeropoint is both practiced and promising. If your rap merit metric involves interlocking multisyllabic words, then he should be on your radar. Over banging zeroh beats on “Nirvana Tides” and “Fire Starter,” he delivers dizzying rhymes with auspicious polish. Elsewhere, he proves capable of exercising other varied cadences  with chameleonic proficiency. The tropes run the gamut from women, weed, and craft to ethereal sojourns and personal enlightenment. In other words, these are third-eye raps for those (rightfully) wary of the words ‘third-eye.’

For now, shangozeropoint has yet to fully synthesize his influences. But that’s the partially the point of Nothing is Original, and part of its charm. On “6 Feet Deep” you can hear the Kendrick Lamar-like inflection. The Doom influence surfaces in several lines on “Mercurian Blue” (i.e. “I think the kid rhymes fine when the lime shines”). Then again, shangozeropoint is an avowed Jonwayne stan. The flashes of villain mask might really be flashes of the open-toed Blowedian. Regardless, any and all raps that smack of shangozeropoint’s influences are clear homage, not imitation. There is a difference. It takes a discerning and gifted rapper to make the distinction.

Despite the album’s 22 tracks, it never becomes unwieldy. That being said, the skits with the computerized quips from Iphone’s Siri wear a little thin on repeat listens. You could also argue that because these skits often expose shangozeropoint’s sources, the final product is devalued to some degree. You could also argue that this enhances your listening experience. Then again, that’s only if you want to argue.

There’s no telling what the results will be when shangozeropoint is furnished with beats that have never been rapped over. For all I know, he may very well continue to rip zeroh beats until zeroh decides to work with him. Whatever the case, he’s beginning to pop up in the local scene, having recently performed at the Airliner. With his professed love for Low End Theory and his skill set, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the bill for a Wednesday sometime soon. If he does, it won’t be original. Many a rapper has come before; and now the glasses and the locks will be familiar.

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