Chris Daly’s ringtone is the Alec Baldwin voicemail.
Three things are immediately obvious on Take What’s Coming, the latest EP from Career Crooks.
1. Zilla Rocca his reached new levels at rapping.
2. Small Pro has cemented his spot as the closest thing you can find in Philly to the young Robert Diggs, perfecting a noir style.
3. Zilla might just leave the best voicemails in the game.
Career Crooks are Philly’s own, Zilla Rocca and Small Professor, members themselves of the larger Wrecking Crew collective. Their years of collaborating make for superb chemistry, distilling that cheesesteak noir style to its purest essence. Tense string samples and belligerent drum machines set the mood. The new dad Zilla spits some of his most densely packed and complicated rhymes yet, but leaves ample room for the jokes.
After the voicemail and instrumental intro of “It’s Coming,” the dastardly duo get straight to business with their mission statement, “Career Crooks Theme.” Following an interview snippet of what sounds like an old school hustlerette explaining, “Who cares what people think I am? Forget that. I don’t care. I know. It don’t matter. It never has,” shit gets real. Lines like, “My head is bigger than that dude that plays the Mountain” and “rocking Johnny Quest turtlenecks” pepper the track while Small Pro keeps it sinister.
“Money Change Hands” just might be my favorite Zilla track since at least “Fake Surfers 2” and maybe even “Four Speed Interlude.” Small provides the bouncy bass line and barroom piano beat to match Zilla’s mood and flow before turning on a dime roughly two-thirds through the track, dropping in some horns and keys to replace the peppier intro. Suffice to say, it works like a temp during hiring season.
“Bourbon Generals” continues down the ominous rabbit hole, Zilla coming as close to sounding unhinged as he can, alternating between an increasingly angered growl and whispered chorus, while NYC’s PremRock makes the most of the album’s only guest appearance. The title of the instrumental, “Escapism,” pretty much says it all, the diminutive teacher proving he can stand among the tallest in the beat game.
Without Zilla’s vocals, SP succinctly demonstrates the aforementioned neo-noir philosophy: dark and foreboding, drawing from dime store detective novels depicting hard boiled gumshoes and gin soaked fatales, all with a distinctly Philly flair. You either know your jawns or you don’t. The Closer “I Found Out” comes all too quickly, a sharp guitar lick cementing Zilla’s tale of making it through the day-to-day of a dog-eat-dog existence. The boys wisely end as they began, with a second voice mail from Rocca to Pro, thus bringing it all back to footwear and proving that no matter where you go, there you are.