Career Crooks releasedGood Luck With Thatthis past week. In honor of the event, Zilla Rocca and Small Professor are taking over the site for today. Here, Zilla gets grilled by Small Pro.
What’s your favorite album version of Ghostface Killah?
Zilla Rocca:It depends what kind of Ghostface you want at the moment. Super raw, emotional slang doctor: Ironman. Mastering language over the best beats: Supreme Clientele. Hilarious drunken uncle at the summer cookout: Pretty Toney LP. Superb crime author: Fishscale. Pouring out his heart to women while defiling them: Ghostdeini Wizard of Poetry. This is brutal. Ironman is still my favorite album ever made, but the best album version of Ghost is still Supreme Clientele because “Mighty Healthy” is the perfect Ghostface song.
What’s your favorite album version of Jay-Z?
Zilla Rocca:For the longest, I was a Jay traditionalist: Reasonable Doubt or Blueprint. But lately I’ve been bumping Vol. 1 a lot and realizing how incredible dude was on that album. He was still competing with Nas and Big, and Roc-a-fella hadn’t defined themselves yet, so there’s the clunky Bad Boy knockoff songs, but then there’s “Where I’m From” and “A Million and One Questions.” He was crazy slick and still not too far removed from the crack dealing. That era of Jay is great too because you get Preemo, Ski Beatz, and Sauce Money on the album, three guys I think he had the best chemistry with before Just Blaze/Kanye/Neptunes/Timbo. Plus, Teddy Riley produced “The City is Mine” and fuckin’ Chad Hugo played the yacht rock saxophone on there!
This isn’t a question, but I just realized we could now do a Career Crooks/Shadowboxers crossover event. With cover art like the Liquid Swords cover. Don’t mind me, I just smoked.
Zilla Rocca:That’s the smartest thing you’ve ever said.
For a seemingly busy guy (job, wife, and child), you maintain a pretty (yearly) consistent musical output. Is there anything in particular you’ve learned over the years that keeps you artistically steady?
Zilla Rocca:It’s just been a real habit of mine since 2005 where I did something hip hop related every single day. Once you do that for almost 10 years in a row, it’s really hard just to shut it off. But I was starting a family and I also wanted to know what it was like just not to be doing rap. Like that De La line, “Everybody wants to be hot but it’s about if you can stand being cold or not.” I consciously wanted to see what that experience was like. The worst advice rap people have been told is to never sleep, always grind hard, etc., but all the people who do that go fucking insane, even after they achieve their goals. Burnout is a real thing in any job or practice. You need to step off, something most rap people are terrified to do.
It was weird at first to force myself not to go make shit and just lay on the couch with my wife and baby. But it gave me the confidence to realize that I’ve been rhyming for almost 20 years and been making beats for damn near 15 years so I had to trust that I wouldn’t all of sudden become a wack piece of garbage if I didn’t rap or make a beat for six months. Biggie hated being in the studio and made two of the best albums ever, so it’s all about being precise and knowing how to maximize your time. Now I bang out songs in 15-20 minutes because that’s literally the only time I have to record in an empty house.
Favorite performance of yours?
Zilla Rocca:Live performance—me and PremRock at the Beauty Bar in Vegas, freestyling with DJ Halo backing us. Our show before that, there were literally three people in the crowd in New Mexico. The Vegas show was outdoors on Tuesday night for Nickel Beer night and the place was CRACKING! We rhymed over “Da Rockwilder,” “This is How We Do,” it was magnetic. On wax, my favorite performance is this joint “Reckless Driving” from like ’07-’08 over the Dilla beat by that name. ‘Cause I only ever performed it live maybe twice, but it was one of those joints where you write it really fast, come up with the hook fast, and it’s like the perfect straight line from the initial idea to the final recording. I found the CD recently. I put it on and just kept replaying that joint. I wasn’t fully developed as an artist yet back then, but that song and that performance was the beginning of not being totally wack.
Favorite beat of mine?
Zilla Rocca:Fuck man, you realize how many goddamn beats you’ve sent me over the years? Easily 200-300 beats dude. And then your bitch ass has put out 8,000 beats. The beat I always wish was mine though was “Chambray” with Elucid. My favorite beat of yours that I’ve rapped on is “Newlywed” off our album. You rarely just loop shit. I remember when so and so stole that beat from you and played it in my car, I was fucking STUCK off that shit and he wouldn’t give it up. Then a year later, I asked him to play it for me again and his bitch ass STILL hadn’t recorded shit to it. So finally I asked you for the beat and had “Newlywed” in the bag within a week or so, complete with all the homies on there.
What rapper are you influenced by whose effect on you listeners might not easily pick up on?
Zilla Rocca:It goes through waves. I went through a big Q-Tip phase before, a doseone phase, an Ishmael Butler phase. T3 from Slum. Heavy heavy Raekwon and Ghostface at times. I think most recently, I’ve been purposefully channeling early Method Man when he was owning shit with his sing song style. As I’ve gotten older, I realized how much more emphasis I’ve placed on delivery and melody, but not in an autotune Drake way, just little flashes within my verses and hooks. “Money Change Hands” off our EP Take What’s Coming is a great example of that.
You are a thief with good taste…in TV shows. Talk a little about how TV/film influences your music.
Zilla Rocca:For a long time, I was getting all of my ideas from tv and movies: album titles, song titles, little pieces of dialogue I’d turn into hooks and rhymes. Now that I don’t watch as much TV, I realized—being an only child who was a latch key kid—how much TV I’ve really watched in my life, from Sportscenter to countless full seasons of hundreds of shows. It’s kind of depressing in a way, but I miss just going to see an arthouse flick on a Tuesday night or going to the video store and grabbing some shit I’d never heard of because the artsy film dude who worked there recommended it. I’ll tell you what, when Netflix first came out and they had tons of movies, I was locked down burning through TONS of flicks. Like three DVD’s at a time type of plan and all three were movies that ended up being sampled heavily.
Favorite sports writer/personality?
Zilla Rocca:Right now, it’s Amin El Hassan, Coach David Thorpe, Big Wos and all of the True Hoop guys. Zach Lowe and Kevin Arnovitz. My homie Trey Kerby on The Starters. I’ve been feeling bad about how much I don’t stay up on baseball and how the NBA has become my favorite sport, and I realized it’s because I love the people who covered basketball now more than baseball. I mean as a kid I lived for Baseball Tonight—I never missed it. But baseball people now are either former players who are typically bros, or super advanced sabermetric dudes, or old traditionalist baby boomer blowhards. Basketball guys are more relatable to me now, so I spend a lot more time listening to them on podcasts or reading their pieces.
What do you think about Durant going to the Warriors, now that they are waiting on the winner of Cavs/Boston after going undefeated on their path to the Finals?
Zilla Rocca:Kevin Durant destroyed the league and will only ever win cheap rings. As I get older, integrity and character mean a lot to me, so that’s why I’ve taken an public anti-Sam Hinkie stance because it’s a very cynical approach to the sport. Durant’s approach was also cynical, and I get why he did it. I used to love the Warriors when I was a kid—Tim Hardaway is still my favorite player ever. But the Warriors now represent the worst parts of Silicon Valley/gentrification/capitalism, and the playoffs, the finals, and the league are worse off with them. I love Draymond to death and I’m rooting for Lebron to bust their ass every year and hope that the Warriors become the Braves of the ’90s—1 title while dominating everyone.
Where do you rank our album on your favorites-of-stuff-you-did list?
Zilla Rocca:I’m not that type of rapper who says “MY NEW SHIT IS CRAZY!!! YO IT’S THE BEST!” I have great memories with every album I’ve ever made. I will say our shit is #1 in terms of instant feedback and connecting with people fresh out of the box. I’m so blown away and humbled that people are loving this album this soon. I’m used to more of a slow burn, or people just RTing the shit, but people I’ve known for a long time plus people who are brand new to me are being very vocal about very specific things about this album, and it’s not even a week old. I can’t believe this South Philly album at heart works with people all over the world. We did it yo.