“Hindsight 20-20 is Very Psychic:” An Interview with Zeroh

Will Schube speaks to the Los Angeles rap experimentalist about ancient spirituality, listening to more jazz as a kid, and the psychedelic influence on his new album BLQLYTE.
By    May 27, 2020

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Zeroh has been an integral part of the LA underground for the last decade or so, but his just-released BLQLYTE is astoundingly his second long-player. It’s astounding for a few reasons. First, his only official release before his LEAVING Records debut was Tinnitus, a shifty, raw, noise-record that occasionally cedes to Zeroh’s voice. Secondly, it’s coherent and thematically daring in a way few debuts are. There are aspects of BLQLYTE that play into the style of Tinnitus, but this new LP is an entirely different beast. It’s so different from his earlier work, in fact, that Zeroh considers it his debut. Perhaps it’s the psychedelics that have informed a fresh perspective, or maybe it’s his work with young jazz luminaries like Jamael Dean and Sharada Shashidhar. Regardless, BLQLYTE is a completely original entry in Zeroh’s discography, or the discography of any musician, for that matter.

While Zeroh grew enamored by the mutual respect between him and the young jazz cats taking over LA, he still relied heavily on his stable of beat-scene associates to help will BLQLYTE into existence. Jeremiah Jae’s fingerprints are all over the album, and AshTreJenkins provides the cover art. Jonwayne handles the mastering, and both Low Leaf and Busdriver’s FR/BLCK/PRS have features on the record. The album was created over six years, but it still feels urgently new. It taps into the Black diaspora, a yearning for connection that eludes many in modern society.

The influence of his peers landed most heavily in the way Zeroh understood himself. “Right before I met Jae, I was on some perfectionist shit. I was stopping myself from releasing things because I wanted it to be perfect, and Jonwayne helped me with that too,” he explains, before adding, “It was like, ‘Bro. Just let it hang. Whatever comes out of you, comes out of you.’ BLQLYTE is an urgently powerful declaration of Zeroh’s ascent. He’s been in LA’s music community for what seems like forever, but in a sense, the MC born Edwin Liddie Jr. has just arrived. — Will Schube

How have you been liking the reception to the new album so far?

Zeroh: It’s dope. I didn’t realize how many people were responding positively to it because I thought it was a really dark record, and people are like, “Oh man! We’re bumping your record right now.” It’s so weird. I’m like, “What? How are you bumping my record right now?” This is not the best time to be listening to cathartic-ass music. But I don’t know, maybe it is. Maybe it’s an appropriate backdrop.

Do you always treat your projects as a cathartic release, or is this in particular something you were working through?

Zeroh: I feel like my music has been becoming more and more cathartic. Until now, I didn’t know how to fully express how cathartic it was until I had my hands on the production, and that really makes it feel deep and dark. Before, I would source other shit or just work with what I have. This was the first fully realized vision that had a direction and a lot of inspiration.

When did you realize that you wanted to do all the production for this album?

Zeroh: I didn’t realize it until I was done. I definitely wanted to produce my own record – that’s just a flex that I really like, and I love producing music, but I’ve never done it myself. And at the same time, I entertained the thought of some beats that I got from homies, thinking, “Oh, this could really fit.” But at the end of it all, it’s just me.

I know some of these songs are at least six years old. At what point did you realize that this was becoming a full album, as opposed to you working on new music?

Zeroh: It was an album before I started working on it, I just didn’t know what the album was going to be. I thought conceptually it was going to be all implied, turn-up music. It was in modern hip-hop music form for most of it in my mind, but I wasn’t going to have any drums. I was going to have it bare, stripped-down because I didn’t want it to drop – I wanted it to keep rising, and people listening and waiting for the drop, but the drop is just the information. But it didn’t complete like that. As I held on to it and added layer after layer, it’s like how a croissant is made – you fold that shit a hundred times, put it in the fridge, take it back out, fold it again, and it creates these layers, these flakey layers. From conception, the album was going to be an album, I just didn’t know it was going to be this album.

Were you toying with different ideas? How did the concept of ego-death and some of the more spiritual and psychedelic themes come about?

Zeroh: They came about from my experience, but at the same time, I’m always remaking the same songs over-and-over. How to share it used to be so literal; it used to be “I did this, and I did that. I felt this, and I felt that.” But now, it’s more the feelings and the ideas that wafted from it. Not as literal, more figurative, more subconscious; it makes it feel a whole lot more like how I felt, as opposed to telling a straight-ahead story.

I’ve noticed, as some of the press have written up about the record, people really cling to the psychedelics and the hallucinations on the record. Are you almost reacting the other way now, where it’s like “Sure, that’s a part of the story,” but you don’t want that to be the whole story?

Zeroh: Well, there’s an expanse on it. I was having all these experiences at the same time that I was having others that I wasn’t aware of. As I started to dig deep, I tried to uncover these feelings to express them in music. The album took on this other shape where it was telling me what it was about, and all of this catharsis and experience and trauma that I was unfolding and peeling back was actually exposing something a little bit more along the lines of ancestral ties, trauma from past genetics, and circumstance. I started to feel more of a connection to something that led to me doing psychedelics, trying to go for self-discovery because I didn’t know who the fuck I was. I was just like, “Who am I?” It gave me a hard reset when I did psychedelics, it made me want to find out.

Part of this record is asking a lot of questions about who I am, what that means, and excerpts of my grandfather and his feelings about growing up as a black man in society, and all of the troubles and the woes he would face so I wouldn’t have to. When you’re young, and you’re not experiencing bigotry on a daily basis because you’re sheltered from that, you start to peel back layers of your subconscious, like “Oh, that’s why I’m afraid of money. That’s why I’m afraid of all of these things.” Throughout the record I evolve. It starts off very amorphous, very strange, and it’s trying to hold itself together because I dosed myself, but by the end I’m solid. I’m trying to heal from this.

These are the things I’m dealing with on a regular, day-to-day basis, and I’m not fucking with that shit anymore. It starts off whole, it breaks apart, and then comes back together again. It’s a big wave, but the sound is honest. That’s a big allure, people are like “Whoa! This is crazy! This is cool!” The aesthetics of it is what makes it really interesting, but I think overall, what the story is telling is something a little deeper than just that feeling. I’m not just doing drugs.

It’s an entire history wrapped up in an album.

Zeroh: And it’s told in a way that somebody that’s on psychedelics might experience it, so it’s out of time and there’s no linearity to it. Well, there is, but you don’t feel that until it’s done. It’s like “Oh shit! Here he is again, back in time.”

Growing up in the L.A./Long Beach area, were you aware of what was happening in Leimert Park? What was your involvement in rap growing up?

Zeroh: That’s the crazy thing too, genetically and spiritually I was drawn to those sorts of things in my own little world. I was trying to rap like Busdriver, I was trying to rap like these cats, but I had never heard of them before. I was not exposed to Project Blowed. I turned eighteen when Low End Theory was starting to turn up, right at the beginning of that. By that time, it had gone through Good Life, it went through Project Blowed, then Sketchbook, and then Low End Theory. It had gone through this metamorphosis already, but I had already caught wind – my spirit was already gravitating towards it. It pulled me in.

I was making weird music and writing weird raps, being like, “I’m on the cutting edge,” when there was this whole culture of it happening in my backyard and I had no idea. It played this subliminal role. A lot of my experiences in life, when I look back, hindsight 20-20 is very psychic. It’s not like I knew, but I knew. I would get into different cultures like skateboarding, and when I caught wind of Busdriver, I was like “Oh fuck! This is already happening. I’m late to the party,” having to study and catch up.

Also, the spirit of Leimert Park with all the players that played on the album, they’re all from that area. The younger generation, who was listening to me act a fool, heard me and saw me as a part of it already and came to support me and add to the instrumentation and the jazz element of the record. Nobody is really talking about the jazz element of the record.

It’s serious. Jamael is one of my favorite players in the world. I love him, he’s unbelievable.

Zeroh: Same. That dude is so cool. I’m mixing his record right now.

That last one was so phenomenal.

Zeroh: For sure. He’s such a good spirit. When I met these kids, they were already in fully formed, amazing, highly expressive jazzed places. They’re just cool to me. I look at them like, “Oh shit! They don’t give a fuck about me. They’re tight as fuck.” To know that they were actually fans of my music was like, “What the fuck. Oh my god. This is a match made in Heaven.” I’m really grateful to them for gassing me because I didn’t care about the record, I didn’t really give a fuck. I was just like, “This is some weird little thing I’m doing. I know it’s important, but whatever. Who cares?” But they really cared, they gassed me to finish it up.

Were you raised on jazz and exposed to it? How has that influence seeped in over the years?

Zeroh: Man, it’s crazy. Another sidekick, wafting-type deal. My mom is an anointed singer, she can sing circles around most people. She was the elite in the choir. With me growing up, I really stopped going to church super early because I wasn’t trying to wake up on Sunday morning, but my mom would just sing around the house. She never forced me to sing though. She actually asked me a couple of times, but I was really shy and only liked to do things on my own terms. But my dad, he learned how to play the bass before he learned his ABCs, and he played jazz in the West Indies when he was part of a band with his stepfather and his brother. I came up with my dad always playing the bass; we’d have CDs all over the house, and I just listened to every goddamn thing.

My love for jazz was inherent. I didn’t know it was jazz, I didn’t know what the fuck it was – I just liked it. Listening to the music and getting to know different players and albums, that shit came recently – I just found out about Madlib. I was like, “A hip-hop head that loves jazz!” I didn’t know that was a thing. The way that I found out about culture was due to the internet, so I was like “Oh shit! This producer I really love, loves jazz and plays all kinds of instruments. He’s kind of like my dad.”

Do you feel connections to the West Indies and where your father grew up, or is that not really part of your relationship with him?

Zeroh: It’s more-so access. I don’t have the ability to go over there and connect with a lot of my family that’s still there. Some of them have moved to the East Coast, and we still have land out there. It’s one of my dreams to make my money here and then take it over there with me and build a permaculture farm, but it goes back to that spirituality – I’m connected to it. I played video games and I played Tekken, and there was this character Eddy Gordo who had dreadlocks and shit, and my dad goes by “Eddy” as well. My dad taught me how to do handstands, and I would see capoeira, and I saw that it was connected to this African culture of Santeria, Oshun, Ogun, and all this really deep African spiritual shit.

The West Indies is where colonialism landed in America, it’s something that connects people. I know it was a port for a lot of slave trade shit, and I think about it often. My dad doesn’t know a lot about what went down there because the relationship that happened in the West Indies can be muddy. He has 13 brothers and sisters that he knows of – it’s the wild. The Wild West Indies. Whenever I went there, when my dad would take me out there, there was a lushness – mangoes in the street. After I went there and came back, I was on my Bob Marley kick, and I didn’t want to not talk that way. I have this spiritual connection to it that I hanker for, I want to expound it. I’m on this capitalist shit right now, trying to figure this game out so I can free myself up to go and actually reconnect to it.

I’ve spent time in Brimstone Hill and Kitts, overlooking the whole island – where the cannons are, where they had slaves to grind up sugarcane, and my memory of it is very rich and a lot of that went into it. I’m speaking in Patois on some of the album, there are certain things in my language that I can’t let go of because that’s how my dad used to talk to me when I was young. It’s in there, it’s just not blatant. It’s not me telling a story about it as much as I’m using it to express myself. It just made sense for what I was doing.

Some of my favorite L.A. artists are involved on this album – AshTre does the art, Jeremiah Jae’s on there, Sharada does some vocals . What’s it like being a part of a community that’s so talented and inspiring?

Zeroh: It’s surreal. When I heard of Jeremiah Jae, I heard all of his music and saw his level of output. I was an immediate fan. I have this thing where I go into immediate fandom, like “Oh my god. This motherfucker is the truth. Holy shit! Oh, I wish I could work with this dude.” This huge desire built up in me, and then by natural circumstances, I wind up usually finding these people, working with these people, or meeting these people. Sometimes they’re what-thefuck-ever, but in Jeremiah Jae’s case, he was my brother. It felt like I had just found family. It was like “Oh shit bro. You’re my cousin. What?! We’re so alike.”

He comes from a pretty rich jazz background too – Sharada, Jamael, it’s more people to learn from. In my mind, I spar with the idea of them and grow in certain ways. Jae really showed me that I was limitless. Right before I met him, I was on some perfectionist shit. I was stopping myself from releasing things because I wanted it to be perfect, and Jonwayne helped me with that too. It was like, “Bro. Just let it hang. Whatever comes out of you, comes out of you. You can shape it up and try to make it nice and all of that, but how long do you polish that diamond until it’s ground to dust? You might just let that shit go raw because in the meantime, time waits for no man.” I was enthralled by how much dope music he could make, and how quickly he made me step up my production game. He made me step up my bars. I was doing all of these theatrics, and he had me on bars.

Being a part of it, it’s surreal. Sharada made me go, “Damn. Maybe I should sing more. I can kind of sing. Maybe I should run with this.” She’s a trained jazz vocalist, and I’m behind her trying to do what she’s doing. I don’t know how they see me, but as I’m growing into this, it’s starting to feel like we’re all on the map. Maybe I was looking at things from my personal perspective for so long, just looking at individuals – there’s a whole community of very interesting, creative individuals, and we’re all building and working together, even if we don’t know it. We’re catching the air around us in Los Angeles, and even the locality has been outsourced to the internet. We’re all on the internet too.

Instead of a peak, this looks like a new beginning for you. Is that the way you feel?

Zeroh: Yeah. I feel like this whole time has been along the lines of a cultivation process. At the time, when I wanted everything to be perfect, I thought I was on some shit because I knew how to think it perfect. I knew how to put in the effort to make it perfect, and then I was just like “Damn. Time waits for no man. I’m just going to let this shit out raw.” When I let out the raw, I realized my abilities and where I could actually take it as I grow.

This album, I’m still sitting on it a little bit, but after so many takes and tries, I perfected my processes of gaining vocal ability and flexibility. I actually have something that I can share now. When I make music, it’s not really heady, it’s more of a feeling, and I have all of this ability now to back me up when I go in there, on the fly. You get your chops up. As a jazz musician, “you get your chops up.” You’re in there shedding in the studio, over and over just so you can go to the show and kill it with all of your dexterity and ability, so you’re free. You’re not trying to be perfect; you’ve just run through these lines so many times that now you speak the language, and now it just flows out of you in a beautiful way. Without realizing it, that’s what I was doing. It still feels like the beginning; it feels like this whole time I was performing in a cemetery to dead people, becoming the Duppy Conqueror. Did you ever hear that story?


Zeroh: I want to say it was Bob Marley. I might be wrong, but I believe it was the Wailers – they wanted to do a bunch of shit and play in clubs, but their teachers were like, “No. You need to have so much practice that this is boring to you, so that when you go live, you’re so rehearsed and understanding of the material that it gives you wings.” They would perform at cemeteries, and that’s why they called them the Duppy Conquerors, because they’d be trying to bring the dead back to life, running it over-and-over-and-over.

I didn’t realize that I was doing that until the album was over, and I was like, “Goddamn. Now I’ve mixed four, five, six, ten different records now too. I know all the trappings of that shit. I’ve met a bunch of singers,” and I’ve become a better singer during the course of working the album. It’s a new beginning. I realized after I finished the record that I didn’t know shit before I got into it. I thought I knew what the record was going to be, I thought I knew who I was, and really, it’s still a question. It’s all just infinite potentials. I said it’s just the beginning, but hell, the next one could just be the beginning too. It’s a constant reset and rebirth. Learn something new every day, stay a baby – culture is a baby. Even as far as we’ve accomplished shit, culture is still a baby. We can be in space right now.

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