Image via ZeelooperZ/Instagram
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Ross Olson played Chief Keef’s “See Through” for his family on Xmas eve; they were only moderately horrified.
ZelooperZ has an affinity for the absurd. Take the music video for “Each and Every Moment,” which begins with a woman watering a plant that sprouts into ZelooperZ’s head. Elsewhere in the video, he can be seen moonlighting as a scientist dissecting a human brain, soaring through turbulent weather like Superman, and eating a plate of grilled piranha. Buried beneath the Lynchian-level surrealism lies an unofficial artistic mission statement. “I don’t ever close my eyes, these n***** grindin’ till the sun up / I’m the lightning that you see, I’m the night, I’m the thunder,” ZelooperZ spits over the cartoonishly buoyant production from Dilip.
Hailing from a neglected part of Detroit’s inner city, ZelooperZ’s approach to creating is fearless and chaotic; there’s seldom a beat he wouldn’t rap over, a color scheme that’s off-limits, or outfit combination too outlandish. Whether he’s styling Earl Sweatshirt in colorful garb for a New York Times spread or rapping upside down on an album cover, ZelooperZ’s creative risk-taking has made him one of the most interesting forces in music, art, and fashion, without letting his esteem go to his head.
“I’m not trying to be too serious because life is serious,” ZelooperZ says. “I don’t need to be serious. I just speak on what’s going on day-to-day. I just base it on pure emotion.”
ZelooperZ is an original member of Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade Records, the raucous group of MCs and producers known for their exuberance, clever wordplay, and gritty boom-bap soundscapes. ZelooperZ first connected with Brown by sending him music on Twitter. Now, the two are inextricably linked by the same wacky vocal antics and off-kilter production preferences. ZelooperZ credits Brown as a mentor who emboldened his adventurous spirit and carefree approach to making art.
“I was already confident, but when you talk about n***** like Danny Brown, who do they own thing regardless of what anybody else has to say, it’s not much you can tell me because I’m already not giving a f*ck,” ZelooperZ says. “What are you really gonna tell me? I never cared. If a motherf*cker told me I was trash, I wouldn’t give a f*ck.”
Rarely do two ZelooperZ albums share the same sonic footprint. His oddball rap opus from 2021, VanGogh’s Left Ear, stands as a masterclass in oscillating between the introspective (“Satellites”) and the maniacal (“Paranormal Snaptivity”) with a virtuosic ease. In 2022, he delivered Get WeT.Radio, a tender and silky tribute to his late father’s love for sultry R&B jams. As a vocalist, ZelooperZ shrieks and yelps, stretching the boundaries of his timbre in ways that sound occasionally deranged. But Get.WeT.Radio reveals a softer side of his artistry. Here he blends rapping with delicate crooning that conjures memories of both heartaches and swoons. “Being without you is a deal breaker / I’d rather rot,” he admits on the romantic finale, “Who U Love.”
ZelooperZ’s penchant for boldness extends to the blank canvas, where he’s made a name for himself as an accomplished painter under the moniker Moszel Offline. His background in drawing and pencil work are evident in the meticulous details crafted in his subjects, from the metallic indents that tinge off DOOM’s mask to the exasperated facial expression of an Alex DeLarge-like character. Subjects beam against his signature black backdrop, which enhances the vibrance of the color schemes, like a fully-formed manifestation of childhood chalk drawings. In addition to heading up album artwork for fellow Bruiser Brigade labelmates, ZelooperZ’s painting career has evolved into a profitable, commission-based venture where he collaborates openly with fans on project ideas.
“For the most part, I’m inspired by my fans and shit,” ZelooperZ explains. “They put me on a lot of shit, whether it’s pictures or subject matter. And then I would just learn little shit from them like what would look cool. They take from what I like and my tastes and they put their spin on it and I just go from there.”
ZelooperZ has little capacity for rest. His full-length follow-up to Radio is on the way, but to hold over anticipatory fans, the Detroit eccentric released the lean but explosive Might Not Make It in early January. The five-track EP marks another career milestone for Z: the first self-produced release in his catalog. He cites producing as something he’s flirted with in the past, but never had the confidence to fully pursue. The low-stakes nature of a Bandcamp-only EP–along with guest spots from rap friends Sushiboy Mexico and Young Coco–presented the perfect opportunity to commandeer the beatmaking duties himself.
The production is relatively skeletal and stripped-back, with disparate shards of sound collaging into a thrilling sonic atmosphere. Opening track “BacktoBacktobacktoback” sets the pace for the frenetic nature of the project, with a slithering synth loop. Elsewhere, the downtrodden “Whitney Hueston” is built around a deflating fire alarm, which dispatches intermittently between throbbing bass and bells. The project exudes an ineffable defiance, with ZelooperZ playing the role of depraved rockstar.
The best ZelooperZ projects have an underlying uneasiness to them, and Might Not Make It is no different. There’s never a shortage of ideas tossed around, from the mechanical vocal chops of “Telling U” to the whispered flows on “Harickjuku Barbie.” But it rarely feels overwhelming or forced. The unpredictability adds a sense of danger to the rockstar antics, while real human grievances lurk from beneath. “Shit that I see I really wish it didn’t transpire,” ZelooperZ grimly notes on “Whitney Hueston.”
Amidst all the discord, ZelooperZ remains grounded. He’s long challenged the scope of the contemporary rap vocalist in the same spastic breath as Young Thug. Fans appreciate these adventurous stylings too, as evidenced by his rapidly-growing side-hustle in art commissions and a successful solo tour last year, the first of his career.
“I feel like with art, like visual art, I feel like they have a lot of similarities because you could look at a painting and you can’t tell if a motherf*cker’s painting is trash,” ZelooperZ concludes. “You’re gonna have hella opinions about it but it’s never like a bad painting. As long as you gain your own fan base and your own following.”