The Special Technique of 5 O' Clock Shadowboxin'
You'd be hard-pressed to find two rappers more diametrically opposed than Zilla Rocca and the man known as Weezy F. (Scott Fitzgerald) Baby. The two practically exist in different galaxies. Wayne, an iced out, ecstasy popping maniac from the streets of New Orleans, practically extra-terrestrial in his weirdness. Zilla, an underground rapper (if such a thing still exists) from South Philly, a place where there's only so weird you can get before someone smacks you upside the head to tell youse to stop dressing like a freak. On paper, the only things the two have in common are that they both make rap music and no longer drink Cristal, instead only "pouring it on white bitch's heads" (maybe).
But despite this obvious polarity, Zilla and Wayne have a few mutual similarities. No, there aren't any pictures of Zilla making out with Beat Garden co-founder Big O, (let's hope), instead he and Wayne both possess a burning desire for greatness, the ability to harness the power of the Internet for self-promotion and the fact that they've both gotten much much better in a very short amount of time. When I first wrote about Zilla, a year and half ago, he was good, but hadn't yet transcended his influences. Obviously in thrall to the GZA, Aesop Rock, and a little Tom Waits, he could flow just fine, but hadn't yet crafted a style capable of taking him beyond being just another solid but unspectacular MC trying to gain a foothold in the ever tenuous industry. Still, the debut was good enough to rightfully garner a lot of praise in this weird corner of the Internet, as did his follow up, last year's Clean Gun's Living in Harmony mixtape.
But about six months ago, Zilla ascended to the next level, suddenly aware how to best unleash the force of his surly growl, penning sharper, funnier punchlines and mastering song construction versus merely writing a strong 16. The change first became evident on the group's World Domination EP (you can still download it here for free) but each song since has been a dramatic improvement on the next. Like Wayne, Zilla lives in the studio and has been steadily releasing a stream of free cuts onto the Internet over the past few months, all of which have been very good. His latest, "High Noon," is flat-out great, easily the best rap song I've heard in this young year (and the only thing that's even come close to getting me to turn off Fela.)
Laced with a beat by Douglas "Fresh Cherries From Yakima" Martin, "High Noon" is the lead single from an EP the duo plan to record under the name 5'0 Clock Shadowboxers. Rocking a Sergio Leon-esque sample lifted from Los Angeles seven-piece, Spindrift, the instrumental sounds like a "psychedelic shootout in a Western town on a distant planet," (Spindrift's on-point description). Zilla comes in with guns blazing, with a cadence full of sneering Clint Eastwood vengeance. 99 percent of the time, the phrase "underground rap" is just short-hand for saying too nerdy, boring and didactic to ever break out. And obviously Zilla and Clean Guns will never sell a million records, drink syrup out of platinum cups or collaborate with Zac Effron, but quietly and under the radar, Zilla Rocca has become one of the best new rappers to emerge in recent years. Let's just hope he never collaborates with Fat Joe.