"I'm Zilla Rocca. I rap, produce, and write articles. I have my own Indie label, Three Dollar Pistol Music and put out music with my friends Curly Castro, Small Professor, and PremRock as our posse, Wrecking Crew. Me and Small Pro put out a group album as Career Crooks [last] year called Good Luck with That, where he did all of the beats, but I've been a producer, as well for 15 years. So, here's some of the most important albums to me, when I'm "behind the boards.'"
I. Handsome Boy Modeling School - So... How's Your Girl? (1999)
"I remember buying this album in 1999 and having no clue how any of these songs were made. I didn't start making beats for another three years or so, but this album never left my conciousness. [Dan The] Automator is one of my all-time favorite producers because he bounces between genres effortlessly, from Serge Gainsbourg stuff with Lovage, to Sci-Fi Fantasy Robot sh*t with Deltron , to the first Gorillaz album, to Dr. Octagon stuff, which is really bizarre and brilliant. He made me want to wear 20 different hats and aliases. In my entire Rap life, I've been in at least 10 different "groups," which I say loosely because most of them were just funny names me and someone else came up with to do something specifically bizarre; but Handsome Boy had Trip-Hop, hard lyrical sh*t, funny skits, and Experimental Proggy stuff. My dream is to, one day, make an album like this because you have to empty out every single trick in your arsenal, call in every favor, and have huge balls to attempt to make an album like So... How's Your Girl?"
II. J Dilla - Donuts (2006)
"I went through a heavy Soul/Funk/R&B phase all in the name of chopping up samples from like 2005-08. This was the dawn of music blogs, so I'd visit the same 5-10 sites, which were posting rare 45's. I'd also, go digging at the library or hit up the homies and we'd trade files of samples on our hard drives or I'd buy stuff on a whim, hoping there'd be gems on there. I started noticing how much meat was on the bone with Soul and R&B records—like, I would find a sample someone, like Kanye or Pete Rock flipped, then, another section of the same record that Jake One flipped. It made me realize the cheat code embedded in those kinds of sounds and why most of the best Rap beats ever made are built off those genres. Dilla mastered that on Donuts, obviously, and it's the best beat album ever 'cause most of the samples are Soul records. Plus, he made it okay to make chops that didn't line up, like pieces of a song that didn't fit together; he made that still feel right, even though, it was "wrong," if that makes sense."
III. The Clipse - Hell Hath No Fury (2006)
"This album made me fully realize how simple great beats are. I ended up catching a video of Marley Marl years later, where he re-created all of his biggest hits and how they had like, five sounds total: kick, snare, hi-hat, sample, and 808 bass. Maybe, he would add in a shaker or a separate drum break for extra thickness, but it helped me realize that less was more. And Hell Hath No Fury is that idea, but for the Cocaine Rap boom of the mid-2000's. Pharrell was definitely channeling Marley, [Boogie Down Productions], and Ultramagnetic [MC's] with those sparse arrangements. "Ride Around Shining" is perfect. "Hello New World." "Wamp Wamp." "Mr. Me Too." It's like the anti-Neptunes or N*E*R*D album—it's gritty, but modern 'cause they were still using keyboards and software. There's probably one or two samples total on that album, but it has a very haunted vibe to it—a hard trick to pull off with all live instruments."
IV. Wu-Tang Clan - The W (2000)
"A few years ago, when we made Wu-Tang Pulp, we patterned it after this album. It's the last true masterpiece of RZA production. When I flipped "Careful Click Click" as "The Boxcutter Went," I had to re-make that beat and construct it as "RZA," which gave me a chance to be in his headspace. It made me realize how he mastered unorthodox beats—like he and Prince Paul's M.O. is, "I'm going to take the weirdest, most outlandish sound or record and turn it into something great." The W is full of that: the drum fills on "Redbull," the beat switch on "The Jump Off," them rhyming straight over Isaac Hayes on "I Can't Go to Sleep." "Hollow Bones" is one of the best songs with no drums. "Jah World" sounds like it was recorded on VHS or something. It's such an impeccable example of RZA, before he became a full-fledged musician/director."
V. No I.D. (Cocaine 80s) - NO ALBUM
"I always forget that No I.D. is a Top 5 producer for me and I'm reminded every time I re-play the homie Trackstar The DJ's Primetime: A Rap Fan's Guide to No I.D. From his forgotten solo album from the late 90's, Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album) through JAY-Z's 4:44, he manages to somehow, be a classic type of producer, who flips samples with hard drums, but then, does Cocaine 80s and Vince Staples albums. He's like water. "Success" is the best JAY & Nas song. "Ghetto Dreams" is the last real Common BANGER. "Loco-Motive" is the last real Nas BANGER. "Metal Lungies" for Ghostface [Killah] with Sheek [Louch] & Styles P is pretty much, the birth of Wu-Block. And that's the same guy who did "Find Your Love" for Drake and "No Love Allowed" for Rihanna without completely switching up to being a Pop producer. He made an entire JAY-Z album with no club songs on purpose—the amount of respect and work you have to have put in to make JAY-Z agree to create like that is no joke. I love No I.D. because he doesn't have a defined sound; he's completely in service to the artist and the song. I feel like that's been my approach as a producer, too."
"I robbed DOOM for his motherf***in' Green Card.
I robbed Blueprint for his damn keytar.
I'm a crook with a deal.
Ayo, the bottom line is I'm a crook with a deal.
Nobody buys records, so I rob and steal.
I caught B. Dolan, his pockets were swollen.
I stuck Mega Ran for his Nintendo controllers.
I had Karma Kids takin' off their sh*t.
I need a new suit, so I robbed Warren Britt."
- Zilla Rocca on "Crook with a Deal" (Career Crooks)
Last year, South Philly emcee, producer, occasional music writer, and Noir-Hop/"Cheesesteak Rap" originator Zilla Rocca (@ZillaRocca) joined forces with long-time friend, frequent collaborator, and Wrecking Crew producer Small Professor (@smallpro) to release Good Luck with That as Career Crooks; undoubtedly, one of the strongest rapper-producer albums I've had the pleasure to hear in recent years. Career Crooks have since released an exclusive Bandcamp-only companion EP entitled Take What's Coming. Zilla has since released a lyrical armory of solo stand-alone singles and non-album tracks, a few of which, were premiered right here at The Witzard. Just this year, Zilla Rocca has let loose a hard-hitting remix of DJ Manipulator & Conway The Machine's 2016 single "2 Drums," "98 Avirex Flow," and "99 Triple 5 Soul Flow" on Three Dollar Pistol Music.
Not only those, but Zilla Rocca recently unleashed his inaugural GRIFT COMPANY EP alongside long-time friend and collaborator Curly Castro. However, Zilla isn't exactly done just yet... he and Smalls are currently prepping a 12-track Career Crooks remix album dubbed Thieving As Long As I'm Breathing coming to URBNET this upcoming Thursday, June 14th. Said Career Crooks remix album will feature brand new mixes from both Zilla Rocca & Small Professor, as well as John Morrison, Fresh Kils, Wino Willy & Rolled Gold, Shane Great, and DJ Manipulator. Zilla additionally, plans to release a 90's Boom-Bap-inflected mixtape called '96 Mentality, as well as a long-overdue solo album he's calling Future Former Rapper.