Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"Favors Are Bad News:" A Comprehensive All-around Breakdown for Zilla Rocca's Future Former Rapper (Producers, Emcees, Etc. Edition)

"I first met Zilla, barely out of college, downing bottles of malt liquor and idiotically, drunkenly throwing them into darkened stairwells at his old Catholic high school in South Philly. He was aligned his former crew then, one half of a Rap group called Clean Guns, attempting to start a fledgling label in an underground climate that seemed inhospitable and rebarbative to anyone trying to figure out what Boom-Bap would sound like 20 years in the future. Zilla could always rap and produce, but he hadn't found a voice or character that allowed him to channel what eventually reached its (27-inch) zenith on Future Former Rapper—believe it!

Starting with the 5 O'Clock Shadowboxers project, he's refined an aesthetic akin to Raymond Chandler raised on Raekwon, splitting the difference between James Ellroy and Guru sneering at rivals that they're paranoid because they're sons like Elroy. One of the reasons why I started POW was to offer a wayward station for the weird and original artists who didn't necessarily fit into prevailing trends or gimmicks. Zilla was too young for the Def Jux era, but arrived before Griselda, closer to the lost generation that emerged with Ka and Roc Marci, who offered righteous paths that illuminated the wrong routes that people long had been running. Future Former Rapper is as South Philly as a cannoli; it's skeptical and caustic, obsessed with creative mortality, poignantly written and filled with the perfect amount of poison. It understands that the future is always informed by the past and the desire to correct those irrevocable mistakes therein."

- Jeff Weiss (POW Recordings)

001. "Detroit Diamonds" (Prod. By Messiah Musik)

Messiah Musik: "I believe, Zilla originally reached out to me about this effort back around 2014, after Armand Hammer's Furtive Movements dropped. I was glad to hear we were mutual fans of one another and happy to help with the soundscape for this. I can only take so much credit for this one... but I found it extremely fitting that Zilla chose it, since it's a running track in the tradition of a lot of great Ghostface Killah joints; "Big Girl" from the album Fishscale, being a personal favorite. Goes without saying that Zilla laced this one and I was impressed/honored that it was used to kick off Future Former Rapper."

002. "Microwaved Vendettas" (Prod. By Small Professor)

Small Professor: "This beat was originally slated for [Wrecking Crew's] Wu-Tang Pulp (2012) however, Zilla told me at the last second that it wasn't going to make the cut, but I'm glad that it found a home here."

003. "Now You Can't Leave" (Prod. By steel tipped dove)

steel tipped dove: '"Now You Can't Leave" is a beat I sent as [part of] a beat pack to Zilla. He told me it kinda centered the album and he built out from there. That sh*t BANGS! I really love that song! Zilla killed it and the whole album!! I hope tons and tons of people hear it!!!"

004. "Gunshot Jazz" (Prod. By Zilla Rocca)

Zilla Rocca: "With "Gunshot Jazz," I had both the beat and song done previously for projects that either never dropped or were rejected. As I was arranging the album, I didn't feel the need to inject a lot of my own beats into the album, but whatever beat I chose, it had to be a BANGER. I was going back through my beats and felt like this joint would be strong enough to hang with the other producers. And it reminded me of the first 5 O'Clock Shadowboxers album, The Slow Twilight, we did in 2009, sonically. So, I wanted to touch on that style on Future Former Rapper just to cover all of my bases with styles I've flipped over the years. I found the rhymes and hook in the stash and they fit perfectly. Plus, the title, "Gunshot Jazz," was a line I said on the first song on the last Shadowboxers album that I always wanted to use again. So, it all fit together perfectly."

005. "Make The Sickness, Sell The Cure" Feat. Curly Castro (Prod. By William J. Sullivan)

William J. Sullivan: "I met Zilla at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, where we both attended college. At the time, he was in a group with my best friends, Noah [Goldstein] & Starkey ("Name On The Buckle.") This was probably around 15 years ago. After that, we just clicked as friends under music, not just Hip-Hop. I was heavily involved in the Philly Metal & Hardcore scene, at that point, and Zilla was a walking Rap encyclopedia, so it was very interesting to make music together.

I believe, I started the beat, while I still lived in Brooklyn and I could never find the right vocal to fit, so I shelved it for a while. Later, I was working on a project of my own and sent him a bunch of the ideas I had, one of which was "Make The Sickness..." He liked it, so I said that him and Castro could do whatever they wanted on it. After a few emails back-and-forth, they were done the vocals, I switched up the arrangement a little bit and that was that.

Production-wise, I wrote and tracked everything in Logic Pro. NI Battery, BFD3, Heavyocity Damage, and EastWest RA handled drums and percussion, all kinds of weird Virtual Studio Technologies for keys, NI Massive on bass, and I played/tracked most of the string parts at my current space in California. I used Kontakt for the cello and bass parts because pitch shifting my violin sounded awful. Looking back, I wish I tried to use a bow on an electric bass... next time, I guess. Lastly, I believe, this version of the song was mixed in Pro Tools.

It wasn't until the album was almost done that Zilla told me "Make The Sickness..." was on it. He then, told me Starkey had a song on it, which got me really excited. It's rare to go this long in the music industry and work with people you are personally so close to. At least, it's a rare opportunity for me. I always dream about the day me and all of my old friends get together and freely make some sh*t like we did when we were younger."

Curly Castro: "This was a Hell of a blade to sharpen. Bill being a long-time friend/collaborator of Zilla's, the work was a long time coming and way overdue. Bill deals with original compositions and self-made instrumentation, which leads to BOOM-bastic results. I remember Zilla wasn't feeling my Caribbean-styled hook at first, lol, but I said, "TRUST MI, NUH-man!!!!" And he did lol and now, we have an immortal banga."

006. "Three Romans" Feat. Curly Castro (Prod. By steel tipped dove)

steel tipped dove: '"Three Romans," I sent as part of a beat pack and was so stoked to hear he made a joint with Curly Castro over one of my joints 'cause I'm such a fan of both of them and I love the way the song tells a unique and true story. [It's] so awesome and tells a story in a really cool way."

Curly Castro: "Zilla went to Roman Catholic high school and that school has a star-eyed lineage in terms of players it produced. Zilla took on the fates of three particular Romans: Eddie Griffin, Rasual Butler, and Marvin Harrison. I took the title in an idyllic sense and talked about three "Romans" I followed coming up: Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, and Charles Smith. I detailed the tragedy that was [The] Knicks vs. Bulls in the 90's."

007. "Favors Are Bad News" Feat. Armand Hammer (Prod. By Disco Vietnam)

Disco Vietnam: "I'm just trying to get busy and Zilla Rocca is just like me: he's not doing this for any other reason, but to do it. I've been sending him beats for years and years and we have threatened to collaborate a number of times, but anyone who has recorded anything knows: all finished songs are miracles. When you make a beat you're happy with, you want the whole world to hear it as soon as possible. I made this beat 10 years ago. I don't remember how I made it or why, but I sent it to Zilla and he planted it deep within The Earth, where it drank the acid rain. Zilla is my favorite type of artist: self-sufficient. He's been doing this a long time and even though the album is called Future Former Rapper, I don't think he's going to stop. What did I sample? That's none of your damn business and I'll thank you to stay out of my personal affairs."

ELUCID of Armand Hammer: "Wow, I've known of Zilla, via The Internet, through music for 10+ years. Haven't ever thought about that. Long time, G! There isn't a real story behind the ask for us to get on the song, but we agreed. I've made a few other songs with him, as well. Just a real mutual respect for each other's craft."

008. "All of My Day Ones Got Day Jobs" (Prod. By Messiah Musik)

Messiah Musik: "This is something that has been in the vault for a while. It was the first joint we collaborated on that Zilla sent back to me. Believe it was pretty soon after we started sharing tracks back-and-forth. I've been eager for him to share this—think it came out so dope! Just a really original concept that I recall him saying he wrote during his honeymoon. To me, it really compliments the overarching themes of the record. The little intro piece was a late addition that was another beat I shared way back. Hope everyone digs this as much as I do."

009. "Drunk History" (Prod. By Ray West)

Ray West: "I can't really recall when I, actually, met Zilla. I think, it just came from both of us on the grind and recognizing each other's music. We have been going back-and-forth about things, I been sending him some tracks here and there. When he told me there was one he wanted for his record I was all in. The beat was made on an E-mu SP-12 Turbo. Very minimal approach... lo-fi filtered sample and percussion."

010. "Enemy/Stranger/Friend" Feat. Sid Sutra & Serengeti (Prod. By steel tipped dove)

steel tipped dove: '"Enemy/Stranger/Friend," I sent as part of a beat pack and it's the first time I've ever gotten to work with Serengeti, who I've been a fan of for so so long and the way Zilla hits the damn beat on this one is crazy. I've been a fan of Geti's for yearrssssssss and this is the first chance my music crossed over with his."

Zilla Rocca: "On "Enemy/Stranger/Friend," I had that title in my notepad for a while after hearing how Buddha said that's why all people are to each other until we practice compassion. And then, everyone is our friend, even someone who hates us. Likewise, my other spirit animal, Dame Dash, did an infamous interview with The Breakfast Club, where he said something similar about how you're an enemy to someone who has no integrity and tries to do harm to you, but you're a friend to the people that you're protecting. In my own life, I never wanted to be an enemy to someone else, but that's just how things have gone the last 8-10 years with people I was either really close with or artists that don't even know me, but wanted to attack me based on something former friends would intimate about me.

So, that song is directly about those people—it's pretty emotional and aggressive, in retrospect. I was holding onto a lot of that stuff and keeping receipts in my head, knowing I would unload on all of those people within a song. Adding Sid Sutra was key to that because he's one of my favorite cats from Philly that can do so many styles and he was struggling at that time with the education system that constantly tells teachers they need to do more with less. Getting Serengeti was pretty late in the process—he's been a peer and a favorite of everyone I hang with for a long time. He added some levity and comic relief with his verse at the end kicking some classic Kenny Dennis sh*t over the beat from steel tipped dove."

011. "Name On The Buckle" Feat. Curly Castro (Prod. By Starkey)

Starkey: "I met Zilla back in college. We were both at Temple. I think that I was, actually, the teaching assistant for one of his production classes, when I first met him. He was working on a project called Crooked Soul and I was asked to be involved to produce some tracks, mix, etc. At some point, I along with another friend of ours, Noah Goldstein (who went on to work with Kanye West for years and is now, SVP of A&R at Columbia) became members of the "group" and the sole producers. I also, ran laptop duties at shows while Noah DJ'ed/scratched. We all kind of went our separate ways then, with Noah moving out of Philly. I was focusing on doing Starkey productions, as well as running Seclusiasis & Slit Jockey.

"Name On The Buckle" came together in a pretty weird way. Zilla hit me up and said he was working on a new album and was interested in me providing a track. I sent him a track which I thought would work nicely for them. However, in the time between when I sent it and when they had a chance to write and record it, that track ended up being snatched up for another project. If you check out the 18+ track "Agents" from their album, Collect (2016) you'll be able to hear the original beat that Zilla & Curly recorded the track to. So, I basically, imported the vocals into the session, muted all the production parts, and built the song from scratch... like you might start a remix. I actually, really like working this way. I've done it a bunch over the years. Usually, I'll re-build parts of the track, but this was the rare instance where I re-built the entire production around the vocals. I think the track turned out cool."

Curly Castro: "This is Zilla and I at our serrated oblivion best. Soundtracked by the intergalatic-famous Starkey, this was another long-time comer. Zilla & Starkey were in their first Rap group together, once upon a time. Interestingly enough, this was not the original beat, but it was the one The Rap Gods intended. Zilla & I went strait Morlock Massacre on this beat. We always want to show our versatility, when it comes to Wrecking Crew and I believe, we did with this Starkey sonic artillery. Also, anybody familiar with a family of Atoms, might recognize the hook. Salute, Mega!"

012. "Stop Biting Zilla Rocca, Part II" Feat. Curly Castro (Prod. By Small Professor)

Small Professor: "This was a song I made originally for a Bandcamp release that Zilla fleshed out into a full song. More Wu-Tang influence, unintentionally."

Curly Castro: "This was a necessary mantra for Zilla and for the entire Wrecking Crew as a whole. We noticed folks deliberately biting some styles we spent years refining and developing. So, basically, we are saying "we see you" and "we raise you," pun all the way intended. Salute to the pre-cocoa brovas. In closing, this was one of Zilla Rocca's most important projects to date. It's some of his best work ever crafted. And it's his most revolutionary effort, as well. This coming from your friendly neighborhood re.Bel himself."

013. "The Best Part of Every Day" (Prod. By Small Professor)

Small Professor: "One of the best things about Zilla's music is how much he puts his family in there. It was cool and an honor to open and close this album; Zilla Rocca, what a great guy!"

"Peace, world. I've known Zilla for going on 10 years now? Whenever he released Bring Me The Head of Zilla Rocca (2008) that's when our symbiosis started. I was applying for membership within his imprint, Beat Garden Ent. and he was not only The President of BG, he was a d*ck lol, but we navigated those murky waters and now he is the best friend I have on this planet. He is my A-Alike in this Rap sh*t, my parallel. I trust him with my life. We combined forces and left all other allegiances to form Wrecking Crew with Small Professor & PremRock and we are better men for it. Friends first, Hip-Hop third, NBA fandom second. Zilla told me early on about Future Former Rapper and his initial plans for the record.

I was very hesitant to participate and taken aback, at first. Future FORMER Rapper, means eventually, your boy is going to leave you in this game for more responsible pastures. Don't get me wrong, I was happy for my friend, but being the elder of The Crew, I knew what his "retirement" could ultimately mean. Zilla, THANK GOD lol, evolved his idea into an aesthetic purely for this album and a good touchstone for his Hip-Hop life moving forward. And so, we got to Wreck. Zilla informed me that he wanted an "art-imitates-life" vibe for the record and me, being his best friend and best man at his wedding, I would have multiple appearances. I would be Ghost to his Rae rocking Cuban Linx & Bulletproof Wallets, The Truth Enola to his Posdnous, while the Stakes stay High..."

- Curly Castro (Wrecking Crew/GRIFT COMPANY)

*BONUS* Kyle Tierce for Memetic Supply Co. - Art Direction:

"I've done a number of covers for Zilla, since we first linked up in 2011. His projects are always a lot of fun to work on because he really trusts my visual instincts and his whole Noir-Hop aesthetic has a bunch of in-built imagery to play with. For Future Former Rapper, he had an initial concept he wanted to work from, where we've got this image of a kid sort of trying to flee from a physical embodiment or manifestation of the city. I put the cover and a back panel together using my usual combination of vector art with analog and digital collage. When it came time to do the pre-release singles: "Favors Are Bad News," "Enemy/Stranger/Friend" & "Name On The Buckle" he just told me to let loose on the artwork and do something dope... so, I used the original album cover to kind of inform a base aesthetic, then, worked on expanding it with some different motifs.

My goal was to keep each of the covers distinct, while making it clear that they were all part of the same overarching project or collection. Finally, I even got to bring the whole process full-circle, taking some of the gestures from the singles—like the muted black-and-white collage elements, brown and cream backgrounds, torn edges, abstract geometric figures—and bringing them back to the original album cover to create an alternate version for the upcoming cassette release. In the end, I was really proud of part I got to play; it was a pleasure (as always) to work with Zilla on such an excellent album, especially, one with this kind of personal significance for him and I'm honored he trusted in my abilities enough to put the Art Direction in my hands."

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