Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Duality of Z-Man

The Bay's Z-Man has dropped two new albums recently. One, The Opening Act, with producer Elon, is brand new. The other, California Brainwashed, isn't quite so new, it's actually dated 2013 on the artwork, but it's been hard enough to pin down that it's still pretty new to most of us. I was only able to get my hands on a copy this week, and you know me, I've been on the case. If I haven't been able to find it... unless you've been able to cop it from him at a show, I don't know how much hope you would've had.

Of course, we're talking CDs here, not vinyl; so maybe just downloading these off ITunes or wherever would be just as acceptable to you guys anyway. Personally, though, I held out for the CDs and I'm glad I did.  8)

So let's talk about 'em! First of all, it's important to say that both of these are raw, traditional Z-Man-style albums. They're what you think of when you think of Z-Man tapes. He's not paired up with a rock band or rhyming over electro club beats or chasing fads to sound like whatever any trendy Community fans are listening to this week. Z-man's been known to experiment pretty far out of the box, and I've enjoyed some of it (Motel Crew) more than others (One Block Radius); but this is Z perfectly in his lane, right where we want him, no more fucking around. Stylistically and instrumentally, these could almost blend into one giant, awesome double album. But there's something in the writing that keeps them fundamentally distinct.

"This ain't no mixtape!" is how California Brainwashed starts out, and that's pretty much its sole theme.It's a full, proper album; but it's just Z being Z. The full bravado on dolo with essentially no guests. On the anthemic "Entertainer," he answers hip-hop's age old question, "how can I move the crowd? Maybe by pullin' out an uzi that wasn't allowed!" There are a couple credited DJs on certain songs, but apart from an interesting scribble-scratch motif Quest lets loose with on "Courtesy of C.A.L.I.," there's not a lot of attention-getting scratching going on here either. The focus is solely on Z-Man talkin' his shit. Being from Cali, being more specifically from the Bay (as the track kicks in he shouts, "sounds like E-40 and the Click should be on this one, huh? But they not... couldn't afford 'em."), smoking weed and more, being hassled by the cops, playing girls and hanging with his boys. All over perfectly underground west coast beats.

The Opening Act, on the other hand, is full of introspection, honesty and self-doubt. As opposed to loudly declaring "this ain't no mixtape," Opening starts out with Z saying, "there's no one in my family who's doin' this except for I. Deep down inside they want me to quit, so I don't look like a... idiot, full grown adult with a kid's dream. No results but I've been doing this since I was fifteen!" Well, it starts that way after the opening skit. This album is full of skits, because it's also a bit of a concept album, following a little narrative of Z going on tour with a big shot, cornball named Short Neck. Z-Man is the titular opening act, and throughout the album he's suffering this indignation. On "Wack Flyers," he laments, "my music's right; at least I think so, but can't seem to catch a break. My voice is annoying; I made a mistake! God damn it, I'm in the wrong racket; I should be rich, instead of criticizing advertisements - who did this shit? Look at these graphics, this is backwards, this don't represent us!" And now, instead of playing girls, he asks himself challenging questions about maintaining an adult relationship while her career out-sails his own on "She's the DJ I'm the Rapper."

Now, this second album's specifically billed as Z-Man and Elon. And the result is that the production is a little more varied, the influences are broader. "American Newjack" has a strong "Chicks Pack Heat" feel to it, which is absolutely a good thing, and "Innercity Dreams" has some spacey keyboard riffs that definitely come out of left field. This album also features some guest MCs, including Luke Sick, Trunk Drank and Opio and Pep Love, which is interesting if you recall that Z-Man was briefly brought into the Hieroglyphics crew, but then briefly parted ways. That was ten years ago, and I believe this is their first reunion; but, no, they don't address it in the song.

Anyway, it would be going too far to say that California Brainwashed is all attitude and The Opening Act is all emo reflection. Both albums give you a full dose of Z. He has a song on the second album called "Bottle At Your Baby" where he raps, "you gonna give me loot when I ask. And no you cannot owe me; you do not know me; you owe me, you're honorin' my part, you're fuckin' phoney as fuck, I'll fuckin' throw this bottle that you gave me at your business partner and your lady holdin' your baby. We rollin' to the ATM so we can pull out gravy for me and my rellies." Shit, both albums have him transforming into The Gingerbread Man. I mean, that's a gimmick that intellectually you'd think should have been played out ten years ago. But just like Humpty Hump, he's just good enough at the cartoon-voiced character you keep you wanting to hear it again every time he drops a new album. But whatever your stance on it, it's definitely not him being meek and artsy.

So you should absolutely cop both CDs, you won't be disappointed by either. But how can you? Well, The Opening Act can be ordered easily enough through accesshiphop (and for under $10, too). But for California Brainwashed, I think the only thing you can do is contact Gurp City directly... and maybe they'll send you a paypal invoice or something? I don't know, but whatever little hoops you have to jump through, it'll be worth it.

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