We catch up with noir hop originator Zilla Rocca to talk crime, great writers and his latest collaboration with Silent Dust... Massive!
"Massive" is something of a strange beast... A collusion of sounds from booty hip hop, electronica, and deeper bass music. On top of that sits your own "thinking man's rap" vocal. How did you get involved with Silent Dust, how was massive born?
We were put in touch through mutual people who knew our styles and how they had a common aesthetic with film noir. We linked up last year I believe -- they asked me to do a remix for a song off their album, which was right up my alleyway. After that, I did "Massive" to a beat by Joker for a compilation for Rock The Dub.com. I liked the song so much, I passed the acapella over to the guys because it was too strong to just be a "freestyle" over a more famous dubstep beat that would be quickly forgotten. I loved their beat so much, I went back and re-recorded my verses to fit their work specifically. And there you have it -- MASSIVE!
What are the themes behind your vocal on the track? What are the enduring themes that you explore in your wider work?
On "Massive", I was trying to write from the perspective of Galactus or some other kind of world shattering entity. When I do electronic collaborations, usually the music is very big and bold, so I adjust my writing to fit that frame. For "Massive", it's just saying outlandish and vicious things like "Daybreaker, daytripper, brunchmaker, date strippers, playmates -- no difference". I usually write more subtle and slick lyrics on my work. I'm more of a storyteller or a crime writing songwriter. I like danger and shady images that aren't always so crystal clear so that the listener is somewhat disoriented at first, but then later conjures up their own visuals or meanings behind the lyrics and concepts.
Be it with Dylan, fellow Philadelphia resident Starkey or your own crew The Shadowboxers, collaboration has been a consistent characteristic of your work. As the vocal narrative to much of this output, do you find being free from the technicalities and inherent over listening that producers often suffer from, allows you to be more creative when contributing your words to a track?
When I'm asked to contribute vocals to someone else's beat, I either go with the concept or theme they have in mind, or I just let loose and free write. It's very loose and simple -- you're either a hired gun working as a specialist, or you're given a blank canvas to create whatever you want.
"I like danger and shady images that aren't always so crystal clear..."
When I produce my own records, it's more time consuming because I've heard every element of the beat I'm building hundreds of times, then I have to turn that side of my brain off and approach it as a writer as if it's something new so I don't get frustrated or bored. When I collaborate with producers, I'm free to just react as an emcee rather than plot and plan and arrange as a producer/emcee on my own stuff.
As rapper or MC, your bring an air of authenticity to the art that is often lost. Your words are void of falsehoods and fakery in a genre where often the persona of the artist is entirely contradictory to the reality of their situation. As an artist, where do you, or who do you draw inspiration from?
I write about stories I know from South Philly where I was born or stuff I pick up on from the police reports or even things I read in comic books and novels about revenge, betrayal, lust, doom, and city life. It goes in waves too depending on what sounds I'm interested in at the time -- I might want to open up and be honest about my life over some boom bap, or I might want to be mysterious and dashing over dubstep.
"I'm free to just react as an emcee rather than plot and plan."
Great writers inspire me first though -- Ed Brubaker, Nas, Aesop Rock, Raymond Chandler, Megan Abbot, Tom Waits, Raekwon, Scott Snyder. Great writing never ages, whether it's an old pulp book from the '40s or the latest issue of Batman. I like slang, the way certain words sound together, saying things no one has ever said before, really.
If your life and music was made into a noir crime thriller, who would play Zilla Rocca?
I'm not handsome enough to say Michael Fassbender or dark enough to say Benicio Del Toro, two of my favorite actors. So right now, I'd go with Joseph Gordon Levitt because "Brick" is one of my favorite noir flicks and he hasn't played a bad role in 10 years. I think we're close in age too. As I get older, I have this fantasy of becoming Roger Sterling from "Mad Men" in my 50's and 60's -- just a smiling, charming, well dressed white haired jackass who always has a clever answer to any situation.
SIlent Dust Feat Zilla Rocca - "Massive" is out on None60 on 06/11/12