Zee to the Dee

April 5th, 2004

I turned on MTV and saw a little Zack De La Rocha image adjacent to the Gen-X talking head. "The vocalist has begun work on a solo rap album." This was a decade ago. The album's progress is wrapped in the type of mystery that Sherlock Holmes wouldn't touch with a ten-foot magnifying glass. De La Rocha rarely speaks to the media and he seems to have his co-conspirator producers on taught verbal leashes. One of the producers, ?uestlove of the Roots, has described the album as "scary" and offered these tidbits on the instrumentals: "crazy synthesizer energy" and "a lot of drum'n'bass shit." Turntable trailblazer, DJ Shadow has produced three tracks for the album and also failed to provide ample description by over-generalizing the songs as "kinetic, futuristic, and gritty." Others working on the album include hip-hop's renaissance man, El-P (Company Flow), Dan "the Automator" Nakamura (Gorillaz), English-based drum and base guru, Roni Size, DJ Premier (Gangstarr), DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill) and art-rock's beloved son, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails).

What exactly has the man himself said about the album? As you might have guessed, not much. Although we've been given here-and-there hints of his solo outing's sound, Z De La opened up a bit more in a surprisingly informative interview with Spin magazine. "The stuff I'm doing now is more hip-hop based, and in hip-hop, that kind of heaviness comes from a bass line running between breaks or when the music drops out entirely. It seems that the music will be as "heavy" as the sonic rocking of Rage Against The Machine, except the break beat loops of Deejays will replace the metal-funk guitar riffs of Tom Morello. What about the vocal delivery? Rage-esque screams and yells are sure to be less frequent. Listeners should expect more rapid-fire lyrical lynching of America's power elite and raw raps on the evils of the nation's practically unchecked free market economic system. Z says, "As far as lyrically? I can't define what's going to happen with me." Prepare for the unknown and the unexpected.

I say, BELIEVE THE HYPE. It is widely understood that De La Rocha's painstakingly slow writing process was responsible for the four-year gaps in between Rage Against The Machine Albums. But dayumn! It was definitely worth the wait. Aspiring musicians take note: It is most prudent to sign with a label that grants you complete artistic freedom. Part of the reason why hip-hop is in its current lull is that record labels often require their artists to release X number of albums in Y years. The moral of the story is that creativity can't be forced. "That artist in me, not just the activist, needs to constantly re-evaluate and critique the art I'm producing," says De La Rocha.

To get clued into the sonic possibilities, download…err…purchase the following De La Rocha hip-hop joints: "Center of the Storm" with Roni Size, "Burned Hollywood Burned" with Chuck D and Black Thought, "March of Death" with DJ Shadow, "Mumia 911" featuring a vast array of emcees and "Release" with Blackalicious. And be sure to pick up DJ Vlad's Rock Phenomenon, due out later this month. Big Zack thieves a beat from his former band mates by dropping new lyrics over an as-of-yet unidentified Audioslave beat.