Here’s today’s exercise in weird geography: Zuse is a rapper from Kingston, Jamaica who currently resides in Atlanta and who takes his name, sort of, from the King of the Greek gods. (I suppose it’s also possible that he named himself after the German computer pioneer Konrad Zuse, but this seems less likely.) On his song “Frank White,” Zuse raps over a plinky, minimal, fascinating beat from the producer Stroud, who comes from I don’t know where. (His name is hard to Google.) It’s got some of the same synthetic strut as a lot of recent Atlanta rap, but it’s also got a sense of instinctive space and repetition that reminds me of early German electronic music, or Indonesian gamelan. And it’s named after Christopher Walken’s crime-boss character from Abel Ferrara’s King Of New York. Rap music, dude. Bringing the world closer together. More to the point, at least as far as this column is concerned: “Frank White” is a very good song, and it’s one of many very good songs on Zuse’s debut mixtape Bullet.
Most of that map talk up there is pure footnote fodder, but Zuse’s Jamaican background is actually pretty essential to understanding why Bullet is quickly becoming one of my favorite mixtapes of the young year. I don’t know how long he’s been in the U.S., but Zuse apparently has the ability to snap in and out of impressive fire-and-brimstone patois at will. And it really is a great reggae roar, throaty and wounded and proud, massive and unstoppable. But Zuse is a rapper, not a reggae toaster, and his cadences and emphases are those of an American-style rapper. Most of the time, he’s only got a slight accent, but he’s happy to launch back into pure patois whenever he needs to add a verbal exclamation point. (He also does that brrr machine-gun-noise ad-lib a lot.) As a rapper, Zuse fits very well into the wild-eyed Southern bruiser archetype, and so when he switches back and forth between that and the bloodclaaat howling, it’s like someone found a way to crossbreed Gunplay with Capleton. As you might imagine, that’s a hell of a potent combination. Even when Zuse’s lyrics look a bit silly on paper (“I’m the garbage man, and you the trash in my bin / I’m the foot in your ass when you think you gon’ win”), he sounds absolutely badass. And he’s also got a gift for grand, epic silliness, so when, on the tape’s intro track, he booms out, “I’m the trees, I’m the wind / I’m the good and the bad / I’m the feeling within,” it’s a total goosebump moment.
Simply by existing and by using that ridiculous voice, Zuse is a great addition to the already insanely fertile Atlanta rap scene. And since out-and-out weirdness is practically a prerequisite for Atlanta rap stardom, Zuse never feels like he’s dumbing himself down when he does standard Atlanta rapper things, like tearing open the tense synthetic seesawing strings that 808 Mafia give him on “Seein’ Me.” “Mayday” is the one song where he teams up with an already-made Atlanta rap star, Young Thug, and the contrast between Zuse’s elemental crazy-bastard growl and Thug’s high-pitched elastic cartoon croak is just awesome. If Zuse floated further into the 808 Mafia orbit, he’d still be a standout.
But instead, he comes from Zooly Gvng, a very different crew of weirdos led by the adventurous production duo FKi. FKi have made hits — they did “Make It Rain” for Travis Porter — but their beats are, for the most part, way left of center. They specialize in hazy, barely-there blip-bloop tracks, tracks that might fit the “cloud-rap” header if they weren’t so dependent on bright and sharp synth sounds. Once of these days, the UK smart-rave Young Turks/Boiler Room mafia is going to learn about FKi, and things like the icy, off-kilter sonar pings on Zuse’s “New New” are going to blow their collective mind. FKi handle much of the production on Bullet, and even the tracks that they don’t produce, like Stroud’s aforementioned “Frank White” beat, reflect their general aesthetic. These tracks turn out to be an ideal match for Zuse, since all their empty space gives his voice plenty of room to echo and since these ping-ponging tracks combine with his wildly vacillating accent to make the whole thing sound even fresher. Most of the tape feels like something entirely new, something we haven’t heard before.
Everything reaches its peak on the single “Red,” a hollowed-out track made from gunshots and grunts and one lonely, wobbling keyboard riff. For whatever reason, this track is the one place where Zuse goes absolutely bugshit nuts, never snapping out of his patois voice one in its two minutes and 48 seconds, roaring louder than he does anywhere else. He starts it out wailing, “I don’t give a fuck about the feeeeeds” and the initial adrenaline of that moment never subsides. This just an awesome, impactful piece of music, and it sounds like nothing else coming out right now. It’s the sort of song that announces the arrival of a major new presence. I don’t know if Zuse will make good on that promise, but I do know that it’s a song you need to hear immediately.
Download Bullet for free at Livemixtapes.