ZillaKami’s Reckless Nu-Metal Shock-Rap Is A Lot Of Fun
On Sunday night, Machine Gun Kelly headlined his first punk festival. “Punk festival” is probably a reductive thing to call Riot Fest, which started out as, like, Alkaline Trio and the Lawrence Arms playing some local bars and which is now a Lollapalooza-sized rock marathon, but it still seems like some kind of career landmark in Machine Gun Kelly’s deeply strange evolution from obnoxiously forgettable rap B-lister to obnoxiously omnipresent self-appointed paragon of all things rock. During his set, MGK launched a snarky little mini-beef with Slipknot, the other band playing the other big stage at the same time. Thus far, that mini-beef has been remarkably entertaining, and it loudly highlights how Machine Gun Kelly is splashing around in water that’s way, way over his head. It’s not just that MGK doesn’t have as much credibility as Slipknot within the rock world. He might not have as much credibility in rap, either. Ask ZillaKami.
ZillaKami, the Long Island rapper who makes up one half of the duo City Morgue, loves Slipknot. He’s got Corey Taylor’s Iowa-era mask tattooed on his leg. At live shows, whether in clubs or at big rap festivals like Rolling Loud, City Morgue reliably play Slipknot’s “Spit It Out” and demand that the crowd mosh to it. Talking to Revolver a couple of years ago, Zilla claimed that he listens to Slipknot’s self-titled debut everyday. On Friday, two days before those dueling Riot Fest sets, ZillaKami released his new solo album Dog Boy, and the first voice on the album belongs to Corey Taylor.
Even if ZillaKami wasn’t so vocal about his Slipknot fandom, his nu-metal influence would be obvious enough. ZillaKami raps in a hoarse, ragged growl over detuned metal guitars. His music, both solo and with City Morgue, is consumed with the idea of physical release, of dumbing out and going apeshit. Zilla’s two main lyrical subjects, violence and depression, are two sides of the same coin, and they’re probably also the two reigning subjects for all the nu-metal that Zilla loves so much. (Zilla has said that he listened to hardcore and metal much more than rap as a kid.) In their videos, City Morgue bring a level of goofy theatricality that’s not too far removed from Slipknot. Zilla and his City Morgue partner SosMula might not wear masks, but they’re out here smoking sherm and flashing grenade launchers on camera. Ultimately, that’s not all that different.
City Morgue came out of the chaotic SoundCloud-rap wave that emerged a few years ago, and ZillaKami himself probably had a hand in shaping that sound. Five years ago, when Zilla was 16, he was making songs with Tekashi 6ix9ine, the guy who eventually brought screamy troll-rap to the top of the pop charts. Zilla and Tekashi recorded a few songs together, and Zilla supposedly worked as a ghostwriter for Tekashi, too. The association didn’t last. According to various shady online sources, Zilla may have been the one who spread the word about Tekashi’s sex-abuse conviction. I don’t know how much of that story is true, but if you dig around, you’ll find stories about Zilla and his brother getting mad about Tekashi stiffing them on royalties and leaking the news about Tekashi’s past crimes.
ZillaKami and the Brazilian-born Harlem rapper SosMula formed City Morgue in 2017. SosMula, slightly older, had just finished a 15-year sentence for selling crack. City Morgue made a name for themselves with YouTube videos that were way over-the-top, basically depicting themselves as face-tatted and coke-fueled Tasmanian devils. Where other rappers of their generation have bragged about rock-star behavior, City Morgue have made sure that they were always at least slightly connected to the rock underground. They dress like metal kids, they’ve played Saint Vitus in Brooklyn, and they’ve been on one of those big $uicideboy$ package tours with Trash Talk and Turnstile. Much like Ghostemane, City Morgue have always made music that’s really halfway to nu-metal in both sound and presentation. They’re not even remotely embarrassed about it, and there’s something liberating about seeing rap that’s this concerned with scaring parents.
In the past month, both ZillaKami and SosMula have released solo projects. SosMula’s mixtape 13 Songs 2 Die 2 is energetic, lo-fi hardcore rap. Like a lot of the underground rap of the past few years, it draws heavily on early Three 6 Mafia, with growly sinister shit-talk over hard, punishing basslines. When Brooklyn drill star Bizzy Banks appears on “Whip Parked,” the combination makes sense. Sos doesn’t usually use drill sonics, but he’s got that same street-life urgency to his music. Sos definitely gets excessive with the horror-movie imagery, and there’s a ton of unstable energy to his music. But when he’s on his own, Sos isn’t trying to make metal. He’s a rapper. ZillaKami is something else.
There are guitars all over ZillaKami’s new album Dog Boy. Sometimes, the guitars are there for flavor. On “Badass,” for instance, Zilla and Lil Uzi Vert rap over crunchy riffs and the forever-hard bloop-bleeps from Eazy-E’s “Boyz-N-The-Hood.” But there are also songs like “Bleach,” which could be named after the Nirvana album or the anime or both or neither. On that one, Zilla and Denzel Curry warble half-melodically about mental illness. There’s a lot of Lil Peep in a song like that, but it’s more of a late-’90s grunge dirge than an actual rap song.
Most of ZillaKami’s songs are about the mental wages of being a dirtbag. He clearly has fun with the gun talk, as on the bit where he offers to play Fortnite in real life. I like his line about what it’s like to beef with him: “None of you n***as safe ’cause you woke up Godzilla/ Rather fist-fight a dozen steroided gorillas.” But just as often, Zilla talks about looking around and realizing that he’s living a non-functional life: “Woke up, everything’s fucked/ Goldfish dead and my Chase account’s in the dust.” The last song on Dog Boy is about taking a walk in the woods and discovering a suicide, and I can’t tell if Zilla is supposed to be the one who finds the body or the one who died.
Is all this stuff good? I have no idea, and I don’t particularly care. I care that it’s different. I’m drawn to it. ZillaKami is a heightened, exaggerated figure, but I never get that Machine Gun Kelly sense that he’s playing dressup. Instead, he comes off as someone with a whole lot of chaotic energy. He knows that rap and metal can both work as channels for that kind of energy, and so he’s pushing a ton of it into both genres at once. Maybe you can’t reach festival-headliner status by bringing that level of insanity to the game. But then again, maybe you can.
1. Big Yavo – “Preach”
There is something beautifully relatable about rapping over a hard-ass beat made from gospel samples and using it to talk about how you used to fall asleep in church. I see no contradiction there. That’s just real.
2. Wiki – “Promised” (Feat. MIKE)
That Navy Blue beat always sounds like it’s about to drop, and then it never does. The tension just builds, and Wiki and MIKE use that tension to get deep and expansive. It works beautifully.
3. Remy Ma – “GodMother”
Remy Ma has been in the game for more than 20 years, and she has lost absolutely none of her hardness. Here, she talks about taking off her bulletproof vest because she’s breastfeeding, and she handles a horror-movie drill beat like she was just waiting for that kind of thing to come into existence.
4. Sada Baby – “Buckhead Bounty” (Feat. Tokyo Jetz)
Sada Baby hijacking a Trick Daddy classic just makes too much sense.
5. Bandgang Lonnie Bands – “They Sick”
“Lot of killers turn Ratatouille“: an extremely evocative phrase.