Each Wednesday, Rocks Off arbitrarily appoints one lucky local performer or group "Artist of the Week," bestowing upon them all the fame and grandeur such a lofty title implies. Know a band or artist that isn't awful? Email their particulars to email@example.com.
This is out of protocol. Big time. This week's Artist of the Week is not from Houston. He's not even from Texas. Hell, he might not even be from Earth.
Ma'ams, sirs, hoes, pimps, meet Zilla Rocca.
Three days ago, Rocca's new album, Nights & Weekends, accidented its way into our inbox. This is not uncommon. People send us music all the time. All the time. Like, they send that shit like their thumbs will spontaneously combust if they don't. And most of the time, if it's a non-Houston guy, we skim through it, scoff at how uncool it is, then move on.
But that was pretty much impossible here. The first sentence from the press release:
Inspired by late-night 1980's films staples such as Barry Levinson's Diner and Martin Scorsese's After Hours, with a helping of booze hounds, dive bars, and all the wrong women you chase in your 20's, Nights & Weekends EP is the unbuttoning of the collar for Zilla Rocca aka Vic Sage, the Noir Hop originator and Corrupt Novelist.
Half of that, we don't even know what it means; it's certainly esoteric and (probably) smart. So we listened through it. And then again. And then again. And then we uploaded it onto the iPod.
It is a massive hodgepodge that simply goes where it wants when it wants. And once you get past the opening stanza, which starts out with a set of sunburnt horns then unfurls itself into that semi-awkward "White Guy" cadence, it is extra enjoyable and entirely brave.
So we reached towards Rocca online. Turned out, he is from Earth, though just barely (South Philly). We asked him to interview it up. He obliged. Next week, we have an excellent local artist to feature (and it's a woman!). For now, let's all stare at the new kid.
Rocks Off: Tell everyone everything they need to know about Zilla Rocca in exactly six words.
Zilla Rocca: I like crime, women and rapping.
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RO: What is noir hop? It sounds kind of assholey, but it also sounds kind of interesting. I guess a lot of times those things go together.
ZR: It's just a name I came up with to describe the first Shadowboxers album and it became my calling card. Noir and rap handle a lot of the same themes: murder, sex, slang, guns, the city, betrayal, deceit.
I felt like someone should've connected the two before because it was obvious to me being a fan of films like Kiss Me Deadly, Brick, and the Philip Marlowe books and movies. It's a mood more than anything else. And it separates me from everyone else, which is good because I'm a failure at being trendy.
RO: For real, how hardcore were you listening to MF Doom when you made this new album?
ZR: There's songs on this album that were recorded in 2007, and every serious MC goes through a Doom phase, so subconsciously he was probably rattling around in my beehive. But I don't consciously remember writing any of the songs in the vein of anyone in particular.
RO: There's a line in "New Year's Eve 2003" where you mention how 50 Cent's "In Da Club" was on repeat at a NYE party you were at in 2003.
When you wrote that song, you Googled "rap songs in 2003" to find a good one, didn't you? Cheeky bugger.
ZR: I was actually at a hotel party in Lancaster, Pa., on New Year's Eve 2003. And in 2003, I was also working at a record store, so you couldn't walk eight inches without hearing "In Da Club" somewhere in Philly that year.
Only difference between the real party in 2003 and "New Year's Eve 2003" the song is that the party I actually attended centered around someone making us taste the most vicious hot sauce I've ever had in my life.
RO: Why make a song for Michael Caine? Or is "Michael Caine" some really in depth metaphor that's not really about Michael Caine at all? Is it about David Blaine? Or the Miami Hurricanes? Or Sugar Shane?
ZR: I've always loved Michael Caine, particularly when he was making badass movies in the '70s. In my old group, Clean Guns, we put out a mixtape in 2007 called "Living in Harmony" and I made the cover Michael Caine holding a shotgun wearing a suit from the movie Get Carter.
I always liked the idea of a well-dressed proper man who will absolutely blow your brains out. Plus his eyewear is just untouchable. There's also a Michael Caine sample on "Black Cherry" from the movie Pulp.
RO: This might be a bit in depth (or, I suppose it might be extra short): Can you walk me through the entire creative process behind "Devil's Pie"? Also, is it a head-nod to that slice of the devil's pie song that D'Angelo did?
ZR: It is a direct cover of D'Angelo's song. I've loved D'Angelo's "Devil's Pie" since hearing it on the Belly soundtrack back in like '99 and then on Voodoo. And every year I revisit Voodoo and Brown Sugar, so last year I was listening to Voodoo again and "Devil's Pie" came on and I realized how brilliantly written it was.
The bass line and melody always caught me, and then I read the lyrics fully and thought, "This is the most nihilistic, grim, and vicious thing I've ever read!" "Devil's Pie" embodies a lot of ideas we've heard in gangsta rap for 20 years: I'm out to take whatever I can get right now and I don't care what happens to me after that. I heard the beat at Small Professor's house and loved it. He lives in North Philly, so I was driving home to South Philly listening to the instrumental and I just started singing the hook for "Devil's Pie" to it.
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It felt right, so I went home and laid it down then called Small Pro asking him if it was cool that I did a D'Angelo cover to his track. He was cool with it, which alleviated a lot of my anxiety because I wasn't sure if it could work or not. I've performed it a bunch of times to see if it worked with the public and they always enjoyed it, so I knew I had something interesting to end the EP with.