His latest mixtape sees the darkwave rapper more confident (and tongue-in-cheek) than ever before, expanding on and embracing the persona both he and the media have constructed around him, says Daniel Jones.
After an 11-minute version of his track “Ima Read” played during Rick Owens’ Fall/Winter ’12 runway show, Zebra Katz became the darling of both the fashion elite and the musically elitist. The menacing minimalism was a stark contrast compared to mainstream hip-hop’s overproduced sensibilities, using monotones and repetition with similar phrasing to hypnotic effect. “You think about the word ‘bitch’, it’s me trying to really desensitize it, trying to use the word ‘bitch’ so many times that if someone else said it, it wouldn’t have that much context,” Katz, aka Ojay Morgan, told me recently. “I want to own the term ‘bitch’, similar to what Missy Elliot did with her track “She’s A Bitch” but take it another level. And with Njena Reddd Foxxx being on it, using the word ‘bitch’ and being empowered by it is such a great thing. I don’t think people can pay attention to that, however, because they don’t know how to talk about it.” If there’s one thing Katz has done it’s make people pay attention, even if it’s simply about the fact that he makes damn good tunes. His recent mixtape DRKLNG dropped less than a month ago, making the music press wet with 12 new tracks that further explore, expand on, and embrace the persona both he and the media have constructed around him.
Stylistically, DRKLNG sticks close to the aesthetics Katz is known for. “Josephine Effect” is maybe our first real audible look into the psyche of Katz: he’s going off, but the idea of celebrity is still alien to him. Even after he’s established himself as a modern icon in music and fashion, Katz’s persona is still that of the perpetual outsider. As he name drops Rihanna, Grace Jones, and Jay-Z, amongst others, his backdrop is a void-blasted beat punctuated by refracting wooden clatters and the growls of beasts; a growl that soon becomes Katz himself on “Pulla Stunt”. The typical puffed-chest braggadocio of gangster rap is present, but it’s impossible to take seriously within the context—which is entirely the point. For all of the “darkness” in Katz’s work, there’s also a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek sensibility. “Ima pull a stunt, Ima fuck the cunt”, his pitched-down vocals warn, and how can you help but laugh along with him?
DRKLNG has a lot of high points and plenty of guest names and other surprises to boost them higher: the rolling snares of the Triple Six Sound Club-produced “DRK WRLD”, Mad Decent’s Paul Devro bringing pumping bass levity to midnight lyrics like, “I’m having visions/we’re tripping/whispers the voice of the heathen,” the unexpected weirdness of Katz’s cover of Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now”. In fact, the format and smooth mixing ensure that your attention will rarely (if ever) waver. The mixtape’s most celebrated moment, however, occurs six minutes in when a cheeky sample from Fame leads into a refixed version of “Ima Read” with no less than Busta Rhymes on the flow. As much as I love his generally untouchable spit, compared to Katz he feels a bit dusty in this element, and his claims to lead rather than read are, well, less than readable, and missing a lot of the undertones present in the original. Despite this, it’s still more “oh, shit” than “what shit.”
“I’ve always felt I was part of a novel as opposed to a ‘scene’,” said Katz. “I always prided myself on hanging out with some different motherfuckers; I hate hanging out with people who like all the same shit. I like to learn something different.” DRKLNG stays true to this mindset: it’s unmistakably Zebra Katz, but branching out into a few paths we haven’t heard him explore outside of live performances and seeing him more confident than ever before. Besides which, it’s also (to my knowledge) the first hip-hop mixtape to expound upon the natural beauty of being elbow-deep in zebra vagina. Some truths you just can’t get from Gucci Mane. ~