The landscape of the music industry has shifted seismically in the last five years, and nowhere is this upheaval more prominent than in hip-hop. The rise of the internet and the explosion of the iPod have placed a premium on catchiness, allowing consumers to bypass bulky albums and buy only the songs that move them. This single-centric culture has meant that anyone with a slick hook has a chance at the big time, but while the increased access has made it easier for artists to find themselves on top of the game, it’s also made …
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Case in point, Gorilla Zoe. Zoe was catapulted into the spotlight on the strength of his breakthrough single Hood N***a, but he then struggled to launch successive hits and watched sales of his debut album move slower than Fat Joe in a swimming pool of syrup (a fate shared by his peers like Flo-Rida and Mims). It’s the blessing and the curse of the hit single: without one you’d never get heard, but as easily as you came up, that’s how easy it is to be forgotten. It’s a situation Zoe is well aware of, and the reason he’s noticeably upped the musical quality of his sophomore album Don’t Feed The Animals. Don’t worry long-time Gorilla fans, Animals isn’t exactly a conceptual album (it does have a song about talking pussies), but it does show that Zoe’s far more than just a bottle poppin’ machine.
The most obvious example of Zoe’s artistic growth is the shockingly honest Lost, a slowly dripping track that has Zoe admitting that all the money, fame and drugs have left him unhappier than ever (he spends much of the rest of Animals exalting that same material wealth, but we’ll let that contradiction go for now). More importantly, Lost is a display of the lyricist lurking behind Zoe’s gravel-voiced swagger, dropping carefully constructed lines like “I’m losing my mind, I’m losing control...of the wheel swerving on and off the road.” That’s right, Zoe dropped a dope metaphor. Suck on that haters. He’s less successful with the almost pop Echo, Zoe’s attempt at 808s and Heartbreak-esque single complete with auto-tuned singing about a lost relationship. It’s unfamiliar territory for Zoe, as he sounds a little lost on Echo, but it’s worth it to hear the man defy expectations.
Unfortunately, not all of Animals is so impressive, sinking at times into disappointingly disposable depths. The most wanton example is Hood Clap, a record that might be enjoyable if it weren’t such an obvious shot at remaking Hood Ni**a. It’s everything that annoyed me about Yung Joc’s similar Coffee Shop: an attempt at making dope boy life catchy that comes off as strangely childish. “If you’re hood and you know it clap your hands.” Clap your hands? Really? I’d still rather clap my hands than have a Helluvalife. Helluvalife’s a southern smoked track that brings on Gucci Mane (yeaahhhhhhh) and newcomer OJ Da Juiceman (yeah, that’s seriously his name) for a track that’s as forgettable as it is formulaic. The worst offender might just be S**t On ‘Em, an ill advised track that’s essentially a four-minute poop joke, plus auto-tune. Listen, I don’t need Zoe to be Lupe. I’ve got no problem with hard rhymes, but I can’t imagine anyone enjoys a song filled with lines like “s**tin’ on you ni**gas like Niagara Falls.” I rest my case.
If Zoe wants to take it to the next level he needs to combine these two sides of his musical personality. All he has to do is take a look at his southern compatriot Jeezy, who’s increased his versatility without losing his edge (a fitting comparison considering Zoe replaced the Snowman in Boyz N Da Hood). At times Animals manages to strike this balance perfectly, most prominently on Dope Boy, a track that stays addictively catchy without resorting to clichés. Similarly, What It Is, a synth-heavy collaboration with the round mound of rhyme Rick Ross, doesn’t work quite as well, but it should be more than enough to garner some coveted radio play. In the end Zoe needs to learn that once he starts rhyming like he did on Lost over beats like What It Is, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with. In today’s quickly changing music industry it’s adapt or die, and if Zoe can continue to evolve, he might just have a long life in the game.
Listen to More: Gorilla Zoe Written by Nathan S.
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