Wednesday, September 13, 2017

In Bloom: review of Zzay's botany


                                                      
In the years since I first met Zzay and reviewed her last album Cloud 92she has developed and polished her craft and business savvy immensely. Like MC Mega (now known as Brandon the Wizard) before her, I saw her make spirited earnest attempts to collaborate with multiple crews in the So Cal region including my own before finding a space and set of people who both fully appreciated her contributions and had a platform strong enough to propagate them. She’s been a host for B-Side Show, toured with Belzar, hosted for BricktoYaFace Common Ground events, slummed it with beatmakers and hipsters in San Bernardino, became part of the Platform Collection family, lots in between and most recently linked up with the prolific and borderline-massive East of the River network based in Boyle Heights.

I say all this to say that I thought her style would be refined and professionalized to the point of being unrecognizable on her next album, Botany. I was prepared for this and thought "well the old songs exist, the new songs will exist too, it's all good." To my pleasant surprise she kept it all while growing in new directions. On songs like the first single and video "The Stem's Cry" she keeps it raw on some boom-bap that eases into melody at its end. "No one in the White House is a girl!" she says earnestly but angrily on the hard Doja beat. The song returns to humility as mantra, a common theme of EOTR.
                                               "I'ma spark up a blunt- don't you tell me how to function!"
"You don't talk enough" is vintage Zzay about waning and see-sawingly uneven relationships over melancholy infectious melodies. "All Kinds Of" is her with a persona her listeners would be familiar with but still with a new kind of song, speaking to unappreciative men from the past with jazzy wistfulness. “Wilted” is a mesmerizing "93 til infinity" flip; like most on the album, it's about valuing yourself enough to not keep negative people around. "Cool, calm and connected" and "Barcode" are harmonious stony stream of consciousness poems that deliver for fans of her older work. She's not afraid to get weird on stranger beats like "Spotlight" vacillating from siren cooing to aggressive rapping over trippy beats whose snares and bass fade in and out.

On "Bloom" and "Venus Flytrap" she brings the drama and displays her diva chops; "Venus" is particularly fun to hear revisited. The song that made me fear she would lose her older poetry-stream style but at the same time excited to hear what someone with her drive would do with more professional tools and enablers was "Late Bloomer". A masterful jazz-pop piece produced by Aspect One and written by Viva Mescal, Zzay makes it her own with perfect restraint, tune development and innate commitment to the character and message of the song. That the song feels like a lovely culmination of Zzay's other lovelorn story songs sells it further- her performer's persona is someone the audience connects with on a vulnerable level and hearing her this confident and wise, speaking kindly to a young flower perhaps not unlike herself once is charming and timeless yet neo-soul and hip-hop. Spec's crackin' claps and funky melodic layers give Zzay one of the most deft and tight soundscapes she's yet to float on.
One doesn't have to look farther than the album's launch website zzaybotany.com to see she is a in a fertile creative mental space with the East of the River crew and in her own right, offering multimedia content and handcrafted paintings and shirts that go with the music.

The album's themes unfold naturally with the idea of a person blooming into finding a balance and is rich with plays on the botanical like "Late Bloomer", "Stem's Cry", "Bloom" and the sun cycles alluded to in the intro and outro.

That Zzay could deliver an album with pop gems like "Bloomer" , conscious boom-bap like "Stem's cry" and addictive sorrowful mourns like "You don't talk enough" speaks to her versatility and confidence in different musical pockets. Botany is a more than worthy destination for her fans from all over So Cal and beyond who have kept up with her artistic journeys thus far.

Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com