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Hip-hop has always been populated by eccentrics -- Public Enemy's Flavor Flav, with his nasal voice, oversize clock necklaces and unfortunate crack habit; Wu-Tang's Ol' Dirty Bastard, a.k.a. Big Baby Jesus, a.k.a. Dirt McGirt, whose hoarse rhymes rarely go a verse without mentioning pussy; and then there's Kool Keith, a.k.a. Dr. Octagon, the Octagonecologist, a.k.a. Dr. Dooom, who kills off his own alter egos when he's finished with 'em.
Now there's a new freak on the scene, the Bay Area's Z-Man, whose debut full-length album, Dope or Dog Food, just dropped. Z-Man not only tackles the subject matter that makes your mom cringe -- the drugs and the pussy -- he's also got his own street vernacular, which is so unique that his record label, Refill Records, prints a Z-Man glossary on its Web site.
"He's just a great, great rapper. He's got one of the craziest imaginations I think I've ever seen out of anybody," says local underground hip-hop producer Vrse, from the highly regarded collective Sacred Hoop.
Z-Man is headed to the Valley for a couple of weeks to play some shows with his boys in Sacred Hoop and get busy in their recording studio laying rhymes over Vrse's extensive collection of as-yet-unheard beats.
Vrse and Luke Sick, Sacred Hoop's MC, relocated the group's headquarters to the Valley back in September of last year, after years of being based out of Palo Alto, California. Now that the duo is settled into their house/recording studio, they're bringing out their talented peers like Z-Man to come out and lay down tracks. In the process, they're revitalizing Phoenix's embattled hip-hop scene.
Vrse grew up in the Valley, and then attended the University of Arizona before moving to the Bay Area to jump into the rap game. His fortuitous return to Phoenix was precipitated by (what else?) the weather. "I got up there and it just rained and rained and rained -- I thought it was sunny all the time everywhere." While still based in Palo Alto, he and partner Luke Sick hooked up with Z-Man outside of Slim's, the infamous San Francisco venue.
"We invited him down to Palo Alto, he came down and we drank a lot of Rossi -- that's one thing that's consistent [with Z-Man], a lot of Rossi drinking," says Vrse, laughing. While in Palo Alto, the two collaborated on a project they called the Bachelors, recording an album called Wine, Wimmen and Song, which has just now become available via Sacred Hoop's Web site, www.sacredhoopfan.com.
For this visit, Z-Man is headed to our desert to get in the studio with Sacred Hoop, blow some local audiences' minds, and pimp Dope or Dog Foodto the masses, which shouldn't be too hard, considering that Dope or Dog Food bears the influential Hieroglyphics crew's three-eyed insignia, a mark of quality that means kids are already all over Z's first album.
His newfound celebrity is a big change for Z-Man, who's long lingered on the fringes of the national hip-hop scene with his Bay Area group 99th Demention. "Before I was doin' hella shit, but then I'd just kinda go, 'Okay, we'll see what happens.' It's better now 'cause I've got a designated job," he explains by phone from a cab in New York City, where he's busy making radio appearances and getting the word out about Dope or Dog Food.
Dope or Dog Food is a peephole into Z-Man's dementia: tales of drunken driving, drinking Rossi and getting on gurp (Z-speak for beyond wasted), hanging with his rellies (homeboys close enough to be family), and scoping out the apple pie and the tarantulas (white girls with ass, and big asses that stick out, respectively).
Then there's the Gingerbread Man, who Z-Man swears is not his alter ego, but simply his "muthafuckin' rellie."
The Gingerbread Man appears on two tracks on Dope or Dog Food, "Lightening in a Bottle" and "Two Bad Ants," spraying nasally rhymes like "you fuckin' Mormon, we know you ain't getting' no coochie/We da niggas, your ho just bought me some Gucci."
"Gingerbread, he's from the streets," Z-Man explains. "He's doing his thing like me, but I put it in a different perspective and he puts it in another perspective. We both keep it animated because it's fun and interesting that way. Gingerbread Man is buggin' out a lot more at times than I am. He's snortin' coke and drinkin' a lot more Cisco than I am. He's pimpin' the Chinese girls and shit, he's holdin' them gats and letting motherfuckers know where he stands, and lovin' the turf. He's thugged-out in his own way, without even saying it. And he doesn't give a fuck, either."
Z-Man and the Gingerbread Man are equal-opportunity offenders, boasting about prodigious drug use ("at the age of 6, the joint went up to my lips") and their even more bacchanalian sex lives ("I know she won't be gettin' pregnant on our first date/Hoping this redneck won't be screamin' out rape"), rapping about abortion, and getting straight-out blasphemous ("If the Lord could only see what I'm doing he would kill me/I'm invisible, like he is, brainwash folks too afraid to take a risk . . . if you see God, tell him that I do exist").
"What I say isn't just for shock value," Z-Man says. "It's just how muthafuckas is really livin'. But people don't want to touch on that because maybe they're touchy subjects or whatever, but I just feel that we need to speak about that."
That said, Z-Man is on the same page as his Arizona homeys in Sacred Hoop -- "Let's just say we're not your typical average rap thing," Vrse says. "We've got some funny shit going on." The combination promises to result in some of the most off-the-wall hip-hop performances the Valley has seen.
Z-Man says he's looking forward to "blowing up the scene a little bit. Blowing up the Hoop a little bit more, too. If I'm at this stage, everybody I'm associated with has to be there, too. That's why I'm trying to kick in doors and shit."