Detroit rapper ZotheJerk and Winnipeg producer Frost Gamble team up for the album Black Beach, released May 26, 2017. Courtesy of 22 Entertainment, the 13 track album (with an additional 13 instrumentals on the Bandcamp deluxe edition) features hip-hop stalwarts Guilty Simpson, Sadat-X and KXNG Crooked, as well as newer names like Coko Buttaflie and Dustin Davie.
The union of Zo and Frost across Black Beach’s approximately 45 minute runtime is a timely release for fans enjoying the slate of throwback hip-hop albums thus far in 2017. Amidst drops from Prodigy back in January, to Saga and Thelonious Martin in February and Snoop Dogg just last week, Zo and Frost contribute to the resurgence of old-school sounds in an increasingly fine-tuned hip-hop market. Melding a dash of NY’s boom bap sonics with Detroit’s Dilla-esque lo-fi, loop heavy production, Zo delivers what could become one of the most underrated albums of the year.
Frost’s crispy drum rhythms and short and cyclical instrumental samples harken back to the days of turntablism and DJing and subsequently map a foundation for Zo’s impassioned delivery. Admittedly, Zo’s range in cadence and delivery isn’t outstanding, but his emotionally fueled lyrics more than make up for his stylistic choices.
Black Beach, despite a misleadingly (albeit intentionally) segregationist title and cover art, is a much needed release that lingers in the conscious rap circle, bolstering cries of equality and Black Lives Matter without preachy, holier-than-thou construction. Across the album, Zo and guests touch on politically and socially charged topics, including the black identity, inequality, and family that at times act as a plea for mercy given the tracks’ encompassing nature.
On “Blaxploitation,” alongside a beat featuring an energetic string section and periodic flute sample, Zo raps, “I’d gladly take a bullet for the next man, who, look like me, oppressed like me, he, trap like me, he bleed like me, he, ride like me, he stand by me, I, stand by he ‘til we D-I-E!” The sentiment of defending another based on these simple credentials is a welcomed and unifying message that Zo embraces in an era defined more by hedonism than neighborly good will.
Zo follows this message on “Loyal Victims (featuring Eveready and Young Bleed),” a soulfully melodic track that directly contrasts its weighty message of racial persecution. Eveready’s intro, “As we work towards a brighter day, we the people gonna find our way, justice and truth we pray, Hands up, don’t shoot, Ok,” rings out and signals a cut that is as much a tribute to the recent victims of racially charged shootings as with Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown, as it is call to escape the mentality of a victim. That said, these views aren’t necessarily expressed from an Afrocentric perspective, rather, Zo and Frost’s compositions are universally applicable messages.
In fact, the presentation of the album as a series of vignettes, most notable on “Mother of My Child” (featuring Dustin Davie) and peppered with audio clips discussing police brutality and the like creates a project that acts as modern time capsule, storing imagery of a human struggle akin to the pages of a textbook or clippings from a newspaper. Zo may not offer an enlightening, newfound solution to the madness, but his uplifting bars of encouragement are an appreciated voice in the continued journey for justice.