The apocalyptic post-financial crisis environs of Detroit have provided the perfect conditions for a new generation of artists and musicians who are mindful of the city’s musical legacy in both the ‘60s (with Motown) and in the ‘80s and ‘90s (with techno) but content to forge their own path.
ZGTO – pronounced zee-ghetto – is a collaboration between the twin Detroit talents of electronic musician and producer Shigeto (Zach Saginaw) and wordsmith ZelooperZ from Danny Brown’s Bruiser Brigade, emerging out of two years’ worth of hard graft by the pair. Spending that long on a single project can often lead to overblown, overburdened, cluttered music. Yet somehow, ‘A Piece Of The Geto’ retains a starkness and minimalism that gives the tracks here a nightmarish, noir-hued quality best exemplified by the unswerving rhythm, bleak drone cycles and synth loops of ‘Unfold’ which closes this record.
Shigeto here offers music that traverses slow-mo electro beats that are reminiscent of Detroit forebears like Juan Atkins, glitchy, skeletal textures and rhythms and reverb-heavy soundscapes that owe a major debt to dub. The soulful ‘Whippin’ is like a updated take on Massive Attack’s seminal ‘Karmacoma’, while the stand-out ‘Long Ass Time’ – an ode to desperate, helpless, dead-end circumstances – has a bone-shakingly heavy beat and a nagging, insistent tone running through the track that might well be akin to a didgeridoo.
We’re familiar with Shigeto’s musical dexterity, but the real surprise of this collaboration is ZelooperZ’s vocal versatility; at times you are left wondering whether there isn’t in fact a whole chorus of vocalists working these tracks, given the number of personalities and different vocal styles that ZelooperZ brings to proceedings; sometimes his rhymes are menacingly forthright, sometimes howlingly and whiningly intense, sometimes low-slung and bluesy, sometimes soulfully reflective, sometimes sung in a wavering, tentative voice that suggests a rapper-poet happily operating, at times, a long way from their natural comfort zone.
As soundtracks to the battered, bruised dystopia of Detroit go, ‘A Piece Of The Geto’ is impressively on-point; fractured, paranoid, distrustful – but irrepressible in spite of it all.
Words: Mat Smith
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