Z - Ghostride #55

Minneapolis rapper Z wants your attention for just 15 minutes.

Additional Info

9.2

ALBUM: Ghostride #55

ARTIST: Z

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

Z is Sensei.

Now, more than ever, it’s clear what role the Minneapolis native wants to play in the grand scheme of things - the grandmaster, the monk, the sensei. Enlightened and knowledgable, a “been there, learned from that,” sort of vibe. But to pull this off, he’s going to need an arsenal more stocked than Bruce Wayne’s. It’s a good thing Z is also a chameleon.

Whether it’s penning dense autobiographical epitaphs for his past, like on 2012’s Waiting for Pubic Transit, or taking on the “trap gods” in last year’s, last minute, EP, Placebo X, Z has intelligently laid the blueprints for finally creating, and claiming, a soundscape all for himself. While every time he raps, there will undoubtedly be a person wondering “what that soundin’ like” (“What That Soundin’ Like”), lost in his skillful synthesis of a slew of influences, rap is so far removed from it’s origins now that it’s time for the template to shift once again. For territorial influences to become obsolete, and making pinning down an artist to his clear-cut influences a lost cause.

On Ghostride #55, Z, and producer BLakeSmiTh, create an intentionally futuristic exploration of a variety of sounds. Aesthetically, the atmosphere is engulfed by electronic and glitching notes pierced by the odd soul sample (“Live From The Six-Hundred & Twelve”) and Atmosphere soundbite (“I Am Sensei”). It’s hollow in the brief lulls, as Z explores his confidence and adamant drive to prove his worth, and contrastingly cluttered and claustrophobic when Z has a breakthrough. The album serves a reflection on what it takes to gather self-assurance and move forward, and the fantastic production has one foot planted firmly in the future to help the process.

The past plights are left obscure (another topic for another tape: Free Morgan Freeman), and the future is still unsure, but Z stitches together fragments of the former pill-popping, court-ordered, slave to circumstance, all while making sure to remind you that “that gavel don’t know,” that he “played that crutch” (“Live From the Six-Hundered & Twelve”). There’s a sense of anxiety in the reflections, but it’s a purposeful claustrophobia to highlight that now, finally, he’s at the other end of the tunnel - not stumbling blindly, lost in the insecurities.

On “I Am Sensei,” Z repeatedly claims that "I'm the man," only to have it finally be contrasted by a sample of Atmosphere and Slug's existential musings. To the question, "what could you say as the earth gets further and further away, planets as small as balls of clay," Z has no reply yet. Nothing works, he realizes, except making everything even more personal. For Z, as the "world gets further and further away," it's important to remind yourself that you're "the man,” because, as the world drifts out of focus, so does everything else - if there’s nothing to help keep you grounded. This requires facing everything with a zeal and bravado that Z's clearly, finally, finding his way around. He went from "avant-garde" to "lost and found," ("What That Soundin' Like?") and has been trying to establish himself again ever since - for all the eyes on him, and, more importantly, for himself.

Z realizes "who you are in the flesh deflects off of the best offer I got” (“Life From the Six- Hundred & Twelve”), so he pieces together nuanced sagas in fifteen minutes, hoping you listen, but is more worried about how it shapes him as a man. If it'll continue to help him prove his worth, or keep digging the hole that's already looking pretty deep. It's the same crushing insecurity that keeps Jay Electronica at bay, but it's the same train of thought that allows both these artists to insert so much nuance and subtlety into the most compact releases.

Beyond these hints of personal anecdotes and layered storytelling, is, low-key, the actual reason for this EP’s existence - the reason why Z is Sensei, and why the structure and execution of this project are also as important as the content. With rap morphing at an almost exponential rate, “what that soundin’ like” will soon be a moot assertion, and Z is here to head that charge. So he warbles his notes and stretches the limits of his key, singing and whispering briefly between bars, biting and flipping famous lines and melodies, while holding his cards close, only to give you the appropriate glimpses. Enough to let you he's still got his head on straight for the most part.

It’s a dynamic, but entirely comfortable, collision of past and present styles, juxtaposed by the enigmatic allure of Z’s writing. The tape, thematically, is a proud declaration of no longer boxing “shadows at home,” (“What That Soundin’ Like?”) but taking on "Apollo” (“2011”). You think you know Z, and “you might’ve met him prior to” 2011, but “try again.”

“What that soundin’ like?”

1. Live from the Six-Hundred & Twelve
The sci-fi twinge envelopes the soundscape right off the bat, with the mere whisper of “ghostride 55” acting as a system of reboot of sorts. Z wishes you a “good morning,” before declaring that “it’s 2:44 AM (and I feel great man),” and that he “will have your attention for the entire fifteen minutes.” There’s a surge of curiosity concerning the already mounting mystic of “the last letter...live from the six-hundred & twelve,” and BlakeSmiTh’s production is full of menacing synths and reverb that twinkle as much as they purposefully mask and shroud Z’s delivery. The claustrophobia is more apparent than ever, even as his self-assurance is at an all-time high. Twisting “noir film” and “cartels” with his defiant declaration of moving back to his moms (“I ain’t hardly upset”), and spiteful remarks regarding his wits (“am I intelligent yet?”), Z paints a blurry collage of self-acceptance and confidence and skillfully avoids a vivid depiction. He’ll talk down on you for “stuntin’” on his dreams, and you can “wonder where [his] heart is” but he’ll just respond with “we don’t talk about this...my therapist know, I don’t really gotta say that much.” The sample might be a bit kitschy but it hardly detracts from the overall drive of this opening track.8.5
2. I Am Sensei
Never tell Z he ain’t “the man.” Even as the track sputters with a crowded backdrop, he makes it a priority to remind everyone that “I ain’t here because I wanna, I’m here to recover.” There may have been gripping vices in the past, strangling his chances of surpassing their influence, but this track is a clear reminder that he’s long been freed of that pull and is finally able to breath on the other side. The call for the doors of the “suicides” is a fleeting reminder, and even if he has to catch “the sixteen (16s don’t murder me),” the world is still his to mold now - making the sample of Slug a fitting outro to this vibrant thesis. Getting past drugs, religion, and isolation, he’s achieved his zen. He’s “moshed,” he’s “mobbed,” he’s “martyred,” and he “used to sit in church rehearsing a first person narration of patience, without the time.” You might’ve “knew [him] before, but let [him] stunt, bumping Lucy Ford in a stock bonneville.” And “turn [his] intro music louder,” if you need a reintroduction. The production, reminiscent to last year’s “S.D.S.” by Flying Lotus & Mac Miller, creates a crisp crinkle for Z to continuing honing his chameleon-like ability to mold his voice and delivery to the will of the beat.9.5
3. Missingno
For all the non-Pokémon nerds out there, a "missingno" is a Pokémon in the Red and Blue game back on the original GameBoy, found only through a glitch - it shouldn't exist. The title could also stand for missing numbers, missing notes, missing - whatever - Z feels like he's scouring the country for. He’s missing something. "Guess I'm out," he questions, "walking 'round in city clothes," unsure of what to tackle first. Should he search for the "missingno" or just "spit at some Missy videos." Something typical, or "ice sculpting" his frozen city. All he knows is that you shouldn't "ask [him] 'bout '05" - he's past that.9.0
4. What That Soundin' Like?
The staggered beat glitches throughout in a futuristic two-step, as Z synthesizes a collage of influences to highlight the underlying thesis of this album: the answer to "what that soundin' like?" You can pick out a line he bit here and there, or a familiar melody and cadence amidst the clutter of electronic boom-bap, but when Z asks "who came here to hear what I’M sayin’," it becomes obvious that there's no need for an answer to the titular question. Z cherry-picks from the expected suspects (the slur on "vodka" reminiscent of a playful Eminem in his prime, the flip of the same Slug line from the outro of “I Am Sensei”), and then dives headfirst into rearranging the syllabics of even Jay-Z ("do not step to me, I'm awkward I box shadows at home") - throwing the entire script out the window. He's got a grip on his dialogue, and he's in charge of the direction now.9.0
5. 2011
The definitive theme song for Z. "Why are you so nervous man," he slurs, as if he's talking to the ghost of yesteryear: "it's just me, I'm the same dude." The melody is instantaneously nostalgic and infectious, reminiscent of a completely different era of hip-hop, but, serving as a reminder of the album's conceit - the source of the influence doesn't matter. It's a whole new soundscape even if it's painted over a previously inked canvases. "Empty-handed if you ask what I cash in a whole week," he reminds you, but he's now meditating high above y'all, letting "you take what you feel deserving," cause he's “died” and he's "fine," and doesn't need to be bound by trivialities anymore. Flipping a line from Kanye's "Can't Tell Me Nothing," Z wonders how he can "stay grateful with a head full of flows, tho," even if he's been "in tune with the Pharaoh...in tune with his soul." The answer’s simply focus, and Z’s got that in spades now. To make his mark, he’s "war-painted every portrait." The outro serves almost as an introduction to his 2012 release, Waiting For Public Transit, and brings the tape, probably the perfect length if you're ghostriding the #55, to a fitting end. 10.0
Narsimha Chintaluri is a creative writer currently satiating his need to write by venting about music, tv and film on any given platform.

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