As far as epic album delays go, Guns ‘N’ Roses probably takes the cake with Chinese Democracy, the album that took so long to complete that it became a lyrical punchline. But sometimes a lengthy gestation period can be a good thing, at least in the case of ZZBRA, the latest project from video hit-maker Stuey Kubrick, featuring Vancouver-based rappers Moka Only and Evil Ebenezer.
Produced by The Draft Dodgers (Stuey Kubrick and U-Tern), the new album came out January 31, 2012, with Camobear Records. Almost six years in the making, ZZBRA – like the animal it is named for – is several things at once.
ZZBRA is the name of Stuey Kubrick’s ill-fated “pan-African adventure epic . . . set deep in the jungle with wild animals preying on the crew,” starring Moka and Evil “getting ready to make their big screen debut,” but which was doomed by budget woes. ZZBRA is also the title of the surviving soundtrack to said film, featuring a collection of beats, rhymes, and heavy synths from the duo of Moka Only and Evil Ebenezer – who also comprise the group known as ZZBRA.
But is it really any of these things, or something else entirely? In an interview on the phone from Vancouver, rapper Moka Only deliberately leaves it open to interpretation.
“It’s just a fun concept. . . . I’ll leave it at that,” he says in his West Coast drawl with an easy laugh. “Art sometimes speaks better just for itself, instead of somebody dictating what it’s supposed to be.”
Moka, also known by his other musical aliases Ron Contour and Torch, is no stranger to Canadian audiences. Best known for his part as a member of three-time Juno Award-winning Canadian rap group Swollen Members, Daniel Denton (the man behind the names) is also known for being an exceptionally prolific solo artist. Denton writes, records, and produces all his own albums; works as a producer creating beats on commission; and collaborates with a vast array of artists. A quick search of his – mercifully uncensored – Wikipedia page indicates an album discography of over forty records, but Denton is quick to correct this conservative estimate.
“It’s more like sixty, sixty plus,” he notes.
Which is why the ZZBRA album delay was particularly problematic for him. To put it in some context, in just the past couple of months, Denton has released two albums. One is Crickets, a collaborative record with Swiss beat-maker Chief which came out in early November 2011; and the next is the eighth edition of his annual holiday release, Martian Xmas 2011, released just over a month later on December 22, 2011. So having a project lie fallow for almost six years is practically unheard of for the man who has been referred to as a rap renaissance man.
“It’s a relief to have it finally come out. We’ve been sitting on it a long time,” he says. “The fact that we had problems releasing ZZBRA became frustrating. So many times we thought the album was going to come out, but you know, just a lot of behind the scenes details would sometimes prevent our art from actually seeing the light of day.”
But he adds philosophically, “Sometimes a good piece of art has to be given some time to breathe and age. It’s a monumental project; maybe it just wasn’t supposed to come out then. Who knows?”
While the initial writing and recording of the vocals for ZZBRA were done within a few days in 2006, over time they periodically went back to tweak, add, and change things on the album.
“Every time we thought it was going to come out, there would be some edits and adjustments made. Actually, about two years ago we thought it was going to come out again, so we went back and added a couple of tracks to it – and then it never came out!” he says with a laugh.
The concept behind the album’s jungle theme (and accompanying tongue-in-cheek faux-film) was inspired by the wildly inventive flavour of the music that was originally presented.
“Me and Evil had only known each other a short while, and then a proposal for this project came up through a mutual friend of ours who actually did the music for it,” Denton recalls.
Evil Ebenezer, Denton’s musical collaborator and the other half of ZZBRA, has his own musical pedigree, having shared the stage with the likes of Souls of Mischief, Ra the Rugged Man, Planet Asia, Devin the Dude, Tech Nine, and the Beatnuts. He has also toured and collaborated extensively with Sweatshop Union, Josh Martinez, and Snak the Ripper, and recently turned heads on the Vans Warped Tour with super-group Brass Tackz.
“The music that was submitted for the album was very wild; it was very eclectic. And we decided we’ll just try and do something that just really let our guard down, and completely let loose. [We] just kind of let our primal side show, and that’s how the concept of sort of a jungle theme came up,” says Denton. “Then we just had fun with it.”
The video for the first single off the album, “Green,” perfectly captures this primal sense that Denton describes. Images of wild animals and mystical voodoo-esque figures in a jungle-like setting are interspersed with quick cuts to gritty city scenes, including shots of a concrete graffiti-stamped skatepark – an urban jungle, if you will.
“It was a lot of spontaneity, a lot of running around, decisions made on the spot,” Denton says of the video directed by album co-producer Stuey Kubrick.
“We wanted to make sure things were visually striking. Not everything has to make sense to the eye the first time around. It’s very abstract, which goes hand in hand with the album. The album’s very left-field.”
Left-field is certainly an apt description for an album that may or may not be the long-lost soundtrack to a doomed, pan-African jungle adventure epic. But whatever it is, ZZBRA, the wild child of this eclectic fusion between music, myth, and movie magic is finally ready to be seen by the world. And judging by the minds behind the music, it’s bound to be a record quite unlike anything else coming out in 2012.
For more information on ZZBRA, including upcoming tour dates, visit: http://camobeardigital.com/
02. Let’s Roll
05. Number One
06. Call For Some Help
07. Running Back
09. I Look Lebanese
10. Stunt Driver
12. Like I Love You
13. Uh Hug
14. Zzbra Homie