After an 11-minute version of his track “Ima Read” played during Rick Owens’ Fall/Winter ’12 runway show, Zebra Katz became the darling of both the fashion elite and the musically elitist. The menacing minimalism was a stark contrast compared to mainstream hip-hop’s overproduced sensibilities, using monotones and repetition with similar phrasing to hypnotic effect. “You think about the word “bitch”, it’s me trying to really desensitize it, trying to use the word bitch so many times that if someone else said it, it wouldn’t have that much context,” Katz frontman Ojay Morgan told me recently. “I want to own the term bitch, similar to what Missy Elliot did with her track “She’s A Bitch” but take it another level. And with Njena Reddd Foxxx being on it, using the word bitch and being empowered by it is such a great thing. I don’t think people can pay attention to that, however, because they don’t know how to talk about it.” If there’s one thing Katz has done, it’s make people talk. even if it’s simply about the fact that he makes damn good tunes. His recent mixtape DRKLNG dropped less than a month ago, making the music press wet with 12 new tracks that further explore, expand on and embrace the persona both he and the media have constructed around him.
Stylistically, DRKLNG sticks close to the aesthetics Katz is known for. “Josephine Effect” is maybe our first real audible look into the psyche of Katz: he’s going off, but the idea of celebrity is still alien to him. He represents the perpetual Other. As he name drops Rihanna, Grace Jones and Jay-Z among others, his backdrop is a void-blasted beat punctuated by refracting wooden clatters and the growls of beasts; a growl that soon becomes Katz himself on “Pulla Stunt”. The typical puffed-chest braggadocio of gangster rap is present, but it’s impossible to take seriously within the context—which is entirely the point. For all of the “darkness” in Katz’s work, there’s also a deliberate, tongue-in-cheek sensibility. ”Ima pull a stunt, Ima fuck the cunt”, his pitched-down vocals warn, and how can you help but laugh along with him?
“I’ve always felt I was part of a novel as opposed to a ‘scene’.” said Katz. “I always prided myself on hanging out with some different motherfuckers; I hate hanging out with people who like all the same shit sometimes. I like to learn something different.” DRKLNG stays true to this mindset: it’s unmistakably Zebra Katz, but branching out into a few paths we haven’t heard him explore outside of live performances and seeing him more confident than ever before. Besides which, it’s also (to my knowledge) the first hip-hop mixtape to expound upon the natural beauty of being elbow-deep in zebra vagina. Some truths you just can’t get from Gucci Mane.