At The MSQ Shop's physical location in Richmond, Virginia we hear about indie artists all day long. If I -- or even the entire team combined -- listened to EVERY artist who's name comes up at the Shop, there would literally be no time left in the day to do anything else. Personally though, I've been way overdue to give Shaded Zu a real sit-down listen. Too many people who are too dope at what they do have told me that this guy is one of their favorites. How convenient that he would drop the fully self-produced "REBOOT" and give me a chance to dissect his freshest work.
I went in with very little context other than knowing dude is from 757 and is also a producer; which usually factors into said artists' approach at lyricism. On the intro track "BANG!," after a dance-pop sounding start, the bass drops...and I was slightly surprised to hear some super-layered rapper's-rapper flows full of alliteration and word flips. It was tight. On the second track Fake Uzumi (Shaded Zu's production name) shines with the obvious Pharrell vocal sample that will keep you coming back for how he chopped it up. I had already picked up strong Pharrell/Neptunes influences before, but by the 4th song I was 100% certain this entire album was either consciously or subconsciously a Neptunes/Pharrell tribute.
Don't get it twisted-- I'm not saying this shit is unoriginal our outdated. The cadences with the flows and the drums on this album are right now and beyond-- but the synths and samples are extremely reminiscent of late 90s to mid 00's Neptunes shit. It would be impossible for a producer/rapper from 757 NOT to be influenced by Pharrell, but this seems intentional. Only Fake Uzumi/Shaded Zu know what's up foreal, but by the sixth song, "GENTRIFIED," we're even hit with a "Grindin'" sample! And you would never guess thematically where that song goes...I won't spoil it-- listen to the album. In my opinion though that's what he does best throughout the entire work-- taking familiar vibes but creating something entirely new out of it.
Thats what Hip-Hop is all about ladies and gentleman-- from the start! In the late 70's, DJs and emcees were taking vibes from James Brown records from 15 years earlier and making the world feel something that they'd never felt before. We're doing the same thing today, flipping 00s vibes into shit like "WAIT!," the lead single from "REBOOT."
Shaded Zu continues his trend of paying tribute to the classics with an ode to Q Tip's "Vivrant Thing," hitting a Busta Rhymes flow in the process. The Based God Lil' B makes an appearance in all of his infamous glory on "VICTORY RD," and actually sounds way more put-together than usual. I appreciate that Shaded Zu used the Lil' B feature to put the often-pigeonholed Bay area artist on a 90's sample you wouldn't typically hear him on. The two emcees actually seemed to switch styles on this track too, with Shaded spitting an unstructured, loose rap about mostly nothing and Lil B getting as lyrical as Lil B gets. It might sound like a criticism-- but it was a dope little changeup.
My favorite song on this album was "ROMANTIC." Like the peanut butter and jelly he references in the hook, my guy achieves a perfect mix of early 00's themes and elements with today's shit. Dude referenced Karen Fillipelli on the joint too and I was sold.
Needless to say, I was predictably impressed with the effort from Shaded Zu (and Fake Uzumi) on this album. Turns out what dope people think is dope is usually pretty dope. Funny how that works. Now I'm telling y'all this "REBOOT" shit is dope so make what you will of that. Thats one big check off the list for me on indie artist I knew were gonna be dope but hadn't checked out yet list-- and now I'm a fan! I know y'all got some of those artists you been meaning to get around to supporting and immersing yourself in. Go check one off the list today. And if you thought you didn't have any--- you do now.
FOLLOW SHADED ZU ON INSTAGRAM: @fakeuzumi
Written by Zach Kirby @itskirbs804