A Florida crew's bold, vivid mixtapes reveal an artful take on rap's humid booty
Under Piff'd Off, British writer Anthony Walker chats every month about the best in current mixtape culture.
Metro Zu are a rap group from Miami made up of four members - Lofty 305, Freebase, Ruben Slikk and Mr. B the Poshstronaut - who release a lot of lo-fi music and make art that is like the work of early hip-hop avant-gardists Basquiat and Rammellzee reared on a sugar-rich diet of video games and anime; visceral expressionism and elaborate futurism scrawled with the attitude of a classroom doodle.
I first heard of them when one of their songs, 'Mink Rug', featured on SpaceGhostPurrp's God of Black EP last year and though the groups still work closely together, you could describe them as a brighter counterpoint to the Raider Klan. They use with the same basic template but Metro Zu are happier to play with their influences – pushing ideas to their extreme rather than ruminating on them. Sex is their core concern and the steady stream of projects released through one of their two main Bandcamp accounts are simply tagged: “experimental, sex, Miami”. One of their most popular tracks to date 'Sell My Hoe', is built around its goofy chorus chant and their broad method is an unflinchingly hedonistic take on all the common vices that linger in a lot of Southern rap music, particularly the explicit Miami Bass that was heralded by Uncle Luke and the 2 Live Crew.
The group's individual projects overlap but Ruben Slikk is their most impressive rapper and, in a context where the funniest line is often best, the most effective. He came up with the notable: “Call me Humphrey, I humped your hoe” on 'Sell My Hoe' and his latest solo release Zanlord Kult Mob gives a good overview of his colourful style. He drifts between a demented “posh” pimp-mobster persona and demented thuggish-goon persona and both are attacked with a single-minded zeal. He wants your mammy and grammy as well as your wifey on 'Leesh' and links his pimp “persuasion” with a glimpse of a “purse waving” on 'Gangbang Dat Ho'. His purposefully provocative style is immature and can veer into the morally irresponsible or even reprehensible but when he's on form Ruben Slikk can be captivating. He's the best because he's the weirdest and the weirdest because he's the best, like a Lil B without the moments of profound insight and altruism.
Zanlord Kult Mob is a combination of fully fledged tracks and part-finished experiments, with a soundscape made up of Southern hip-hop and dance tinged with R&B and ambient electro. The sequencing is off too, with wildly different tracks either lumped side by side or with odd extended outros and overheard studio chat bridging them. Most songs feature fellow Zu members and other affiliates but Slikk always stands out, his fast-raps on 'Better' and super calm delivery on 'Luis Vizzle' with Twiggy Rasta Masta - so assured he actually ends up hanging out with the dad of the girl he's with - good examples of his expansive flow. The other thing is how flat-out good a lot of these tracks are, particularly the more developed ones towards the end. Something like 'Rozay' is too delirious to be a proper club hit but the basic elements are there and the hook is catchy and insistent enough to stick quickly.
'Plastic Bagz' is the one song that gets anyway near introspective and a break in the tape. Set over a bleak Gorillaz track that begins with guest Matt Stoops grumbling about his suicidal tendencies and has Slikk in a very #based and positive mood. It could just be another pastiche – the bags blowing in the wind thing has been spoofed a lot already – but if it is it still reinforces just how disarming and surprising he can be, with or without the obvious shock tactics. When he says he “feels like Kirby” in the last song 'XTSEE' he sums his wide-eyed lust for life perfectly, a smart lyrical understanding of the group's vivid artwork. The best jokes can never be explained fully but if Metro Zu like to hold a fairground mirror up to their world Ruben Slikk is great at embodying the twisted reflection: the ravenous consumer of every excess like the craning, fragmenting figure depicted the tape's cover.