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Artist Spotlight: Zilla Rocca

by Travis on September 28, 2008

Once again, WYDU is turning into the domain of Zilla Rocca. My man Zilla dropped an ill lil’ mixgtape this week, Bring Me The Head of Zilla Rocca. Armed with dope samples, hard beats (as well as soulful) and the character that is Zilla Rocca, Bring The Head is a sure shot to be in the running for best mixtapes of the year. We had a chance to sit down and talk to Zilla, and I must admit, talking to him or Nico is always fun. We talked about the new mixtape, the future of Beat Garden more as a collective than a label, and of course, alcohol. Good times had by all….

Zilla Rocca – Bring Me The Head of Zilla Rocca

WYDU: What’s good Mr. Rocca, for those readers out there that don’t spend 2 plus hours a day reading the variety of blogs out there, can you tell them who you are and some of your background?

Zilla Rocca: Sure! I’m a disease-free male from South Philadelphia raised on the Beatles, Catholic School, and baseball. I rap, produce, engineer, podcast, blog, and follow sports almost psychotically. I’m one-half of the group Clean Guns and the president and co-founder of Beat Garden Entertainment. I have alot of artsty-fartsy friends who like to work on music, or write about me on their websites, or book me for shows. I used to be a self-serving, spoiled bastard but I’ve grown up a bit. And I like to have fun. Like my homie Distant Starr of MAGr said, “We artists. We have fun, man.” That idea changed my life.

W: Since you are trying to get your Russell Simmons on, what exactly is Beat Garden Entertainment? I’ve also wondered myself what exactly is Yadibox and how does it fit into the equation?

ZR: I’ve actually scaled back recently from the Russell Simmons career path because it was draining me as an artist. I had to realize that I’m not cut-out to be a suit–I like listening to music, beating up my Netflix, and working on songs moreso than I do updating 7 MySpace pages a day, handing out business cards, and dealing with rotten people who really “won’t be around next year,” word to Craig Mack.

Beat Garden Enertainment is now just a tool, a collective resource for myself, Nico the Beast, Clean Guns Big O, Triple Nickels, Alex Wood, Noochman, and our very close fam-a-lams 2ew Gunn Ciz, ASK? and MAGr. We all bring something to the table and combine resources to make things happen. It’s been quite a learning experience since we started in May ’06–people have come, people have gone. But the founders of Beat Garden will never change–Nico the Beast, Big O, and myself. We are best friends first, we share the same dream second, and we handle all of our business third. is a medium for Philly-based artists to be heard. We work closely with them–it’s the brain child of Randy Watson and M.O.G. and DAME of Triple Nickels/Rowdee Black Giants. Whether it’s video clips of live shows, interviews, podcasts, or live streaming radio, Yadibox is vital for Philly hip hop–our radio stations here suck just as much as yours. So if you want to be heard WORLDWIDE, and they have over 4 million hits with NO ADVERTISTING, get at ‘em!

W: So no more label? What can we expect from Beat Garden collective in the future and who do you plan on working with?

ZR: At this point, we’re falling back from being a “label.” The Beat Garden logo on a CD now is moreso a branding of quality Philly hip hop. We realized that being “a record label” was never our dream and we are not really equipped to do it justice while at the same time juggling day jobs, families, wives, kids, mortgages, recording, performing, promoting, etc. It’s just too many hats to wear, and we go crazy stressing ourselves out while trying to be a suit, something none of us have desired to be. We like to be in control of all the major aspects of making music, our image and artwork, etc but official business matters should be handled by people who, you know, LIKE doing that kind of stuff.

Right now we have a couple offers from labels, one indie and one kinda-major. I can’t really speak on them ’cause nothing is certain yet, but I will tell you this–the next Clean Guns LP will have a label behind it.

W: So let’s talk about your mixtape, Bring Me The Head of Zilla Rocca, were you the victim of a psycho stalker chick or something? You are just asking for stalkers man, take it from me, being a pseudo famous blogger, its hard enough to keep the crazies away, but being a blogger and a rapper, you are asking for a bunny rabbit in the pot of hot water treatment….

ZR: Ha ha! *actual laughter, not just typing in junk* I try to avoid the Fatal Attraction scene by being honest and authentic–unlike some people who frequent the internet, how I am on a blog or a messageboard is actually how I am in real life. I don’t have my “rap persona” on one side, my “blogging persona” on another, and then my “digital gangster” badge with Wi-Fi pistols cocked
and aimed. Honestly, I’m just sick of people who act like Tarzan on the internet, and then when I see them in person, they’re Jane. We call them Liptons ’cause that’s what they are–noodles!!! A noodle’s gonna be a noodle no matter what kind of laptop they own. Peace to Jeff Weiss and Fresh from 33jones from being great dudes in person and great writers on the web as well. (PS Jeff really smokes alot of weed. And actually gets hot women.)

W: I want to grow up to be like Jeff, that dude is my blogging hero. All stalker talk aside and my public service duties done…You drop comparisons to some classic albums in the press release of the mixtape, which I’m totally taking out of context right now, but what were you striving for in the creative process of this album?

ZR: Well I started working on solo stuff at the behest of Nico the Beast last spring. Most of it became my debut LP Fall Back Friday which is finished. But at the same time I had this idea for a mixtape titled Bring Me the Head of Zilla Rocca! It just sounded funny and would entice me if I was a listener to give it a chance.

I had a clear idea of what the LP was, but I had to figure out what the mixtape would be about, so I just kept making songs, stockpiling weird pieces of audio, doing collaborations with talented people. And I realized since I wouldn’t have a DJ to host and blend everything together, I had to figure out a way to make it cohesive. I learned alot from putting together the mixtapes for Clean Guns Living in Harmony and The Mixtape, namely that they didn’t flow as well as I would’ve liked in terms of song sequencing, transitions, collaborations–it was a bit too forced and choppy.

After listening to and becoming totally enamored with Wale’s The Mixtape About Nothing and Nas’s The N*gger Tape, I felt like my mixtape should be more than just cast-offs from the LP mixed with some random freestyles. It’s my first introduction to people outside of Clean Guns or the blogosphere, so I wanted to come correct. After it was done is when I realized it had the same spirit of Redman and Beastie Boys and Ghost in that those guys mainly make the listener feel like they’re just having fun in the studio with them, rapping over whatever the hell they want, including funny voicemails from their friends. I’m lucky the mixtape evolved into that. I’m really really proud of it because I stressed out so much over the sequencing and transitions, so I’m glad people are enjoying that aspect of it!!

W: The album has some dope samples, from the Blue Oyster Cult to Marvin Gaye, and some I’m sure I’m totally missing so far, how do you choose a sample? Is is something you go searching for, or do they just kind of slap you in the face?

ZR: Sometimes with samples, you just come across something and it inspires you to rhyme where you don’t have to think about it too much. That happened with the Marvin Gaye break for “Cup Runneth” and the Dorothy Ashby sample on “All Feast, No Famine.” With the Blue Oyster Cult sample on “Flow God Zilla,” Nico and his brother Noochman heard it on Guitar Hero and called me all crazy like “YO! YOU NEED TO SAMPLE THIS!!” When I produce for other artists, I usually search for specific sounds or vibes to match their style. Most of the beats I produced on the mixtape are either 1-2 years old and got passed over by other people or I made them specifically to fill a hole on the tape.

W: Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed like you had more of the soulful type songs on this than I’ve seen from your crew in the past (which you killed), was that something you aimed for?

ZR: Most definitely! I didn’t want me nor Beat Garden to be pigeonhole to any one idea or sound. And honestly, the past year or so, I’ve been on a loose, funky kick and it comes out in my beat selection. I’ve been listening to alot of the Daptones Records catalogue, Stax Records catalog, Rotary Connection, Spanish funk shit, old and new Dilla projects. I wanted to do more than just write battle raps over movie score beats–I wanted to talk about women ’cause I love women! I wanted to tell funny stories because my friends and I have funny things happen to us! Other times I wanted to straight spit, and I did that on “Pepsi with Ice” and “State of Grace Freestyle.” It’s all about versatility–me and my peoples can really get on ANY type of track and make it pop. No one just listens to one type of rap and feels one kind of way all of the time, and if their music reflects that one vibe or sound, that’s cool for them, but it feels like I’d be lying to myself if I stuck to that.

W: Judging from your samples and the sound that Clean Guns, Nico and you, I’m guessing you are a fan of a wide variety of music, how important is that to you, listen to more than just hip hop?

ZR: To me, the beauty of hip hop is that you can’t really make it good UNLESS it’s taking a piece of another genre. It’s amazing–there’s no rules! You can make ANYTHING hip hop–polka, prog rock, speed metal, gospel as long as it sounds dope. I go through phases where all I want to listen to is hip hop, then I’ll only listen to street shit, then I’ll only listen to my friends music, then I’ll only want to hear rock. This week I only felt like listening to MAGr, Blu’s new album Johnson & Johnson, and the Black Keys. Next week it’ll probably be Heltah Skeltah and like…I don’t know…Albert Hammond and Koushik or something.

W: This is leading up to the album, what can the unassuming public expect to be blind sided by on the album?

ZR: The album Fall Back Friday is done–it’s the soundtrack to driving down to Atlantic City on a Friday night. It’s obviously all original production in the vein of The College Dropout, Uptown Saturday Night, A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. Maybe I’ll drop it January/February–who knows. I guess when the mixtape becomes irrelevant and people move onto the next autotune classic, I’ll appear from the mountain tops and drop it on the heads. It’s more personal without being emo and whiny, but it’s still fun. It’s more like the biopic whereas the mixtape is the gross-out college comedy.

W: You were many hats, MC, producer, used to run a label, and a blogger…which is the hardest to do?

ZR: The hardest to do was run a label, and that’s why I stopped. It wasn’t fun, it was draining, it poisoned alot of valu
able relationships. Blogging is just fun–I honestly can’t believe people read it everyday. Who the hell am I? I just needed a place to empty out all the random things that pop into my head everyday. So to everyone who checks out Clap Cowards, thank you, for real.

The MC/producer thing comes in waves. Sometimes I won’t write a rhyme for 2 months and I’ll be killing it with the beats. Other times, I’ll be in such a rhyme zone that I’ll record 4-5 songs in a day. I don’t try to control it or coax it–it happens when it happens. And if it’s not there, I do other stuff–jog, read a book, watch weird ass movies from Netflix, get drunk with my friends, whatever.

W: What does Zilla Rocca drink on a night out the town? What’s your take on the energy drinks mixed with your favorite flavor of hard alcohol?

ZR: Ha ha! These are the kind of questions I like! Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a big advocate of Seven & Seven’s–it’s my signature. I like doing about 1-2 Yaegar bombs, but I sip those bad boys–I just like the taste of them oddly enough, though Yaegar is gross by itself and Red Bull tastes like shitty baseball card chewing gum.

Me and Dom P of Public Axis/MAGr’s manager get it in with Soco and lime shots (so does Mrs. Beast–don’t front!). On the beer tip, I’m drinking some Yuengling, some Hoeegarden, Corona, Red Striple, dark Belgian ales, Strongbow–anything but “football beers” (Coors, Bud, Miller, etc). I like Mojito’s too, but only during the daytime. I’m not a big drinker and I definitely know my limits, but I just enjoy alot of different kinds of alcohol.

Nico sticks to a strict diet of 40s of Old E, so does Big O because he gets it in with Grey Goose or cranberry and vodka. We just enjoy ourselves, man!

I can’t lie–a couple weekends ago I bought some Sparks! I was extremely tired but wanted to stay up all night and have fun. Otherwise, I don’t get down with the energy drinks mixed with alcohol. For the most part, they don’t keep me up like that.

W: Ever woke up in a strange place, miles away from where the night began and have no clue how you got there?

ZR: See I have fun but I’m not reckless. I’m not Bobby Brown or anything! Usually I’m the designated driver–my friends are the ones screaming at people and throwing potatoes at skeezers at 3am. I’ll tell you what though–last weekend was my birthday and these older ladies kept giving me free shots of Tequila along with the free drinks my homies were handing me—wowsers!!! I woke up where I was supposed to be waking up, but a large chunk of the evening was a blank.

W: So what else do you personally have set for the future?

Get a deal and quit my dayjob. Start working on the next Clean Guns album and have a dope label put it out. Go on tour. Do as many live shows as possible while getting better as a live performer. Sell a shit load of t-shirts! Do projects with 2ew Gunn Ciz and MAGr. Help tighten up the Triple Nickels album and get it out. Release the 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers project with Douglas Martin (it’s 99% finished–I been slacking!). License music for TV, movies, porn–whatever it takes to get my publishing money stacked!

As a person, just keep learning and pursuing what interests me. See the Bears win another Super Bowl, the Sixers win another title, the Dodgers get another World Series all in person with my dad. Meet Tom Waits. Fix the dent on my car. Live with my mom as long as possible–she’s my financial advisor, relationship coach, business mentor. Buy a switchblade like my friend Greg. Move to LA.

W: Any last words for the Zilla Rocca fan club out there?

ZR: Umm…live smart. Dress sharp. Eat “healthy” food. Read 1 book a month. Drink something because it tastes good not because it’ll get you drunk for $2.50. Fellas, own one gray suit. Ladies, own one pair of black knee high boots. And please, for the love all things holy, don’t post 19 bulletins a day on MySpace!

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