March 7, 2014

Zilla Rocca

zilla rocca

Zilla Rocca is Philly’s resident Noir Hop Godfather, Three Dollar Pistol label artist and boss, as well as a member of The Wrecking Crew. He’s released a slew of EPs, cassettes and full lengths over the last eight years that have gotten a lot of love from various blogs and fans alike, and he is poised to kick a huge hole in the musical ass of 2014 with his No Vacation for Murder album that drops April 1st. I bum rushed the vegan rap god last week on twitter to chop it up about his new album, his hand at running a label, and his obsession with all things noir.

Tell me a little about Three Dollar Pistol, and Noir Hop.

Three Dollar Pistol Music, is my imprint. Noir Hop is the aesthetic. The first Shadowboxers record The Slow Twilight is when I came up with the name, and it stuck. It separates me from everyone else. Most of the books I read are noir detective stories, and I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s in South Philly during the last real mob wars, so I’ve always had an inherent fascination with crime in cities. And the more I got into noir writers and films, the more I realized it was very similar to hip hop. There’s lots of slang, lust, money, violence, betrayal, booze, broads, and wavering morals. So at first it was just a feeling, but then it became my focus.

If you had to put a number on it, how many noir style books have you read? And what are your top three?

Ohhhh man…between novels, comics, and graphic novels, I’d say probably close to 100. My top three are Cornell Woolrich “Rendezvous in Black”, Ed Brubaker’s entire “Criminal” series which is a graphic novel, and Megan Abbott “The Song is You” — that entire book is like an ill rhyme, the writing is so lyrical. I have so many runner ups though, I feel like I’m shunning some of my favorite authors. And that hurts me.

So tell how Three Dollar Pistol came about. I know you had another label/collective and this sort of spawned from that right?

I used to have a label called Beat Garden Entertainment. It was my feeble attempt to be the Def Jux of Philadelphia. This was around 2006, when the industry was beginning to wither into dust. I gave it everything I had, but in the end, dealing with 10 other rappers, their projects, their baggage, and their egos while you are trying to make it as a rapper isn’t a good recipe. So I shut it down in late 2009. When El-P shut down Def Jux the following year, I realized if my own hero couldn’t pull it off, I had no chance in hell of sustaining an indie label. So in 2010, I just decided to start an imprint to put out all of my solo stuff, and that became Three Dollar Pistol Music. Now it’s four years later, and it’s still easy and effortless to do it this way. Once the business of putting out music feels like a pain in the ass, it’s time to shut it down.

So tell me the idea behind this upcoming record dropping April 1st. And I notice the last project Neo Noir had a cassette release, will that happen with the new one?

The new album No Vacation for Murder is the 2nd album from the Shadowboxers offshoot. It’s a concept album about revenge – what do you do when you’ve been betrayed, and how far are you willing to go to even the scales? Blurry Drones, my partner from the last Shadowboxers album The Slow Twilight, produced most of the record. He’s still unmatched with his ear for samples. This record features Open Mike Eagle, Geechi Suede, Roc Marciano, and my Wrecking Crew brothers Has-Lo and Curly Castro. It’s very dark and intense. I think you’ll love it.

Neo Noir was a mixtape, so I decided to press it up on cassette. It’s my most joyful project and it rekindled my love for rap, mix tapes, and cassettes themselves. No Vacation for Murder will be out on CD and digital; possibly cassette, if enough people want it on that format.

What’s your favorite Camp Lo song?

Oohhhh man! My favorite Camp Lo song?! Damn I love those guys so much! I’d have to go with “Swing” off Uptown Saturday Night, because it features two of my top 10 favorite rappers of all time – Geechie Suede and Ish from Digable Planets/Shabazz Palaces.

Are you a self sustained promotion machine as well as doing all the recording and writing? What’s your least favorite thing about promoting your music in this blogger ran market?

I handle most of my promotion, on top of handling writing, production, mixing, and mastering. I enjoy the promotion aspect the least. I’m a private person in general, so fundamentally I’m not hard up on talking about myself and pumping my stuff all day everyday. But the devil is in the details. It does help the bottom-line the more you promote. I get more satisfaction when a project is finished, and I love it. After that, i don’t care if it makes $20 or $2,000. My main job is to make something great.

Philly is widely known for acts like The Roots, Freeway, Beanie Siegel and Jill Scott, but not as well know for it’s independent acts in the same vein as yourself. Who do you think is criminally slept on from your town currently?

There’s a lot of dope guys here. On an indie level, I’d say my (Wrecking Crew) friends Curly Castro, who’s signed to Man Bites Dog Records, Small Professor on Coal Mine Records, and Has-Lo, who’s dropped joints with Mello Music Group. Reef the Lost Cauze is a friend who has fought and battled his way to the top of the indie circuit. Dumhi is a great producer. Ethel Cee is criminally overlooked. I always liked Side Effect. I miss Malik B, Last Emperor, and Grand Agent though.

Imagine you were kidnapped along with Open Mike Eagle, Has Lo and PremRock, and thrown into a Running Man fight to your death arena. Only it’s not to your death, it’s for the last piece of meat lovers’ pizza and a perfect review from the Needle Drop. Who would be the last man standing and what do you think has played a part in you all bonding, given your geographical distance?

I’d say PremRock wins because he’s the youngest and like me, he’s in pretty good shape. I’m about 3 years older than him though, and he lives in NYC, so he’s not about to take any shorts with me or Mike Eagle or Has. I think all of us are fans of the Needle Drop, so our killer instincts might surprise each of us. I’m only eating the gluten free meat lovers pizza with vegan cheese — that’s the life of a lactose intolerant man with a gluten allergy.

I’m actually closer to Has, Prem, and Mike Eagle than most of the guys I knew in Philly. It’s weird — we all just speak the same language. I’ve known Has for about six years, then I met Mike in Phoenix when me and Castro did some shows out there in 2011. Prem had Mike Eagle and Has on his album with Willie Green around that time, then reached out to me to do a show in Brooklyn in early 2012 along with Has. And it’s been aces ever since. They’re all genuinely great people, and we all know way too much about forgotten Wu-Tang affiliates and De La Soul b-sides. We were destined to squad up and become The Otherground.

zilla rocca

Last thing. I do a word association at the end so say the first thing that comes to mind.

Dice Raw: Great suits. Great hooks. There hasn’t been a year where I haven’t seen dice around the city

Yasin Bey: He’s pure art. I don’t even think of him as a rapper or emcee or actor anymore. He’s in my top 5 of all time. Still listen to The Ecstatic monthly.

Kale: necessary. Step your kale game up, yo! Baked that shit, sprinkle some garlic on there, and you’re good.

Wolverine: When i was a kid, Wolverine was my favorite superhero. But as an adult, he’s lost his luster to me. Still haven’t seen the last two Wolverine movies. I’m slacking.

The Sixers: It’s a great thing when your hometown team shares the same philosophies on management and culture as you. Keep tanking, y’all.

Portishead: Me and Curly Castro told were just talking about how it’s time to start sampling them again after Schoolboy Q sampled them twice now. Their concert DVD is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

Vegans: I’m about to marry one. They make great cheeses.

Donuts: Dilla if you hear me we are missing you so much.

Word up. Ok, records out April 1st; where can people buy it at?

People can buy the album at You can preorder it now. Physicals with be available April 8th.

zilla rocca