After the announcement of his two pieces of good news, I had to shine a light on the blindingly obvious: the pieces in the puzzle of prosperity are starting to come together for Big Zuu. He took care of his debut show on BBC Radio 1Xtra with ease, inviting JME, Merky Ace and D7 along for the ride, and then proceeded with the roll out of his second project of 2018, named Content With Content.
This feels like a coming of age project in the larger scale of Zuu’s music career; he’s put in the hard yards on radio sets, gained experience through performances at events and festivals, now it’s time to make sure his evolution is reflected in the music. Just looking at the track list, it’s no coincidence that he’s hired the help of heavyweights such as JME and P Money, as well as a household name in Craig David. The success of The Joints Show propelled Zuu to the forefront of the scene and it’s now time to capitalise upon that. The timing’s perfect; the announcement of the 1Xtra show would put fresh eyes on his name and fresh ears around his music. This also comes at a time when Big Zuu feels confident in his sound, experimenting on 2017’s Big Zuu EP and this year’s Hold Dat EP, now finding his feet with the styles that feel comfortable. I stated in last weeks article that I’d like to see ‘melodic Zuu’ fully exhibited on future songs and projects, and I hoped it would prevalent in Content With Content.
The project starts out with the standardized rapper intro – titled Intro [Tension] – in which Zuu lets off round after round of unfiltered content. Beginning with the West Londoner giving us a brief insight into his life, detailing influential surroundings before the song develops into humble (and not so humble) brags whilst referencing his come up. The standout bar in the song’s singular verse comes right at the very end – “and I can’t tell you about the shit I got projected / because a contract got that shit protected” – Zuu implying he’s signed non-disclosure agreements, which are only usually used in high end deals. Despite the subtle flex, it’s a good indication of how far Zuu’s come. He’s now at a point where he’s attracting attention from major brands and corporations, and as he said, all with “no cosign”. My personal prognosis for the project was perfectly proven in the outro to the Intro, Zuu closing out the track with a short (but sweet) piece of singing.
Considering I’ve had Content With Content on rotation for a few days now, favourites have started to form and standouts are there to be seen. The second track on the project, Don’t Brag, is arguably at the top of that list. It encompasses the best of Zuu in my opinion. We get to see a good range of his vocal ability, nicely stringing melodies together, all the the while maintaining the essence of that hard-hitting, passionate delivery which has got him to this stage. The smooth, piano-lead instrumental acts as the perfect backdrop to Zuu’s harmonious hook, before the beat drops in and the rapper gets busy. It’s not just the hook which harbours some harmony, however; it’s mixed in well with the delivery of the rap verses. Parts of the song actually reminded me of Dappy at his best, which is a huge compliment considering how talented that guy is. Zuu previously declared he’d like Content With Content to be enjoyed in chronological order, and when you consider how well the ‘underdog’ theme of this track follows on from the previous, it’s clear that Zuu had a level of cohesion in mind when making the project. This is not a trait I would associate with an ‘EP’, which is how it had been described, hence my insistence on referring to it as a project. That’s definitely a topic for another day, though.
Fall Off, the succeeding track (used as Zuu’s lead single), is a perfect blend between the new gen of Grime and the genre’s OG’s. After Zuu lays down the argument on his part, a vibrant assessment of the scene as he sees it, JME comes in with his own appraisal. An educated evaluation of the trials and tribulations both inside and outside of the music industry, the veteran virtuoso vents about societal problems as he exclaims, “man are still lying to the youth / so I’ma give them nothing but truth / whether you play by the rules or stay on the road / there ain’t no easy route”. This is a track which bridges the gap between the formative era of Grime and the contemporary era of today, and from my perspective there’s a clear parallel in the two rappers’ verses.
If you didn’t catch the elegant backing vocals in the hook of Fall Off, the next two tracks will give you a chance to catch up on Zuu’s diverse vocal ability. The combination of gritty Grime and RnB-esque melodies is continued on both B.I.G and Elevation, from the well-integrated adlibs in the first track to the catchy hook of the latter. The hard knocking B.I.G instrumental reflects the grittier side of Grime whilst Elevation gives us more of a Dubstep infused flavour, but Zuu deals with them both to similar effect. These two tracks are further testament to the process in which he created the project; made to be consumed chronologically. P Money interrupts Zuu’s solo salvo with a verse on the end of Elevation, which he executes in trademark P Money fashion. Rapid fire flow and witty remarks in abundance, the Lewisham mic man himself recognizing the rise of the focal artist, remarking “Bigger than Zuu / Who, you? / You’re bugging”.
Zuu decides to put the smooth vocals to one side for the next track, Vision, and really get back into that pocket of authentic Grime. From the letter-based punchlines at the jump, combined with a slick flow and wordplay such as, “you ain’t a Young Thug you gotta listen / catch me out with my ‘Migos / then Takeoff on some radio / still Offset I’m not different”. The second verse is again reminiscent of traditional Grime as Zuu puts some more potent punches together amongst a call-and-respond flow. It’s also worth noting that the same “No!” ad-lib is used throughout the project, perhaps an attempt by Zuu to curate a ‘trademark’ ad-lib, or perhaps just to help maintain that level of consistency and familiarity.
It speaks volumes that neither of the two standouts for me on Content With Content are what I’d usually associate with Big Zuu. The first being Don’t Brag, and second being this one, Mine And Yours. The instrumental alone is something to be seriously admired, a bumping bassline and atmospheric lead come together to create a real nice vibe. Definitely my favourite beat on the project – or any other project of recent. Yeah, it gassed me. This palatable production then provided Zuu with the perfect canvas to make a sweetboy anthem, which he accomplishes in style. The composition of the verses is to be admired as he addresses relationship problems, still fitting in witty lines such as “we’ve got foundation / that’s how we make up”. A tune which is likely to stay in your head for the rest of the day, Zuu’s comfort zone just got that bit bigger.
Continuing his relentless onslaught with No Breaks, Zuu reaffirms his stand-alone position in the game whilst simultaneously explaining the strife on the streets. The powerful verses sit between another melodic chorus, accompanied by some delicate female vocals in the background. After commenting on various issues surrounding society, referencing ‘they’, Zuu then explaining “and I know they’re gonna ask me ‘who are they?’ / they’re the ones who allow shit to function”. Another very well composed track, this is an additional example of the artistic progression; there’s a big difference between writing bars and writing a song. We’ve long known that Zuu is capable of penning a hard verse, but it’s now becoming more and more evident that he’s striving for songwriter status as well.
The tempo changes, the themes don’t. I Know, the penultimate track, slows down the quickening pace set in motion by Zuu, perhaps catering for this track’s esteemed feature: Craig David. Despite the veteran singer’s scattered exploits in Rap, I think we all had a general idea of how this song would sound after seeing it on the track list, and for the most part we’d be correct. It’s a song with mainstream appeal, and, if you’re afforded the luxury of a Craig David feature, that’s exactly what you should be shooting for. After Mr. David delivers a catchy chorus, Zuu hits us with in with a reflective tone, aptly consistent with the position of this song on the release. As mentioned, the themes of the project are not left behind: success of the underdog story and preaching positivity.. The recurring topic of “making it out”, referring to the kids trying to use music or other means to make it out of their hood, is a problem which Zuu clearly holds close to his heart. His work in the community, not to mention support of Grenfell, is a driving force in his music and a trait to be cherished.
Building on the HipHop vibe from the last track, Outro [Change Things] gives Zuu a bit more room to flex his vocals. Another sleek, soulful instrumental; the production value has to be applauded. The introspective hook, “I cant change things / if I blame things”, reminds of the kind of jovial melodies D12 used to use in their hooks. Another compositional compliment, altering intonation and cadence is clearly something Zuu’s taking on board, and using to good effect. The percussion cuts out towards the end of the verse, allowing the instrumental to truly shine as it reaches the breakdown. Zuu shares his optimistic sentiment in the form of a short monologue at the end, before allowing the project to draw to a close with the song’s hook sitting atop some crisp, harmony-driven ad-libs.
For those in or around the scene who have followed Big Zuu from the start of his journey, from all those sets at Mode FM, Content With Content should bring a smile to your face. It’s the start of a new phase, in my opinion, for Zuu: both inside music and out of it. He’s running his own race, no PED’s in the form of label/company backing, just good music and good vibes. He’s garnered acclaim for himself from both audiences and peers alike, leading him to form organic bonds and therefore be able to have features such as the ones on this project. I want to call it an album, because that’s what it feels like to me. A cohesive, structured body of work with a little bit of everything (and a lot of what we know and love from Zuu). If you weren’t previously aware, I’m sure you are now: you’d struggle to find a spitter with passion like Big Zuu. His only flaw, in my opinion, is in fact a result of his passion; sometimes not enunciating bars clearly enough for the listener to recite. It’s all good though, you don’t need to catch every single bar to feel what Zuu brings. He’s demonstrated influence from Grime, Dubstep, RnB and even Rock, which only adds to the eclectic sound. From exercising different styles, to perfecting those already demonstrated, this is a real accomplishment from the MTP member. I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say he’s the most versatile artist in London, but he’s definitely the most versatile artist in his crew.
Words: Duke Sky