Sunday June 16th, 2024
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Ziad Zaza’s Influences Dominate on New EP ‘525'

Zaza has demonstrated that he is operating on a completely different level at this moment, but is it authentic?

Scene Noise

Ziad Zaza’s Influences Dominate on New EP ‘525'

Ziad Zaza is showing no signs of stopping or even slowing down. This is his momentum, and he is fully aware of it, using the buzz around him to his utmost advantage. The rapper from Fayoum, east of Cairo, has achieved undeniable successes both commercially and artistically, comfortably placing him in the top tier of stars in the Egyptian, and possibly Arab, hip-hop scene. Several factors have contributed to Zaza's current position at the top of the scene: his consistency, constant reinvention, exceptional ability to harness his musical influences and shape them to his advantage, making them seem authentic, in addition to being well-informed about what’s happening in the Western hip-hop scene while striving to keep up with it.

Zaza’s latest release is a short album titled "525," which is his second album this year alone, amidst numerous single releases. This album reinforces Zaza’s position as a rapper who operates in a realm entirely his own, distinct from his contemporaries in terms of sound, rap performance, and overall unconventional style. However, if you play Zaza’s latest album with preconceived expectations, hoping to hear hip-hop filled with precise, carefully-written bars and powerful rhymes or even melodic rapping, this might not be for you, and Ziad Zaza as an artist might not suit your taste. Zaza’s lyrical prowess and vocal range may not particularly be his greatest strength, but he is fully aware of this and doesn’t pretend otherwise or try to mask it with excessive use of autotune. What he possesses, which is perhaps rarer, is faith in himself, a constant hunger for more, and a fearless approach to experimentation that can sometimes be extreme.The album "525" consists of four tracks, including a single collaboration with an emerging rapper, ZEIN4L. The album's themes draw heavily from Mahraganat in terms of lyrics and in terms of sound composition and structure more so from rap rage. In the first half of the EP, Zaza’s lyrics talk about informants, escaping from the police and breaking the law, which is a core theme in mahraganat, the genre through which Zaza began his musical journey and which still clearly influences him. Zaza heavily relies on these themes on the first half of the EP which serves the persona he’s trying to convey onto a platter for the listener.

On the beats front, the album offers a rich listening experience. Zaza carefully selects his beats and collaborates with high-level producers, including Omar Keef, 5mstashar, and Karim Osman. Zaza glides over the beats smoothly and effortlessly, presenting his unique vocal style and the ad-libs that have become his trademark. In the intro track "Gaboolna El-Hokooma," 5mstashar and La Zuz deliver an unconventional beat blending boom bap, rage, and grime, using a melodic synth sample that repeats throughout the track. Zaza delivers short, precise bars over the beat, followed by a strong verse from ZEIN4L, who elevates the track with clever bars and smooth wordplay.

Zaza continues to convey a tough-guy persona over a hard-hitting beat on the second track ‘Ent Btrshd’ produced by Omar Keef, known for creating Zaza’s hit single “Sama3 Akhina.” Zaza’s performance can barely be categorized as rapping, instead, he delivers one-liners in an aggressive spoken-word manner, a consistent feature throughout the record. The following track, "Ana Almazika," features Zaza repeating the phrase “Ana Almazika (I am music)” excessively over a minimal industrial beat that evolves with synth-driven elements midway through. Zaza employs unprecedented techniques on this track, introducing an underlying humming melody that adds texture to the soundscape. He delivers short, subtle bars, throwing shade at the industry while proclaiming himself the future of music. The concept of the track can unabashedly be traced back to Playboi Carti’s record “I AM MUSIC.”Ziad Zaza does not try to hide his influences; instead, he proudly wears them in his music and even openly declares them. In our last interview with him, he stated that Playboi Carti is "the coolest person in the world right now," which has been evident in Zaza's style since his album "Zaza El Waseem." Zaza is heavily influenced by Carti, and for good reasons. Carti is perhaps the most intriguing rapper in the mainstream American hip-hop scene, and he is very influential even to Western hip-hop.

Zaza has demonstrated that he is operating on a completely different level at this moment, and this record further solidifies that. Since his emergence, the rapper has had the courage to deviate from conventional rap structures and present himself unapologetically, and he continues to do so. His approach is different, refreshing, and motivating. However, questions about the authenticity of his style perhaps will always be part of the conversation.

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