Album Review: Zelooperz – Van Gogh’s Left Ear

[Bruiser Brigade; 2021]

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, my favorite rapper identified himself as a Martian; someone who was Not a Human Being. It was weird, it was cool, but most importantly it was good for rap music. The generation-defining originality of Lil Wayne begat the uniqueness of Young Thug. It fathered a thousand talents. 

ZelooperZ takes rap music and rips into it with his teeth, gnashing at the conventions and boundaries until the seams are ripped apart. At times it sounds like words are coming out of his mouth faster than he can shape them. His voice shifts from a corrosive whine to a rumbling baritone at a speed that can be hard to keep up with. These qualities are out-there, sure, but they stand out amongst a sea of interchangeable artists, and the individuality shown on Van Gogh’s Left Ear is a huge win for rap.

A painter on the side, Zeloop (real name Walter Williams) deals in art. He painted the album cover, as he does for most of his projects (he even painted the goat). Clearly, fitting in is not his goal: “I could do what you be doin’ but that would be weird,” he raps on “Other Side of the Mirror”. You won’t find many choruses, or even much of a connecting thread throughout the project. Instead we get a panoply of different beats, hype tracks, contemplative raps and sonic experiments.

Opener “Battery” is pure butane: “Goin’ so hard I wanna fight my songs!” That energy continues through on “Each and Every Moment”: “When you listen to my music, you think damn he really want it!” Indeed, you do! Later, 454 filters ZelooperZ through his sped-then-screwed style on “Dont Leave”. “Mechanic”’s beat is so weird that it sounds like it was produced by the late Scott Walker.

Three beats here come courtesy of WhoTheHellIsCarlo?, and these are the most conventionally ‘Detroit rap’ sounding. Appropriately, each one is a hard-hitting bar-fest. Zeloop told Office Magazine last year, “In Detroit, we set trends, that’s just what we do… We’re the best, and I’m not just saying that because I’m from there. Everywhere I go, they’re playing our shit.” He’s not wrong, and if the music sounds this good then I’m gonna be okay with that.

Lyrically, Zeloop carries a bit of Lil B’s double-take-inducing irreverence, as on the bonkers “Bash Bandicoon”: “Feel like I’m inside a maraca, shake me and then I vanish / Feel like I’m inside a ice cube, picture me inside it man[?]… Roll me in a rug, throw me off a boat” – I don’t know what the fuck Zeloop is talking about here, if anything. It’s more apparent that he’s making himself as animated as possible. And that’s animated in both senses of the word: the track gives off the almost psychedelic effect of Zelooperz casting himself as Sony’s hot-footed CGI marsupial.

His verses are so fast that you might miss a gem on first listen: “K pop like I’m Wendy” is one that stands out to me. Unlike a lot of the big Detroit rappers right now, ZelooperZ is not new – he’s been doing his thing for about a decade. Throughout Van Gogh’s Left Ear, his style strikes me as something versatile, real, seasoned yet fresh as hell. 

Album closer “Satellites”, with its wholesome animated video, is a highlight of the entire project. The beat plays like a subdued version of Future’s “Mask Off”, and I see the track as an ode to persistence: “My toes don’t know nathan / My toes can’t say nothin’ / My toes just kept runnin’!” In a moment of pure emotional catharsis, he asks, repeatedly, “What would you do for everything in your life to be alright? / What would you do for every thing in your life to be alright? / What would you do for everything in your life to be alright? / What would you do for every thing in your life to be alright?” It’s arresting in its nakedness, and in under two minutes the song is over. Like most of Van Gogh’s Left Ear, it’s unafraid, memorable, and totally creative.