Philadelphian rapper and producer Zilla Rocca might not be a household name but few have gone so far as to develop themselves' a recognisable sound in a genre that's often defined by homogeneity.
With his lauded brand of noir-hop - think super-dark soundtracks to a whiskey-voice rapping a modern Raymond Chandler novel about life in Philly (only in a super non-pretentious way) - and a burgeoning writing career, we thought it'd be a good time to get Rocca talking about his influences, especially that old rap favourite - the top three MCs list.
Like most people, I had a love-hate relationship with Nas for years. But after "Life is Good" dropped 2 years ago, I had this revelation about him - he's the most relatable great rapper of my lifetime. He's fallen for the wrong women. He's bad with money. He misses his childhood friends. And he never does what anyone else wants him to do. That takes courage to show your failings and be willing to risk acceptance every time you drop an album. He's someone to look up to as I get older, for sure. And yes - he's the best writer in rap history. He's just as good now as he's ever been, because he's only really ever cared about being a great rapper. He learned that he's not a label head or fashion designer or actor. I love his focus, his humanity, and his razor sharp skill set.
2. Aesop Rock
It's safe to say that Aesop Rock could be the most original emcee of all time. I've been a diehard of his for 14 years and at no point have I listened to any of his songs or albums and was able to decipher where he was chipping any of his styles from. I can't tell who his influences are unless he says so in an interview. That's incredibly rare. Usually, when you've been rapping a long time, you hear people's influences right away -- "That guy borrowed Jay-Z's flow" or "He was in love with Slick Rick when he made that". Aesop is his own thing, all of the time, from the Def Jux days to The Uncluded to Hail Mary Mallon. And now he's mastered production. I still haven't heard anything that sounds like "Skelethon". I've been rhyming for 16 years and making beats for 12 years, and he's shown me how you stay incredible at both - just be you.
Ghost was my favourite emcee for a long time, but his output the last few years knocked him down a peg (while Nas and Aesop Rock got better). But still -- "Ironman" is my favourite album of all-time in any genre. "Supreme Clientele" is probably the best 2nd album in rap history. "Pretty Toney" is a blast to listen. Even the Theodore Unit album is crazy. Ghost's consistency, from 1996-2009 is unrivalled. "Ghostdini" is a beautifully written album. I just think he's burned out right now. He hasn't had a break in about 7 years. His turn on "Couples Therapy" genuinely breaks my heart. But whenever he gets his head right again, he'll move back up my list, because he's the best storyteller ever with a helluva ear for beats.