ZelooperZ, a 29-year-old Detroit native, rapper, and painter, is the definitive nonconformist of the current generation of hip-hop. Creatively unbounded in terms of his off-the-wall lyrics and deliveries, it’s easy to think of him as being the artistic embodiment of the phrase “outside of the box.” Though lesser known to the mainstream eye, his popularity among the hip-hop fan community (alternative, underground, or otherwise) in recent years has seen a considerable and well-deserved increase. Representing the Danny Brown-led Bruiser Brigade, ZelooperZ manages to stand out significantly even among these likewise highly distinctive rap figures.
With the release of his latest project, ZelooperZ has announced the Traptastic Tour 2023 beginning next month. He plays in Dallas @ Trees on June 18th and in Houston @ Warehouse Live on June 19th. So, the Detroit rapper is bound to acquire new fans, and much the same way it occurred to me two years ago, his discography might look quite intimidating to newcomers. With an exceptionally productive 10 calendar years recording albums, an imminent question for rap fans looking to get into his music is begged: Where should one start?
Although this article might not provide the best answer to that exact question, I’ll attempt to dissect where ZelooperZ’s artistic abilities flourish the most. In doing this, perhaps such new fans will learn a bit more before making their own decision on where to begin. Along the way, I can answer a few questions: Which records were great? Which sucked? Which ones have stood — or will stand — the test of time, sounding great even years later?
Before getting into the ranking, let’s set a couple of rules.
- Only full length records will qualify for this list. This means no EPs. (This seems fair; the margins for error are different for each of EPs and LPs, so they should be considered separate.)
- Only “studio” releases will qualify. This means only stuff on streaming services. (This seems arbitrary and maybe even a bit unfair. But guess what? It’s my list. So I make the rules.)
- Only solo projects will qualify. This means collaborations are out. (Fair enough.)
So, records including (but not limited to) the following will not be ranked:
Get all that? Good. It’s time for a ZelooperZ discography ranking.
9. Gremlin (2020)
Though the animalistic premise of 2020’s Gremlin is intriguing enough, this album simply falls flat on its face in its execution. To put it lightly, several cuts off of this one sound like straight up parody. With an often minimal aesthetic in terms of production, the record relies heavily on what ZelooperZ is able to accomplish vocally; unfortunately, Z frequently strays far off the mark when given this requisite. Tracks like “Style for Sale,” reminiscent of the staccato rhythm in some “trash beat” memes, are almost comically absurd in their desire to be taken seriously. The minute-long twerk cut “Bounce” is incredibly amateurish, and would be a throwaway cut had any standards been held for the track listing. Lastly, some tracks are downright annoying, often due to irritating components such as the incessant vocal loop on “Dj Freaky Zhit.”
Still, Gremlin is responsible for one of the rapper’s most beloved hype tracks, “Tryna Figure Out Where My Phone At?” An exceedingly energized track (especially live), its memorable wind-instrument melody accompanied by Z’s hungry rap delivery is a brief moment of glory amongst the rest of the album. Just as well, ZelooperZ makes a valiant attempt to save the record with the almost-commendable run included in the latter portion of the project. It’s just a shame that the first half was there to spoil the fun. Maybe I missed the point; is this all meant to be like a “bad on purpose” kind of thing? Perhaps it was a result of oversaturation during his fruitful 2020 string of three albums. Regardless, Gremlin was an ineffective detour that I am uninterested in ever returning to following this list.
8. Help (2014)
An exclamatory introduction to the world of ZelooperZ, 2014’s Help builds a hellish landscape out of sharp beats and Z’s beginner bars. Though not necessarily a bad record — genuinely intriguing ideas are presented in nearly every cut here — Help ultimately suffers from a lack of focus. It’s clear that this is someone’s first effort at crafting a full-length project, as many of the plans for the tracks could have been further fleshed out. Even through high energy, many tracks tend to blend together and become indistinguishable from one another; especially true of repeat listens, Help has grown quite lifeless as time has passed.
Bangers arrive infrequently on the album. The rapper steps his game up with the appearance of Danny Brown and Dopehead on “Thunda Cats” and “Fallin,” sounding truly inspired. Is this because of his desire to rise to Brown’s level on the tracks? Or maybe he utilizes Brown’s experience with rap and writing to help craft the songs? Additionally, tracks such as “Tonight Show” exemplify the unhinged nature of Z’s deliveries, hinting towards the wonderfully excessive concepts that would come later in his career. Looking back on Help, we can be thankful that ZelooperZ never quit rap, eventually taking his ideas further with future releases.
7. Valley of Life (2020)
Among ZelooperZ’s most well known and appreciated records, Valley of Life is the final installation in the rapper’s 2020 sequence of releases. Although the project has a handful of great tracks, most notably of which are the four pieces that bookend the album (two on each side), this is as close as Z comes to the textbook definition of “hit-or-miss” in his entire discography. Hopes are raised with the soothing “Fryd” and the wake-up call “Arugula,” but the record largely stagnates until the final couple of cuts come; I almost always feel as though I’m waiting for the ending following these two tracks. I’ll be clear: There is no song on Valley of Life nearly as offensive as a few of those included on the previous two records on this list. However, this indicates to me that ZelooperZ played it somewhat safe with this one — at least with regards to his raps.
On the same subject, it’s apparent that most of the things I love about the album don’t have much to do with ZelooperZ at all. Even though he sounds alright on the beat selections here, the best parts of the project often revolve around the beats themselves, as they outshine his abilities on several cuts. If what’s to love most about the man — wacked out bars, deliveries, and ideas — is absent from Valley of Life, what distinguishes it from any other rapper’s efforts? Nonetheless, this album marks the point on this list where I’d consider everything hereafter as being at the very least “satisfactory.” Side note: “Just Me” is still one of the most beautiful trap beats I’ve ever heard.
6. Microphone Fiend (2023)
Microphone Fiend is ZelooperZ most recent incorporation into his stellar catalog, released this past March. While putting this at 6th on this list might offend some fans, allow me to justify the placement: I believe Microphone Fiend to be a solid project. It lightly displays a great range of his known artistic palette, dipping back on the sounds of previous projects to support the majority of the record; “Demon n Deities” alone prompts reminders of all three of “Dedicated My Life,” “Dont Leave” and “Always Wanted You” on his prior studio release, Van Goghs Left Ear [sic]. This exact characteristic of the album, however, is part of the reason why it isn’t quite as high as the others on this list. Having listened to everything else by ZelooperZ since discovering him late in 2021, I have a great perspective on how Microphone Fiend fits in with other releases. Considering this, it seems as though he’s idled and even taken a bit of a step backwards in his artistic evolution. In addition to this, I believe that recency bias might be playing a role in fans’ heavy praise for the album.
Even with its downsides, I still like the record. ZelooperZ retains some of his typically hilarious imagery, such as the reference, “Push up through your hood like Justin Bieber” on “Bustin Jieber,” or the line “Make a bitch cry a river, then I hydroplane” on “Tweakin N Geekin.” Also, Z manages to assemble an even mix of mosh pit material (“Traptastic”) and delightful trap cuts (“Don’t Touch Me”). The album is undoubtedly a respectable effort, as ZelooperZ continues to pull no punches in his lyrics. It might be the case that I’m judging it too harshly given the standards set by Van Goghs Left Ear, but you know what? Works of art should be measured up to prior works, given that we’ve seen what the artist is capable of.
5. Moszel Offline (2020)
A rewarding collaboration between ZelooperZ and newcomers to the production game Working on Dying, Moszel Offline sees great success in the level of chemistry created. ZelooperZ matches the collective’s hard-hitting beats with keen raps of his own, developing deliveries and cadences that fit perfectly with the vibe produced. It’s an exciting thing to see, as the sound of the album is one that I imagine was a long time coming for Z; it makes near perfect sense to the ear, taking into consideration ZelooperZ’s lane(s) of rap and his untamed style. Highlights on the record include the 808-heavy “Only Fan” and the call-and-response “2,” both of which emphasize his effortless ability to mold trap music into whatever shape he so pleases.
ZelooperZ’s love for R&B also holds a large presence on the album, as evidenced by his delicate, crooning melodies on tracks like “Truth Be Told” and “Stay Longer” — not to mention his reference to an R&B legend with the title of “T-Boz.” The record doesn’t falter crucially, but its weakest points have to do with length. With a majority of tracks failing to reach the two minute mark, its fleeting nature is apparent with every listen through. Not only this, the record itself is only nine tracks, making the run time of tracks even more plain to see. Yet, this fault of the record almost serves as a strength of Moszel Offline; who else can say they can get the ideas of an entire project across in an efficient 18 minutes? In short, we need Moszel Offline 2 immediately.
4. Wild Card (2019)
This one was a tough choice to make. Though it’s arguable that Moszel Offline reaches higher highs than Wild Card, I gave the latter a slight edge on this list for a couple of reasons. For one, Wild Card feels as though far more attention and care was placed into the creation of each of its tracks. Though such efforts may not have been necessary for the straightforward Moszel Offline, that project does feel like the result of simply slapping vocals on beats and pushing for release. In addition to this, Wild Card feels like a redemption arc improving upon the sounds of 2014’s Help; with dark, grimy, and to-the-point production (“Delirious,” “I Got It”) reminiscent of his old sound, ZelooperZ vocal range is prominently exhibited from start to finish.
A slow burn by any means, this album took me repeat listens to fully understand and appreciate what he accomplishes here. With time, Wild Card to me became one of ZelooperZ’s most thoroughly consistent projects, as track after track presents strong points in vocal cadences and progressions. The methods with which Z chains verses to chorus can pull you in and out of the track in an odd, pulsating rhythm, such as with the juxtaposition of oscillating verses and a deliberately monotonous chorus on “No.” The slurred vocals on “Romantic” also have a strange magnetism to them, reminding me of how linguistics can play a large role in infecting a listener’s ear. Closing the record with “52 Pick Up,” one of the rapper’s most introspective and thought-provoking tracks, my first thought after each listen through Wild Card is usually, “Man, what a solid album.” I’d consider everything from here onwards as being at least “excellent.”
3. Dyn-O-Mite (2019)
A bold take on boom-bap style hip-hop, ZelooperZ confidently pairs Black Noi$e’s diverse production with his atypical raps. Time and time again, ZelooperZ has been known to adapt his rap flow and delivery to the aesthetics of the production on any given record. It’s apparent on Dyn-O-Mite, however, that this is truly his sound. With effortless appearances on several tracks, his performances come off graceful, whereas other rappers attempting the same would seem lazy. His imperfect singing and unpredictable rap cadences sound tailor made for the beats; yet, the work is seamless, indicating no tailor was necessary for Z to craft the music. It was all incredibly natural.
Although the album is distinctly ZelooperZ, the strong suit of Dyn-O-Mite is its sound; dreamlike, voluminous bells and bass permeate the project (“Smoking Chocolate,” “Show Love”), constituting a pure and full texture. Hard-hitting drum patterns make their way onto the record, providing head-nodding grooves that bring attention to every word of what Z has to say (“JayJay – Z,” “Bigger Than Me”). His most well-known track, “Easter Sunday,” also appears on the album; a great guest appearance from Earl Sweatshirt and a colorful, cheery sonic effort from Black Noi$e on the cut help elevate the quality of ZelooperZ’s own verse. All in all, Dyn-O-Mite is an entirely worthwhile excursion, blending together only the best aspects of some of hip-hop’s subgenres. Likely one of the most accessible projects — if not the most accessible — from ZelooperZ, this would be a great starting place for any new fans.
2. Bothic (2016)
ZelooperZ’s most raw, unabashed release to date, 2016’s Bothic may very well be the height of this rapper’s primeval expression. With nearly every track showcasing his dexterity and versatility within rap, a clear picture is painted of just how unique ZelooperZ is in the rap game. Take the opener “Summit” for example: A precursor to the R&B/soul-infused Moszel Offline, Z’s admirable off-pitch singing is paralleled perfectly by his quavering, matter-of-fact rap lyrics, which are often infused with sung elements themselves. His ability to effortlessly slide in and out of different intonations is in the foreground of his vocal performances, and though there might be some music theory reason for why this works so well, I’ll leave it at this: It just sounds right.
The production on Bothic is also excellent, as banger beats are plentiful throughout. From the piano-referential “Scale” — a smart allegory for the weighing of drugs in keys — to the addictive hi-hats and synthetic horns of “Ocean,” it was thrilling to see Z connect so well with the auditory side of his music. Let’s not forget that one of ZelooperZ’s most instinctual tracks falls on Bothic as well: the lauded hype cut “Elevators.” With each listen to this track, an experience unfolds that damn near returns me to the primordial feelings of primitive thinking, feeling, and belonging as an animal on Earth. Not as a human, but as an animal; an organism, a product of life struggling for survival. Among all of this, the chorus of “Let them hoes fight” [x8] absolutely slaps. Whatever Z’s headspace was for this record should be studied and commended by the rap community for ages, an exemplary case of creativity in trap.
1. Van Goghs Left Ear (2021)
The definitive ZelooperZ record, this is the album that I think of when hearing the rapper’s name. Perhaps this is due to the impressive, inspired visual iconography of the cover artwork, which is painted by Z himself. Although Van Goghs Left Ear is a trap record by any means, it is certainly the most exemplary case of ZelooperZ’s ability to enter the musical landscape and alter the very framework on which it is built. Whether that be through simultaneously imitating the tick of a bomb and the hi-hats in “Ticking Time Bomb,” or through the onomatopoeic imitation of morse code in the title track “VanGogh’sLeftEar,” the album is consistent in its volatility, hilarity, and memorability.
The opener “Battery” is a blunt slap in the face, with line after line striking a 10 on the absurdity scale. This quality is an outstanding characteristic of the record, but it is especially true here, as the entire verse is made easy to recall. “Each and Every Moment” is a hype adventure, with its epic horns and rapid pace creating the desire to open a mosh pit in any room it’s played in. One of Z’s most clever abilities on the album is his ability to locate the perfect place for certain vocal sounds; similar to the sampling and production abilities of JPEGMAFIA, ZelooperZ arranges the proper puzzle pieces of his own voice to make any given instant of a track stand out. This is displayed in “Each and Every Moment” incredibly well; after line readings that sound like calligraphic Old English being read off of parchment paper, Z exclaims shouts of “Eh!” and “Blam!” to punctuate his bars.
The majority of tracks on the album are worthy of mention here, though limited space only permits the following: “Mechanic” mimics the sounds of an engine breaking down, with bars referencing Pretty Ricky from Martin and the viral “avocado” vine; “Bash Bandicoon” features a bouncy verse from Danny Brown, done on a beat that unthinkably samples music and sound effects from Crash Bandicoot; “Hostile” is ZelooperZ’s perfection of minimalism, allowing his unusual style of singing to shine over simple drums and a faint melody; the utter genius of “Crying in the Club” still has me shocked to this day, and was the point on the record at which I questioned, “Why isn’t this rapper 10 times more popular than he is?” upon first listen; finally, the closer “Satellites” utilizes a godlike flute sample for its structure, and promotes encouraging, uplifting lines on aspiration and accomplishment.
It’s clear that, with this many standout cuts in a record made to stand out, Van Goghs Left Ear had to make the top spot on this list. Considering the absolute explosion in creativity of the variety, depth, and eccentricity of ZelooperZ’s vocals on the album, it’s hard to see why it wouldn’t be number one. Considering it all, much of Z’s career lead up to this point; learning from mistakes and successes together, he crafted a record perfectly representational of his style and persona in rap. I’ll forever be grateful for this one, and I hope ZelooperZ manages to top it in the future.