words by Eamon Whalen
Four of the six members of ZULUZULUU –– MMYYKK, DJ Just Nine, Greg Grease and Proper-T –– sip hot lavender tea in the July heat in the living room of the south Minneapolis duplex where Just Nine and MMYYKK reside. They’ve been a loose band for almost three years (they still are fairly loose, their guitarist BIG BOUNCE and producer Trelly-Mo live in Oakland and Charlotte, respectively), but have never talked about their origins, until now, in the midst of the summer of the release of their debut project, What’s The Price.
"I've pinpointed the moment when shit formulated. I've pinpointed the Voltron moment," says Grease, who raps, produces and plays the 404 drum machine while singing backup during their live show. Grease motions over the collection of monitors, synths, and keyboards that’s between him and MMYYKK, who plays the synths and talkbox, sings and occasionally pulls out an alto saxophone during ZULUZULUU live shows.
"It was when your shit went on fire and you moved here,” says Grease to MMYYKK. “That’s when we really locked in. That’s when ZULUZULUU happened." In April 2015, Fisher’s apartment burned down in a fire that nearly cleared an entire city block on Broadway avenue on the city’s north side. The fire also burned down the offices of the Black empowerment non-profit Neighborhoods Organizing For Change and rumors of foul play were abound after the fire was ruled an arson. In the aftermath Fisher moved into Just Nine’s duplex, where Grease was also living at the time.
"Damn," says Just Nine. "That means ZULUZULUU was born out of a fire."
It should come as no surprise then, that a group that almost literally rose from the ashes can balance life’s joyful highs and painful lows with ease. Take "Let It Go," the group’s first song recorded in early 2014 with no notions of becoming a band. The song explored the travails of being a part of the Black community, but as the song title states, resistance goes hand-in-hand with catharsis through song and dance. For ZULUZULUU, exorcising demons and catching a groove on the dance floor aren’t mutually exclusive.
Throughout “What’s The Price,” they put forth deep reflections on blackness, from the everyday existential and material fear for the safety of one’s mind and body, to the celebration of the fellowship of Pan-African consciousness. On the project’s title track, after MMYYKK laments the terrorism of the police state, the thoughtful, coarsely voiced Grease and his cousin, lead vocalist Proper-T offer the following mantra: “We say melinate to elevate/celebrate, we hella straight.”
They aren’t attempting to fill in the blanks of everything, either. The project kicks off with the winking ambiguity of a cover of Syreeta Wright "Black Maybe," that scoffs at the idea of black people, or anyone for that matter, allowing themselves to be pinned down to superficial signifiers. The group is, in their own words, chalk full of “enigma niggas,” bringing with them an eclectic mix of different genres, influences and backgrounds.