Conceptually, zero was a landmark event not just in mathematics, but all facets of life. It was the baseline value until civilization advanced sufficiently enough to consider values less than zero. This might have been in the mind of Crate Cartel member Maundz, whose latest album bears this title. Negative themes seem to run through the emcees work – his debut was ‘Mr Nobody’. For his second full length release, Maundz has collaborated with the best in the business and enlisted fellow Cartel member Wik to produce. The record kicks off with the appropriately titled ‘Induction’, whose sample lists the various ways one can be a hero, before launching into the title track ‘Zero’, which is a collaboration from Golden Era resident Adfu, whose cuts seamlessly merge the blues lick permeating the track. ‘All Quotes’ features Melbourne veteran Brad Strut with international luster bolstered by Action Bronson.
‘Maundzilla’ reflects the mind state of Maundz, an emcee who seems to spit and think with the dial permanently set to 11. With its brass samples straight out of a 1950s Japanese monster flick, the emcee summons all his fury over the thud of a tuba sample, spitting fire to destroy the surrounding landscape whilst civilians flee the city which no longer provides refuge. The album then does a complete backflip on ‘Take it Back’. Whilst nostalgia tinged tracks flood Aussie hip hop, this track is separated from the pack by enlisting Bias B – it’s the established versus the emerging in conversation, playfully riffing on each other and discussing changes in the scene.
‘Travelling Lady’ is the closest listeners get to a hip hop love ballad. Whilst the emcee comments on the physical features of his ideal lady, it’s the mental connection of shared interests demonstrated as the main appeal. Maundz hilariously sings out of key to the sample, a reflection of the stupid things we do for love. Skit ‘Toys’ precedes ‘C U Next Tuesday’. Here Maundz tag-teams with Drapht to take down the detractors that have plagued Australian hip hop for so long. The negative theme is continued with ‘Agent 86’ which might as well be titled ‘Get Smart’, with references to the spy spoof coming thick and fast. Flow wise Maundz occupies the gruffer end of the scale, evidenced by ‘Homicide’. Starting with a sample from the ‘Mr. Rogers Neighborhood’ era, the suburban utopia is shattered by the twin sledgehammers of Vents and Siesta dropping by to destroy the sidewalk. Adfu, who has been fundamental to Vents’ own sound returns, and the sinister tone of the urban jungle is kicked into a high gear.
With a running time of a 69 minutes, Zero runs the risk of becoming repetitive on instrumentals ‘Zero’s Theme’ and ‘Wik’s Theme’. However, in context of the cover art and font it makes sense; everything has been elaborately designed to mimic promotion material from a feature film. With this in mind, skits and instrumentals feel more akin to intermissions rather than filler to pad out the running length. The inclusion of piano, xylophone, strings and saxophone keep things fresh, and live instrumentation is used extensively as a foundation for the majority of the tracks, which beefs up the substance. This is most evident on ‘The Flipside’, featuring the sultry vocals of Alyson Murray, who is given space to sing for a minute over a jazz loop before Maundz chimes in. Listeners almost feel that they have fronted a jazz club for an open mic night; the intimate track ends with Maundz thanking everyone for coming out and graciously acknowledges the contributions of both Murray and the sax player, Sam Boon.
‘March the 10th’ begins with a sample from ‘Satan’s Sadists’, a ’60s biker film. Here Maundz gets political. Not unlike maligned biker gangs, Maundz’s associates are similarly judged by mainstream society for lighting up from time to time. He flees from the police to the safety of his crew in order to make ‘Letters and Numbers’. Album closer ‘3 and 3 Noughts’ brilliantly summarizes Zero by way of a love letter to his home town. Whilst the suburbs and slang might be particular to Melbourne, the emcee appeals to shared experience of loving one’s hood. Not holding back on the highs and lows, Maundz announces ‘It’s home of the trams, the footy, pretty to the gritty, white collars to the hoodies’. Maundz’s closing is to fire greetings in about 15 languages, acknowledging the diversity that makes his hometown and country richly diverse.
Zero is an album from an emcee not shying away from the darker aspects of life. In lesser hands it could have been a complete whine-fest, but Maundz has delivered a celebration of life and a solid release. Zero is available from Obese Records online: http://www.obeserecords.com/store/index.php
By David Coffey.