Zelooperz Interview: ‘Do what you wanna do, do what you love’

From rapping to painting to making lasting friendships with nearly everyone he comes across, Detroit native Zelooperz is an enigma in his own right.

Off the back of dropping his new album Get WeT. Radio in March, the Bruiser Brigade member has not only carved his own niche in the culture, but is putting on for one of hip-hop’s resurgent rap scenes in a huge way.

With notable names emerging out of Detroit like Babyface Ray and Babytron — who most recently earned XXL Freshman Class honors — Zee caught his big break an absolute whim, sending the legendary Danny Brown his debut project via Twitter DMs in 2014. To Zee’s luck, Brown, who is also a Detroit native, took the then 18-year-old rapper under his wing, crafting a working and personal bond that eventually welcomed him into Brown’s coveted Bruiser Brigade.

Shortly after, Brown hopped on two tracks off Zee’s first project, Help, and their chemistry is undeniable — emulating a “Batman & Robin” dynamic on their collabs. Most recently dropping “Bash Bandicoon” together off Zelooperz’s Van Gogh’s Left Ear (2021), their working relationship never needed signatures or official documents. Brown never locked Zee into a contract, allowing him the freedom to create without “owing” anything back to him.

“Brown [doesn’t] work like that. He never made me put ink on the paper. His whole thing was never giving nothing that he would have to owe back. [He wanted] me to understand what the music game really was.”

Zelooperz on Danny Brown mentoring him

Danny is just one of the high-profile partnerships Zee has made in his career. Over the years, he’s built lasting connections with famed producers like Alchemist and Black Noi$e as well as celebrated artists like Earl Sweatshirt — who he thinks of as a “brother” stemming from their collabs on “Easter Sunday” and “Visions.” Earl has been a confidant for Zee since they met, speaking on how important your friends are in determining your own success.

“You not gon’ get no where without no friends. It don’t matter how many people on your team. If you don’t got no friends…you don’t got a couple good n****s around you, you f****d. I know I need more good friends. You don’t go out there searching for friends. Friends find you.”

Zelooperz on the power of maintaining friends.

While musically-inclined and inspired by fashion and painting, his undying, creative spark eventually ultimately led him to styling Earl’s cover shoot with The New York Times. Designing all of the covers in his discography — as well as for brands like Fucking Awesome — Zee is obviously skilled beyond the booth, using his artwork as a challenge to reinvent himself in all facets.

Mirroring that energy in how he approaches his music, he described his creative process as “an ongoing experiment. “I know what I’m good at it and I know what defines my pieces,” relating his paintings to rap. “[I know] who I am as an artist, but I’m still experimenting all the time.”

Upon hearing Zelooperz’s music, it doesn’t match the trademark Detroit bounce fans have come to embrace. This is what makes the city’s soundscape so versatile, as Zee believes the sonic diversity Detroit boasts is because the natives “are like travelers.” Explaining how most of its citizens look for work in neighboring cities, Detroit’s sound reflects the individuality of its people — developing an array of styles that all spread a compelling message in their own way.

Similarly, GeT. Wet. Radio arguably relays the most compelling message of Zelooperz’s career. Dedicating the record to his late step-father, Zee described initially finding a playlist his dad had made on Spotify filled with music he loved. This sparked the initial idea for the LP — striving to honor his dad since he was known to everyone as a “music lover” and “sold CDs on the corner” near where they lived.

Using the playlist as a guiding force for the project, it ultimately evolved into an opportunity to heal for Zee after dealing with the stains of a recent relationship. Wholeheartedly finding himself through the process, the project is revered as “this strange nexus of romance, escapism, and pervasive moodiness” per Pitchfork, which gifted Get WeT. Radio a rare 7.5 rating.

“I just searched for the sound that I was trying to mimic. It’ll never be the playlist. It’ll never be that but it kinda find me in ways too. Going through a f****d up relationship. Being the toxic n***a in the relationship. Actually getting my heart broke at the same time and it kinda f****d me up. So I would find these songs along the way and then still try to pay homage to my step dad. It was weird. It was weird as hell. Its like one of the best gifts I ever got out of being f****d up.”

Zelooperz on GeT. Wet Radio

While Zelooperz continues to stun naysayers with his head-scratching bars and versatile, left-of-center sound, he caught up with OGM host Hakeem Rowe just before Smoker’s Club in April to talk about his art of all kinds, collaborations new and old, his latest album Get WeT. Radio and so much more in our latest Our Generation Music exclusive.

Watch Zelooperz’s exclusive interview with OGM below!

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