Picked to Click 2016 No. 1: ZULUZULUU

ZULUZULUU, from left: Greg Grease, DJ Just Nine, MMYYKK, Proper T, Trelly Mo (∆RT P∆RTE was out of town during this photo shoot)

ZULUZULUU, from left: Greg Grease, DJ Just Nine, MMYYKK, Proper T, Trelly Mo (∆RT P∆RTE was out of town during this photo shoot) Sarah White

ZULUZULUU are tired of the conversation.

On single “Fades,” amid astral synths and kaleidoscopic guitars, the group hits listeners with a refrain of “You’re asking all the wrong questions.”

“If we can get everybody to stop asking bullshit questions, what will the questions be?” Greg Grease ponders in an interview with City Pages.

Grease and his bandmates — Proper T, Trelly Mo, MMYYKK, DJ Just Nine, ∆RT P∆RTÉ — form the self-dubbed “producer supergroup” from Minneapolis. Together, they sliced through the bullshit with a question of their own: What’s the Price? That’s the title of the sextet’s synth-funk debut, released in June. The seven-track album is a cosmic fusion of funk, soul, rap, and rock that syphons influence from its creators’ respective solo projects. It’s also a conduit for ZULUZULUU’s message.

“What is the price? To live, to succeed, whatever,” Grease asks. “What’s the price for a young black man’s life? What do I gotta do to live? Is there an actual number? Am I supposed to pay something? Is this a rhetorical question?”

What’s the Price? doesn’t provide heavy-handed answers. Instead, it’s a psychedelically grooving exploration of ideas, of vibes.

Sarah White

Sarah White

“I definitely believe we captured something special,” Trelly Mo says of the LP. “It’s like you’re taking a snapshot of the time — the right here, the right now — and just presenting that to people in a creative way.”

ZULUZULUU’s creative process is as smooth as their rhythms. Most of the crew grew up as friends in south Minneapolis, and serious music-making began early. By sixth grade, Proper T was channeling his Neptunes obsession into his own beats. Come high school, Trelly Mo had routine studio access. “My earliest, most significant memories of being an actual serious musician is with these dudes,” notes Proper T.

That chemistry is all over What’s the Price? This is not a buzz band learning to master their craft on the fly. “We definitely weren’t internet sensations or anything like that — our shit’s very grassroots,” says Grease, himself a Picked to Click finalist in 2013.

“Listening is very important for us,” MMYYKK says. “We all have our own personal ears for music, [but] it’s not a competition; it’s a listening game.”

ZULUZULUU agree the studio is an ego-free zone, one that Trelly Mo likens to a kitchen. And no, even with six experienced producers, there aren’t too many cooks. 

“We’re all cooking, makin’ some gumbo,” he laughs, dipping into a delicious metaphor. “It’s flavor, man. It’s about seeing what you might be able to sprinkle on top — you don’t wanna overpower it.”

The band describes the end product as “high-value black art.” While artistry runs deep with ZULUZULUU, so does business savvy. The guys “constantly” talk about their place and timing within the music landscape, locally and worldwide.

“I think the Twin Cities is a seedbank, and the rest of the world is water,” Grease muses. “There’s tons of amazing artists here; we’re spoiled here because we get a lot of local support. [But] we don’t need everybody here to rock with us, we need the water of the world. We need the industry.”

And the industry could very well take notice, especially considering the track records of recent Picked to Click winners like Lizzo (2013), Allan Kingdom (2014), and Bad Bad Hats (2015). But careerism isn’t the motivating force behind ZULUZULUU — they’re ruddered by Afrofuturism, which Grease describes as “the development and growth of black excellence.”

“It’s a continued elevation,” he says. “We have to be conscious of it. That’s who we are.”

Click here to check out the rest of the list, or click here to read about Tony Peachka, who ranked No. 2 on Picked to Click.