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ZULUZULUU: Meet the funky Afrofuturist enigmas with a message

The ZULUZULUU crew

The ZULUZULUU crew

ZULUZULUU is a Minneapolis-based collective with no fewer than six members, and their cosmic combination of funk, soul, and hip-hop oozes an energy that more than justifies the large lineup.

It’s true that Greg Grease, the beloved Minneapolis MC of dexterous and introspective raps, is the best-known member of the group. More active on the vocal tip, however, is Proper-T, who comes into his own on ZULUZULUU’s new album, What’s the Price?, following past solo endeavors and guest features on Grease songs. With the additional contributions from DJ Just Nine, MMYYKK, ART PARTE, and Trelly Mo, What’s the Price? radiates a powerful sense of collaboration.

After a couple years of performing around the Twin Cities together, the band members finally fused together their idiosyncrasies and commonalities on What’s the Price? The album, which dropped last month, opens with a cover of Syreeta’s Stevie Wonder-penned “Black Maybe." From there, deeply satisfying grooves and lyrics influenced by Afrofuturism dominate the LP. 

The band members, however, aren’t exclusive about who their music should affect. They just want their songs to encourage empowerment and social consciousness, period.

Following the band’s video shoot for recent single “Fades,” City Pages spoke with four members of ZULUZULUU a few weeks ago to talk about getting their message out, their Twin Cities audience, and more. You can catch 'em opening for Femi Kuti, son of Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti, Friday at the Cedar Cultural Center. 

City Pages: You guys have collaborated with each other for many years, but at what point did ZULUZULUU come together?

Greg Grease: Me and Proper-T started making music together when we were kids. I started making music with him first; he got me into making beats. Me and DJ Just Nine were in a group, the Usual Suspects, since 2007, 2006, something like that. Me and ART PARTE had a funk band back in like 2006, 2005. We all made music together for many years and [ZULUZULUU] is a culmination.

MMYYKK: I moved to Minneapolis from California at the end of 2009. I met Greg at Fifth Element initially. I did a video for Greg and produced some joints. When the ZULUZULUU idea came up, I was already messing with these guys. I jumped on board.

CP: Was it always the intention to have Afrofuturist elements in the group?

GG: Yeah, definitely. I think that’s generally our vibe, but I feel like it’s also a culmination of the time and where we’re all at mentally and spiritually.

M: People appreciate the message because it speaks to us and what we’ve been going through. We try to focus our music towards empowerment, being socially conscious, and being aware of inequities and speaking out. We’re all artists, and as artists, I feel we have a responsibility to speak our minds when we’re using our platforms. We’re going to continue to speak out.

GG: We are heavily influenced by different people that came before us: different musicians that came up in the Twin Cities and on the West Coast, being that MMYYKK is from California.

We’re really trying to channel our influences. I think people are receiving it well because it has a quality message and the music is heartfelt. We’re just playing from the heart, not so much trying to appease to any sound. 

CP: With ZULUZULUU having the Afrofuturist side that it does, what are your thoughts on performing for an audience of people from different backgrounds?

M: We’re not trying to exclude anyone. I feel like what we’re doing is expressing a point of view. I feel like everyone is able to listen to it and appreciate what it is. Even though they may not be from the same culture as us, they can still respect it.

GG: We’re talking about music, which is a transcendental thing. For me, I look at like we’re using the music to connect with different kinds of people, or showing our point of view to connect with other people.

It’s a tool we can all use so people can listen and be like, “Oh, that’s what the guy in the dashiki is talking about!” It’s a tool, a language that we’re speaking for everybody. People all have different perspectives, so everybody’s going to take it differently, which is the beauty in it.

DJN: I know there’s people out there that don’t take in the message that we’re trying to put out there. They just like to jam to the songs because it feels good to them. They’re just vibing out.

M: If you listen to the words, it speaks for itself. It’s direct, but it’s not exclusive or specifically inclusive.

CP: When did work on the album begin in earnest?

GG: It was just with the New Year that we buckled down and decided we wanted to put this project out.

DJ Just Nine: It was a process, though. We’re able to come together and figure things out, but then, two of the members are away. We had to send sessions over to them so that they could listen, add their parts, and send it back to us. We listen to that, edit in, go off of that, and add our little parts again. It was a back and forth thing.

GG: We all play different instruments, but we’re all producers. We’re all able to pass tracks back and forth and produce off of each other. It’s not so much that we have to fit in a room and write a song.

M: Sometimes when we’re on our own, we’ll come up with sketches, and we’ll bring the sketches together and be like, “What can we add to it?” It’s not necessarily that we’re always creating together. We’re always creating in general.

Proper-T: The songs themselves formed together in sessions, and I think that’s also one of our strengths. We love working in sessions. We’re studio rats.

CP: Do you guys see ZULUZULUU as being your main musical focus for now?

GG: Yeah, but as we put it on the record, we’re enigmas. It’s all about the energy. If we get amazing energy, we can put more energy into it.

M: We don’t like to operate on a timeline. The timeline is basically the universe. Whenever the stars align is when we connect.

ZULUZULUU

Opening for: Fela Kuti.

When: 7 p.m. Fri., July 15.

Where: Cedar Cultural Center

Tickets: $50-$55; more info here