I met the members of Zulu P, along with my friends Sam and Nina, outside the space in which the band rehearses a few weeks back on the way to a dress rehearsal for their first major gig at the Queens Museum of art that coming Saturday. I mostly remember the Queens Museum as a place where local public schools would have their students’ art on display in my youth and for the giant, sometimes updated diorama of New York City (which I still think is incredible). The museum recently underwent a 69 million dollar renovation which art critic Jerry Saltz seems to not like but yet still be excited about, which is how I wish he felt about the dumb Jay-Z “Picasso Baby” spectacle he was so into. I was half expecting to walk into the museum with something I drew on the car ride and be able to hang it up on the walls myself. All that being said, Queens (still) gets the money.
But let’s step back for a moment. Who is Zulu P? Well, they’re a rap/funk/choir group hailing from throughout New York City. Marley G, Lil E.B., Killah B, and Big Star J.F., and T. Rock are the group’s rappers, and the Princess Andriena rounds out the group as lead singer. As you can see from the above photo—which is one of on two press-approved photos of the group—they like to appear mysterious. I first met them through my aforementioned friend Sam Hillmer, a friendly glassed and bearded man from the noise band Zs. He found them at a center downtown for developmentally disabled adults—those who’ve gone through brain injury, people with autism, and also help support their families. Sam told me about a project he was working on with a group at the center and sent me a link to their mixtape. This ended up being Zulu P. My impetus to check it out was initially fueled by my curiosity about how the record would sound considering the group’s unique backstory, but it quickly turned into the “what’s coming next” feeling I get with any interesting record. These guys were great.
I was into it from the first song “Sippin’ on the Juice”, which is a bizarre six minutes of talk-rapping, regular rapping, synthesizer, and a joyous group chorus. “Break Out the Sunshine” sounds like the end of an uplifting church service with rapping. Verses are tripped out with vocal effects. Songs weave in and out of focus, sometimes sounding like you also have a YouTube advertisement playing in an open tab. The most straightforward song is the incredibly titled mixtape closer “Boom Boom Ziny” featuring Marley G circling back to his catchphrase in between talking about girls.
When we met up, Marley G, the group’s “lead’ rapper was a bit pushy with his bandmates on the van ride to the museum, clowning on people and occasionally telling them to be quiet. At one point an impromptu cipher broke out in the backseat on the way to the museum, but it petered out fairly quickly and Marley rapped alone for most of it. The rehearsal itself went well, except for some griping by Marley G about turning up his mic, which is the ultimate rap soundcheck request (it was halfway granted). There was a fairly long discussion with some organizers at one point about the use of profanity and the “n-word” that Marly wasn’t happy about. Throughout the day everybody took turns posing for flicks and asking if I was really writing about Zulu P. The group ended up running through a handful of songs for half an hour and we all ate some bananas and drank eight ounce spring waters before heading back into the city.
On the day of the the actual show came, I miscalculated both the time of my commute and the MTA’s ability to get me where I’m going without having to get off the 7 train and walk a mile to the next stop. I managed to get to the museum (after walking through Flushing Meadows-Corona Park) for Zulu P’s last two songs in the packed theater to see them crush it. The semi-synchronized dancing was jubilant, the singing sounded good and everybody seemed to relish taking their “star turn” when it was their time to sing/rap/dance. Nobody looked nervous. The night was awkwardly arranged as the music was followed by a rather long interpretive dance number, so there was a lot of standing in the back during the interpretive dance trying to catch glimpses of the group members to make sure they didn’t boogie before I could say congrats. I talked to a few parents, gave a few daps and hugs to the group, and told them again that I was indeed writing an article about Zulu P.
In New York? Catch Zulu P. tonight at the Ace Hotel, where’s they’ll be playing a set as part of Sam Hillmer’s monthlong residency.
Dapwell wrote an article about Zulu P. He's on Twitter — @dapwell