If Zebra Katz were a mythological creature, his powers would be that of hypnosis, an extrasensory kind that increases perception, rather than lulling you into the dreamtime: the rapper’s entire zenith of being sits at a foggy crossroad of menacing, hyper-alert flow, bleak vibes, and an aesthetic that’s drawn from the maybe-future and approved by the equally eerie likes of Rick Owens (for whose Fall/Winter 2012 Paris Fashion Week show “Ima Read,” featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx, was the soundtrack). Zebra Katz raps slow and liquid and sinister, like a snarled incantation to invoke shade, but it’s smart, too, and almost lighthearted, by virtue of it being the kind of spooky you want to hear over and over (like a spell).
Zebra Katz was born spitting fire and wielding magic.
Zebra Katz is something of an imaginary being—he functions as an alter ego of Ojay Morgan, whose performance art and multimedia background ultimately led to Zebra Katz’s conception. Partly in response to the limitations he faced as a performer of color at a supposedly-diverse university, Morgan devoted his thesis to Shakespeare’s portrayal of the moors, entitled Moor Contradictions; somewhere between then and “Ima Read,” Zebra Katz was born, spitting fire and wielding magic. “Moor Contradictions was the last performance piece I wrote,” says Morgan. “It was part live performance and part senior thesis on the Moors of Shakespeare and how they related to me. Zebra Katz was born out of these pieces, and I’m still figuring out who the character is and exploring the world he lives in.”
For the release of his latest EP, Nu Renegade, Morgan has teamed up with Leila—the Iran-born, London-based producer who’s released her own solo records on a slew of banger-producing labels, XL Recordings and Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records among them—and compiled a series of videos, set to be debuted once a month over the next few. It all happened fast: the two met at one of Morgan’s shows in London, where Leila told him she’d be interested in working together, “and a few weeks later, we made it happen,” he says. “The process we took for creating this EP was completely organic in its production, full of trust with editing and recording, and lacking any hints of our fears.”
The second video in the series, “Nina Simone,” pays homage to its namesake figure with oddly-timed melodic simplicity, references to “Strange Fruit,” and lyrical and visual manifestations of alchemy—a transformation from black to gold. It is a contained but potent storm, both song and ritual. Says Morgan: “Black is the greatest Magic.”