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The best kept secret in music


""Zoser's On the Horizon""

Zoser's on the Horizon
by Ish
In October of 2003 I was one of about twenty people who saw a remarkable performance in Northwestern University’s Shanley Pavilion. WNUR had conspired to bring several formidable underground acts to campus – among them Family Tree and a crew I had never heard of before called Frontline Entertainment. It was Frontline’s performance that stuck in my memory – O Type Star’s “HKU” and “Onion Rings,” Jah Safe’s manic stage antics, and a kid a little older than me who brought his own style of concentrated lyrical skill. Unfazed by the empty room, Frontline delivered a ferociously crunk musical spectacle. As they parted I was lucky enough to catch an unlabeled CD tossed into the crowd.

Frontline’s massive mixtape boasted Chicago heavyweights like O and Qwazaar, as well as relative newcomers. The mixtape shines. It is without a doubt one of the best compilations of Chicago hip hop that I have ever heard. And again, the MCs that stood out to me were Jah (check his devastating verses over Missy’s “Sock it 2 Me” beat, where he spins about fifteen rhymes off of “Wu-Tang”), and the MC whose name I now knew: Zoser. In fact it was Zo’s “Styles by the Thousands,” a wickedly funny one-verse masterpiece, that opened the disc:

“Ask for me: I’ll turn your life to a sad story/Have your wife sellin' ass for me . . .”

Zoser’s other contributions were delivered with the same Midas touch, and I was a fan. Whether flexing skills on gangsta themes or laying back and giving commentary on his city and his life, Zoser consistently brought rhyme schemes that reminded me of Eminem in their complexity, and Nas in their careful balance between street savvy and calm detachment.

I saw Frontline again at Molemen’s Chicago Rocks II in February of 2004. If Qualo is Chicago’s NWA (or Beatles, maybe), then Frontline at that time was our Wu-Tang – my buddy described their twenty-man bumrush onto the stage as “terrifying.” I was loving it, though, because this time they were in full effect, outshouting one another, blasting the crowd with a take-no-prisoners attitude and not giving a fuck whether we liked it or not. To my mind they stole the show.

To see Frontline was to see naked ambition. Gather all the best MCs in Chicago and take the city by storm – a strategy you had to admire. And it paid off, in various ways. That summer they earned themselves a spot on the Warped Tour, and with various releases waiting in their vaults they seemed poised to do big things.

But by the fall of 2004 there was no more word of them. The updates on the website ceased, and anyone who I happened to ask about Frontline shrugged and said that it was over, for reasons unclear.


As I moved deeper into the scene, I suppose I was always hoping that on some level I would run into some of the Frontline people, especially Zoser. Various encounters with Jah (now active with the band Small Change) rekindled the desire, and finally in late 2005 I was able to get in contact with Zoser himself through Qwazaar, who had recently invited Zo to guest on OuterLimitz’s new album Suicide Prevention.

And in December I had the double fortune of being able to meet with Zoser at the Frontline studio itself, where I was also able to speak with Jon, who currently manages the studio and is also Zoser’s business partner.

Frontline nests inside an otherwise unremarkable brown building. As we waited for Zoser to arrive, I sat with Jon in his car listening to entire discs of Zoser’s material. “We have at least sixty songs,” Jon told me. With beats by high-profile Chicago producers like No I.D. and the Molemen, the tracks were diverse and energetic, featuring club anthems, gritty street tales narrated over broken piano melodies, and R&B style duets. On “Home,” Jon’s favorite, Zoser even sings himself.

“I’d compare him to [Kool] G Rap and Nas,” Jon said, discussing Zo’s style. “Because of where he puts the rhymes. It’s very intricate.” Jon also works with JUICE. “[Zoser] is JUICE’s favorite rapper,” Jon told me as we walked into the building. “He’s a lot of rappers’ favorite rapper – because they can understand what he’s doing.”

Zoser came in moments after we sat down in the studio. In person he is calm, friendly, and professional, but not afraid to speak his mind, even when his opinions conflicted with Jon’s, as they often did throughout the interview.

We began with a little history.

“I met Jon in 98, 99,” Zoser said, “through 5th Element . . . we came here to cut a couple tracks, we did some joints and it worked out straight. Over the years I kept running into Jon, and after I came back from school in 2001, it’s been Frontline ever since.”

The period around when the mixtape was released was the height of a certain phase of Frontline’s existence, Jon and Zoser agreed.

“It got ahead of itself,” Jon said. “Way too many people, going in too many different directions. Even - Theseminal.com(online hip hop newspaper)

""Local discs just as hot as New York, L.A.""

Frontline -- "80 Minutes of Previews, Exclusives, Freestyles" (Frontline)

Mixed by DJ Risky Business, this compilation features an almost nauseating 30 tracks -- the 80 minutes mentioned in the title are no exaggeration. Frontline presents artists like Zoser, who combines a dark street sense with testosterone-dripping humor with artists like Jah Safe and Eulorhymics, who offer sociology over banging beats. Just a taste of what is sure to explode from Frontline in 2004. Available Dec. 15 at Gramaphone, The Bassment and Dr. Wax. - Chicago Sun-Times


2003-1 Day At A Time(LP)
2006-1 Day At A Time, Day 2:Zo(LP)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Building upon the musical models established by the fathers of modern hip hop, Zo is next in line to gain worldwide attention. With his unique voice, energetic delivery and innovative concepts he set himself apart from the current crop of rappers. Zo's music is so thoughtful and honest that listeners everywhere have become addicted-amazed at how he puts his songs together turning music listening into an experience that pulls listeners out of their world and into his.

Born in Chicago, IL and raised for most of his years 10 miles south in the suburb of Glenwood, Zo now reps the Chi once again. His father, a jazz musician who taught music on the city's West Side for over 20 years surrounded Zoser with every type of music from Etta James to Stevie Wonder. Zo recalls waking up plenty of nights from the sound of his father's saxophone or trumpet in the basement and running downstairs to find him reminiscing with a cup of scotch.

Starting where his old man left off Zoser began saving the money he'd make from raking leaves, shoveling snow or any other hustle he could come up with and paying for studio time at the age of 15. Over the years his style has become ONE OF A Kind. Zoser has worked with producers N.O.I.D., Dug Infinite, Needlz, Jamal Rasheed, Mr. Williams, 5th Element, Kenny Keys and the Molemen. He 's done songs with Raekwon, One Be Lo, Juice, Sirius Jones, Outerlimitz, Jah Safe, Mela J., Curtis Mayfield Jr and more.