There’s a reason Gucci Mane calls Zaytoven a “one-man band” on the intro of Zay’s debut album, Trap Holizay.
Zaytoven has developed a reputation for being a sort of trap rap version of DJ Quik, stuffing his production with live instrumentation, crafting a signature sound that nonetheless contains enough versatility and intrigue to wrap itself around any rapper’s flow, even those that fall outside of the strict classification it exists within.
Look no further for proof than “Go Get The Money,” the ambitious, expansive first single from Trap Holizay. Zay contracts no fewer than four rappers (T.I., Rick Ross, Yo Gotti, and Pusha T, who also has a release on the same day as Zaytoven), all utilizing disparate styles and cadences, yet unified in purpose and concept — the same way Zay himself ties together sounds from all over the musical spectrum to craft inventive trap music that doesn’t so much defy the constraints of the genre as it does redefine them.
The reason he’s the one-man band is, simply put, because he brings a bandleader’s sensibility to his beats. He’s not just laying down drums and bass for rappers to spit over, he’s creating something akin to a musical gumbo. Each ingredient must be balanced against the existing mixture so as to not overpower it, but blend into an indispensable part of the whole. It’s not rock-and-roll or a symphony orchestra, but it needs the same attention to detail and overarching vision to become more than the sum of its pieces.
Trap rap has hit something of a rut lately. Recent releases from the likes of Migos, BlocBoy JB, Lil Baby, and others have sounded rote, indistinct, and formulaic. There’s so little engagement from the “producers” on each track that the beats that form the foundation of the songs become nothing more than dull backgrounds for each respective trapper to rap over. It doesn’t seem like they were crafted with care for that specific rapper or group, it doesn’t seem to reflect the subject matter of the song. Everything is modular; remove any singular piece and snap in a new one, and you’d be hard-pressed to notice the difference.
And while Zaytoven has certainly contributed to this interchangeability as one of the subgenre’s pioneers, it’s clear he was never satisfied with the concept of simply putting together beats and having artists mail in verses to mix-and-match after the fact. It’s subtle, but there’s a sense in the construction of each beat, that not only was he involved in every aspect from the programming to the artist selection, but his guidance continued through the latter stages as well, mixing, mastering, adding flourishes, performing that last touch of alchemy to turn each song into a capital-M Moment.
Check out “What You Think,” where the backbeat dips in and out to emphasize and complement the performance of each guest, buttressing Jeremih and Ty Dolla Sign, but fading away to give OJ Da Juiceman room to flex. The energy picks up on “Black Privilege” then finds a cooler, smoother plateau for “Show It,” which features co-production from LA’s DJ Mustard, providing the variety that other trap-oriented projects have lacked.
“East Atlanta Day” finds Zaytoven embellishing his signature piano with organs, reverting trap to its mid-00s roots, a sound that longtime collaborator Gucci Mane finds comfortable. But instead of stopping there, Zay includes 21 Savage, connecting past and present and giving those familiar strains a modern-day update that nevertheless sounds futuristic as well.
The album’s length may throw off longtime trap fans used to longer sets from the majority of the category’s primary denizens, but again, Zaytoven’s willingness to break tradition becomes one of Trap Holizay‘s greatest strengths. The album can’t wear on you with such a short runtime, instead, it leaves you thirsty for more.
The one-man band proves that he has the range, depth, and versatility to carry a full album as the primary artist, as well as the vision to truly earn the title of “producer.” With his Motown-partnered venture just starting out, there’s plenty to look forward to from Zaytoven as he also plans to begin signing and producing his own artists. Given the ear for talent on display on Trap Holizay, that prospect is a source of excitement for any fan of trap rap. In the meantime, pardon me while I run it back one more time.
Trap Holizay is out now via Familiar Territory and Motown Records.