In 2014, Zernardo Tate, aka ZMoney, was on the verge of breaking big. The rapper from Chicago’s west side had several local hits, a signature slurred drawl in the tradition of Gucci Mane, and plans to tour with Danny Brown. That year, the same month he released a single with Brown, Tate was sent to Cook County Jail for a probation violation after making an unapproved trip across state lines to perform at South by Southwest. Since his release in 2015, ZMoney has been prolific, but never with the same buzz, until his latest mixtape ZTM.
Released on Halloween, the tape is a trim set of songs impeccably produced by ChaseTheMoney about the pleasure and paranoia of cooking and selling drugs. He recently released the project’s first music video, for the song “Two 16s,” a hypnotic cut featuring fellow Chicagoan Valee, one of a few who can match Z’s dry wit.
The visuals, directed by Antoinne Bryant in an art-filled loft apartment full of Fanta and weed smoke, depicts Valee delivering his verse seated on a kitchen counter, fitting the song’s nonchalance. The track’s title makes clear ZMoney and Valee want to be heard as rapping, but they have no intention of breaking a sweat. Over a minimalist beat that recalls Metro Boomin‘s austerity on his breakthrough 21 Savage-collaboration Savage Mode, the two rappers trade verses in cottony voices, making it so the song’s lighthearted humor only slowly dawns on you. ZMoney sets the scene of a crack kitchen, beeper and all, but sneaks in an appreciation for pop tarts. In seconds, though, he pivots from a threatening tease to existential doubt: “Got killers just like Adolf / I’m working cannot lay out / I swear this shit gon’ pay off.”
But the star here is Valee, who spits a breathless string of trochees that flow like a 280 character tweet with no punctuation. He opens with, “Yves St. Laurent book bag on my back don’t look back,” a vaguely menacing dare that also conjures the image of a backpack with eyeballs. The rest of the verse presents this same juxtaposition between free-associative, psychedelic scenes of luxury—a Bugatti double-parked outside Five Guys—and violence. “Shoot you five times, Christian Louboutin sneaks, fried rice,” he deadpans. This same tone shift between life’s varying degrees of minutiae is also present on his minor hit, “Shell,” which goes, “Walked out Gucci then crossed the street / Upset stomach I had to eat.” The whole song is over in less than a minute and a half, much like a well-crafted joke. Watch the video below.