[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
Before he was Zeroh, Edwin Liddie Jr. was "Self Conscious." It was less of an alias and more an artistic impediment. A pseudonym better suited to a neurotic, Freudian-obsessed nerd-rapper than to a dreadlocked, sage-igniting yogi, with a lustrous beard usually reserved for ancient Assyrian friezes.
"It was pretty much the worst name you could have," Zeroh says with a laugh, live from his rented guesthouse in Highland Park, where he composed and recorded his latest Bandcamp opus, last month's largely instrumental Dead: A Bredication. "I was extremely self-conscious at the time, but probably because of that name."
This was a half-decade ago, when the Long Beach - , Compton- and Gardena-raised rapper-producer was studying theater at Cal State Long Beach.
A seeker inclined toward skateboarding and abstract poetics, Zeroh's revelations started soon after one of his drama teachers insisted that obliterating the ego was the only way to become submerged in character. Shortly thereafter, he sojourned to San Francisco and sat in on some Buddhism classes, which corroborated the previous lesson.
"I was in class about a week later and had my laptop open and it said 'Edwin,' and I was, like, 'yuuggh,'?" Zeroh says, drawing out syllables for extra disgust. "So I deleted my name and rewrote it as Zeroh. It just stuck."
Greek philosophers affirmed the doctrine of "Ex nihilo nihil fit." Translation: Out of nothing comes nothing. But Zeroh's interpretation was closer to the Buddhist conception - the recognition that life's emptiness is a necessary precursor to enlightenment. After he struck the ego out of his name, Zeroh's id produced some of the most creative experimental music made in Los Angeles.
You can spot streaks of light from Zeroh's earliest illuminations: Ludacris, Qwazaar, Aesop Rock. Bob Marley and Madvillain posters are taped to his bedroom walls. But there's also the adventurous imagination of the truly unique. Unlike most peers who retweet praise with every exhalation, Zeroh eschews all self-promotion, save for a sparsely updated Tumblr he uses mainly to give away free music. He has no label or manager, nor does he pine for stardom.
Zeroh's current attitude is closer to a Bhikkhu releasing music into the void to attract like-minded energy (and make rent). His staccato flow zigzags like the Contra video-game code. His beats blend Low End Theory futurism with wearied soul and jazz loops. He'll rap about quantum physics, ancient spirituality and sharpening his fangs. Somehow, he avoids over-the-top pretension.
"It ends up being a free-form narrative. It can sound disjointed, but it's connected by how it sounds, the color or the image," Zeroh says. "I live out of my imagination, which has a lot of ancient and futuristic elements. There's so many places to go and I'm an adaptive creature."
His room is adorned with colorful African tapestries, empty Sriracha bottles, Mason jars, vinyl records, candles, yoga mats and books of sci-fi, history and mysticism. It looks more shrine than studio. But then you notice the open laptop and guitars slouching in the corner and remember the other purpose.
His recorded persona boasts an inscrutable slipperiness that's impossible to pin down. In person, he's generous and unstintingly polite, and laughs often. He's a devout environmentalist who refuses to slip that into his raps because he "hates preachy people."
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In 50 years, you wouldn't be surprised to find Zeroh meditating atop a mountain made of incense and grass - still rapping with the wildest style his imagination allows.
"When you let go, you surprise yourself and enjoy things more, because it's a passive act. I try not to be attached to outcomes and make music as if I was someone who randomly stumbled upon it," Zeroh says, already half in satori. "I'm just a fool in his room making music, experimenting and trying to take it to another level. Who knows? Maybe one day, I'll retire as Zeroh and return as something completely different."