The perception of all things “real” is determined by limits. In media, these relate to depressed economic circumstances that, in the confines of the so-called real world, hinder social success while paradoxically providing the kind of authenticity that the arts supposedly honor. Naturally, the vector connecting need and acceptance figures heavily over the NYC-based record producer and experimental musician Zion, better known as The 83rd. “I was supposed to be signed to Roc Nation, twice,” he shares in our first conversation, over email. “Their lack of communication closed the deal. I wanted to start a place where that lack in culture didn’t exist toward the artist.”
While perhaps telling, The 83rd's coded use of “culture” is just as instructive as his near-militant posture of independence. As the founder of the multi-pronged media organization Sermon 3 Recordings, through which he self-releases his music via Bandcamp, The 83rd’s sui generis trajectory seeks the kind of valanced heat that the real and art worlds seem to so rarely offer to self-styled enfants terrible. His music—a conflation of electronic dance’s more hardcore offshoots graced with an idiosyncratic personal patina—challenges a color-blind consensus and commonality. Despite arguably falling under the broad umbrella of “NYC experimental,” The 83rd has no easy home.
“I started Sermon 3 out of necessity,” he affirms. “[Out of] not having a space for my own voice, not seeing a space for the voices everyone else was benefiting from.” And so his records remain charmed by defiance, defined above all by a foregrounding of Diaspora sound-worlds, as well as a commitment to idealized autonomy expressed in the shared grammar of Black expressivity.
But despite his music’s constant Black musical presence, he unapologetically maintains that his work is not affirmed by the hegemony of difference, nor by any inherent opposition. Consequently, he appears averse to perceived abstract intellectualizing. “Yeah, no, I’m just bleeding. And I’m Black… So it’s not going to be too… straight. That's not who I am, or my family or culture—or what interests me.”
As such, his motives are perhaps better left to play against each other, in view of everything underground—the experimental and extreme, the distorted and digital—inscribing inverted racialisms onto global bodies of song, literally conjuring what Ronald Radano called “the universal figure of ‘black noise.’” Sonically, his music is often a dense digital no-man’s land of obscured consonant noise and percussive instants, challenging for all the right reasons, even if not always initially clear in motive. “Life moves me and I don't fight. I bleed,” he says, sagely. “And I push forward thru experimentation with sonic possibilities.”
Each project highlights the semi-permeable relationship he shares with his work. “Art is a document of my life. My instruments and recorders are tools. I’m not, ‘now I’m creating an album.’ I’m speaking and healing thru sonics constantly.” Though his music claims the mantle of what he calls the “the unapologetic tear of [the] energetic underground; electronics, noise, punk,” he is not shy about sharing his influences. “Timeghost was a big influence on me… the textures and [relentlessness] of Pharmakon have pushed me forward and are always in my brain somewhere.” As for hip-hop, “it’s my culture,” again using the coded figure. “It’s in everything I do, the back-beat, grooves, polyrhythms… it’s in my blood line.”
And so, drawing liberally from uprooted dub, noise, and hip-hop production techniques, The 83rd subverts generic conventions and expectations, at times pulling from unexpected sources, obfuscating, but never denying, the racialized texts they embody. This may occur through aggressive re-editing, as is the case on his collection of dance-inflected 2020 remixes, 83 Editz, an often audacious re-imagining of ostensibly underground electronic music as filtered through the lens of popular alternatives. Remaining oppressively constant and instantly recognizable, it is easily his most accessible and fully-realized project. Its split-second changes and omnivorous style call to mind the mercurial cultural residue of Public Enemy and the Bomb Squad, with that same cataclysmic, earth-shattering quality to it, bringing noise as well as a different logic, a logic of difference.
At other moments, like on his 2019 debut The Resurrection,parallel processes of textual emergence arrive more subtly, often through an intense musical tenebrism that obscures instrumental origins. Opener “Tinder” breaks down to the point of pure sonic onslaught, imploding in a cascade of middle-register thumps, hypnotically approximating a bastard child of gabber and some other world’s proto-jungle. In a bizarre link to a future past, “Use Me,” with vocalist Eastern Foreigner, sounds like a tape music analogue to Nicolette and Shut Up and Dance’s early breakbeat experiments. The connection further cements the music’s pervasive Black musical presence, as well as engendering an ostensible “lost classic” value.
Ultimately, for The 83rd, truth and fulfillment comes down to authorial agency. “It’s important the people… are the one's telling their experiences,” he says, poignantly. He is talking about Sermon 3, but he might as well be sharing his views on the media industry as a whole; “…unfiltered. Not for glory or the pop culture-contrived detriment of others, but for their own survival.” Through a singular vision, The 83rd makes clear that, though hardly formal, the vector between necessity and authenticity is still largely linear. “[I’m] dreaming in sound and vision,” he says. “And I’m healing while doing so.” The 83rd is what happens when condition approaches limits. He is no stranger to the real.