You'd be mistaken to think that Alonzo "Gorilla Zoe" Mathis is just another thug rapper from southwest Atlanta.
In conversation, Gorilla Zoe calls his new album a classic on par with Dr. Dre's The Chronic. He's inspired by the hard-knocks legacy of the late Tupac Shakur. On the surface, at least, he seems to consider his music as more of an image-building mechanism and a way to make money than a vehicle for creative expression. "This is a business, and I am the product," he says. "Who else better to sell me than me?"
If you're not a fan of street rap and are looking for a reason to care about Gorilla Zoe, then you have to delve beyond the bluster and boasts. His debut album is titled Welcome to the Zoo; more than just a clever play on his rap moniker, it's his vision of the 'hood as a concrete jungle that the outside world observes with fascination and sometimes condescension. His best trait is his voice, a strained, slightly hoarse bellow that's reminiscent of Young Jeezy.
"You got lions, tigers and bears, oh my," says Gorilla Zoe, alluding to a scene from The Wizard of Oz. "I'm a gorilla because you don't know me. You don't know the beast that you're dealing with."
As a street veteran, Gorilla Zoe used to just rap for fun. But when the 25-year-old signed in March with Russell "Block" Spencer's Block Entertainment, which enjoys a distribution deal with Atlantic Records, he was forced to begin taking music seriously. "Block had to help me adjust from the street to the industry," he says, including how to rock a crowd and make actual songs with choruses and hooks instead of rambling freestyles. "I've got a lot to learn."
For all the challenges Gorilla Zoe faces, his fledging rap career is a positive development in his life. Welcome to the Zoo, which capitalizes on his growing buzz with a mixture of gangsta anthems and club joints, may not reflect the depth of his knowledge. "How do you tell people? Do you dump it all on them and be looked at as a minister or a preacher?" asks Gorilla Zoe. "I'm going to gradually grow, and as I grow, my fans and my people are going to grow with me."
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