Nobody paid too much attention to the beef between Abel Tesfaye ( The Weeknd) and Jeremy Rose ( Zodiac), maybe because the former's importance far outweighs the latter's. But that doesn't mean the dispute never existed, nor that - as a result of the quarrel between the vocalist and the producer - we needn't take a second look at The Weeknd' first mixtape, the subject of the whole fuss but which, in the meantime, made the Canadian little less than the aesthetic saviour of R&B. Zodiac claims that Tesfaye didn’t credit him for the production of three of the tracks on the 'tape' - “The Morning”, “Loft Music” and “What You Need” - which, in hindsight, were the ones that drew the most attention to The Weeknd's sound. Zodiac also claims a big part of the original idea for the project, which turned out to be quite successful, but for which he didn't receive any credit, either. Who did what, and which role was played by whom is now hard to tell; maybe the two of them should be taken to the witness stand and settle their differences in front of a judge, or on some TV show.
However, after listening to “Zodiac”, one thing is clear: Jeremy Rose's production skills are huge, and his role in the rise of The Weeknd is most likely more than just testimonial. This EP, released by Jacques Greene's label (this week on digital, or vinyl on 8th October), could be seen as his particular way to get back.
Zodiac probably won't achieve the success The Weeknd has reached through his mixtapes, and which has taken him all the way to major label Universal, in an exciting trip that went from Twitter (it was a 140-character message by Drake that started it all) to the top. But these five tracks are certainly going to land him a status similar to Clams Casino's: that of a producer with a singular sound palette, abundant in liquid textures, mouldy bass lines and distant voices, who manages to take a step forward and cut loose from the charismatic artist he used to work for in the background. On “Zodiac” there is one vocal piece ( “Come”, featuring the Prince-like Jesse Boykins III) that stands out among the four other tracks, which focus on the beats. They are stabbing on “138”, an almost house-like tune with very dry, thick bass lines, and an intense moaning that makes for a lamenting tone. Meanwhile they are precious on “Girlgirlgirl”, which could be the perfect summary of Zodiac's sonic aspirations: abstract beats between futuristic R&B and melancholic post-dubstep, like an improbable meeting between Burial and The Neptunes, with high-pitched voices reduced to whimpers, and a Philip Glass-like cyclic harmony to support it. “So Soon We Change” is reminiscent, in its textures and drive, of “Los Angeles” era Flying Lotus, whilst miniature “Loss Config.” shows that ambient turbulence is one of his specialties.
The EP is released on Vase, a platform that doesn't have a specific sound; it's already gone from house to pop, and now it's in this limbo where Zodiac seems to be laying the foundations for something new and seductive, very much in the vein of Tri Angle and the triangle formed by Balam Acab, Howse, and Evian Chris. “Zodiac” perfectly describes the always hectic zone in the margins of R&B, bass music, and deep-house: elegant club music taking a step back, wavering between the darkness of a club in the early hours of the night and the first rays of sunlight in a solitary room. Zodiac's got it out of his system now and he's presenting himself for the title of revelation producer of the year. His beef with Tesfaye will likely stay in limbo, but at least he hasn't allowed himself to look like a fool.