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Much like a mirror, music bounces ourreflections right back at us. Ultimately, we see ourselves as much as we seethe artist.
Siphoning precise raps through abattlefield of distorted guitars and glitchy hues, Zero 9:36 beckonsreflection. The Philadelphia post-genre sonic insurgent, singer, creative, andrapper rhymes with the force and fire of a prizefighter as he landshard-hitting hooks meant to explode on impact. Adapting to any setting, he’samassed 40 million-plus streams and collaborated with everyone from TravisBarker and grandson to Hollywood Undead and Theory of a Deadman.
However, Zero 9:36 proudly occupies alane of his own on the 2021 EP, …IF YOU DON’T SAVE YOURSELF [ATCORecords] which has amassed over 41 million streams.
“When I’m writing, I’ll speak to apersonal situation, but I’ll ultimately leave the lyrics open forinterpretation,” he explains. “The feeling is the most important thing.”
Music always brought those feelingsout of the artist born Matthew Cullen. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia,PA, he lived with his mom and stepfather, yet enjoyed a series of formativeexperiences with his late father. Dad turned him on to Slipknot and his “biggestinfluence” frontman Corey Taylor. Pops also took him to a total of fourHollywood Undead concerts. For as much as Matthew dug rock, Lil Wayne’s ThaCarter II and Meek Mill’s Flamers 2 ultimately inspired him to makemusic. After his first recording experience in a professional studio at10-years-old, he pursued hip-hop at full speed. Just as he began to gathersteam locally, he tragically lost his father.
“My dad died when I was 16,” he sighs.“He was the reason I listened to rock. He got to hear my rap material though.He was a big inspiration overall.”
On a creative tear, he wrote andrecorded over 100 hip-hop songs under the original name of Zero. He even threwdown in a sneaker store cypher with an intro by none other than Meek Mill.After grinding under-the-radar for years and augmenting his signature stylewith cybernetic beats and guitar transmissions from frequent collaborator NoLove For The Middle Child, he caught the attention of ATCO Records in 2019.Signed personally by C.E.O. and industry legend Pete Ganbarg as the relaunchedlabel’s flagship act, he metamorphosized again, adopting the 9:36 in referenceto the time of his birth. Powered by highlights such as “Leave The Light On”and “WWYDF,” the You Will Not Be Saved EP introduced him as it generated25 million-plus streams.
On its heels, he joined forces withgrandson on “Again (Text Voter XX to 40649)” in addition to dropping theacoustic Barebones Vol. 1 EP, evincing his versatility. Simultaneously,he and No Love For The Middle Child assembled the next project by way of ZOOMsessions with producers such as Keith Varon [FEVER333, Martin Garrix], Erik Ron[Panic! At The Disco, Godsmack], Drew Fulk [Lil Peep, Lil Wayne, Beartooth], andmore in the midst of the Global Pandemic. Zero 9:36 paved the way for the 2021EP with “The End” and its companion remix “The End/Undead” [feat. HollywoodUndead] and the anthemic “Adrenaline,” the latter of which hit #1 onMediabase’s Active Rock airplay chart earlier this year and stands as the #1 most played current or recurrentat the format in 2021.
Emblematic of his aural alchemy, thesingle “In My Hands” [feat. Travis Barker & Clever] glides from a brightmelody into an off-kilter guitar riff and searing solo. From behind the throne,Barker holds down the groove. Clever rolls through with nimble bars as Krupa’selectronic sorcery rages in the background.
“For me, ‘In My Hands’ is about a relationship,” hereveals. “When the other person finally leaves you, you want her to come back,because you know you fucked up. However, it’s better if she doesn’t, becauseyou’d still probably let her down. It’s recognizing the problems are yourfault.”
Elsewhere, “Tragedy” hinges on delicately plucked acousticguitar as his voice flutters between a plea, “Help me, can you fucking helpme? I’ve been all alone if you’re asking me.” Then, there’s “FadeOut.” Co-written with Hollywood Undead’s Johnny 3 Tears and Charlie Scene, dramaticpiano and strings set the stage. Guitar creeps beneath intense raps and amassive, yet melancholic chant, “Hey now, did you fade out? Did you hurtyourself on the way down? Did your blood run cold? Did you sell your soul?”
Drawing on a horror movie obsession, he distills these vibesinto the faceless figure who adorns the single and project cover art.
“The character has no face and no name,” he goes on. “You don’tknow who he is, what he’s doing, or why he’s there. There’s no informationabout him. So, listeners can really create their own story.”
In the end, Zero 9:36 invites both interaction and immersionwith an inimitable hybrid.
“When you listen to me, I want you to get a sound you can onlyget from Zero 9:36,” he leaves off. “I’m trying to bring something different tothe table.”
Fame on Fire / Garzi