by Conor Battles
The serene motion of ocean waves powers Akron lo-fi hip-hop producer ZOD1AC’s latest beat tape, Tides.
The description for the album on Bandcamp reads in part, “Water holds both the qualities of softness and destruction, the gentle weightlessness of mist and the overpowering mass of the seas. This duality serves as a reminder of the beautiful and delicate balance we all exist within.” The album’s sound perfectly captures this feeling, as soft melodies float gently over mesmerizingly tight drum loops like seafoam over the pounding surf.
Lo-fi is one of the most popular subgenres of hip-hop production right now. Thanks to a handful of monstrously popular YouTube channels, SoundCloud pages and other DIY digital distribution networks, the atmospheric and downtempo sound of lo-fi has become a dominant force in underground hip-hop. ZOD1AC has been a lo-fi producer for years now, and with this latest release, it is clear that he has become one of the Northeast Ohio scene’s most skilled beatmakers.
Tides is ZOD1AC’s first release as an artist under Canadian lo-fi tastemakers Inner Ocean Records, and it is clear that the producer, real name Joe Maas, channeled a sonic ocean of his own in crafting this debut.
The tape’s breezy sub-30 minute runtime means no beat overstays its welcome, and each track blends seamlessly with the next. On the first track, “Vapor Trails,” washed-out surf guitar gives way to a hypnotic brass melody from international horn collective Soul Food Horns, merging ZOD1AC’s trademark hazy sonic experimentation with something far more soulful and grounded. On “Floods,” jazzy woodwinds cut through a thick wall of reverb and trap-influenced 808 drum loops, imbuing the otherwise icy and ethereal track with a feeling of warmth and familiarity.
The album’s high-water mark is “Stasis,” a bright and playful track that combines a soaring arpeggiated synth with bouncy R&B-accented drums to joyous, danceable effect. The song’s exuberant breakdown recalls the lo-fi charm of old-school video game music, feeling simultaneously nostalgic and cooly futuristic.
Tides is best enjoyed as one long soundscape; an ever-changing masterclass in beatmaking. Maas makes each exquisitely crafted moment seem effortless — a sudden beat change or offbeat sample is always able to breathe new and unexpected life into a track, but it never feels like he’s trying particularly hard to impress.
Tides was recently featured on Bandcamp’s list of the best beat tapes available on the self-published music platform, and it is easy to see why. ZOD1AC stands out as a true innovator in the crowded and booming lo-fi hip-hop scene, drawing on a diverse palate of influences such as shoegaze and ambient music to create a beat tape that is lush, dreamy and eminently unique.
Conor Battles is a journalism student at Kent State University.