ZillaKami doesn't want to talk about the rocket launcher.
In case you missed it, at the end of the video for "33rd Blakk Glass," which features yet another sojourn into City Morgue's sooty, murderous universe and has amassed nearly 3 million views on YouTube along the way, ZillaKami creeps through a musty apartment, slips through the bedroom door and flips over a bare mattress lying on the ground. There, he retrieves what appears to be a gold-plated rocket-propelled grenade — the sort of weaponry you use to destroy armored tanks and helicopters. For the past year we've watched City Morgue crush pills, bump lines and shoot rounds in the air, but this was new territory. How on earth did they get their hands on an RPG? Is it real? Is everything going to be OK?
"That's a touchy subject," he laughs. "A lot has happened because of that RPG."
Such is the mystery of City Morgue, one of rap's most gripping millennial insurgencies. ZillaKami and his partner SosMula earned their notoriety by remaining militantly, oppressively brutal. Their debut mixtape, City Morgue Vol. 1: Hell or High Water, is full of queasy synth, destabilizing bass and disconcerting bars — but the full experience will always be best digested through their music videos. Tune in, and you'll catch two stringy kids in patched-up denim and vampire jewelry, indulging in the grimmest of excess on the streets of New York. It is hip-hop, in the sense that they are definitely rapping, but their tone and mythos brings to mind shock rock and extreme metal. So many guns, so many drugs, so many eerie, lip-curled omens that hit like a cannonball. On Hell or High Water closer "Sk8 Head," Sos announces his arrival by calling us the "school teacher" and him the "school shooter." If they get any more famous, they might summon up an old-fashioned congressional moral panic. The only difference is that City Morgue never needed to backmask any evil — it gleefully pops right off the record.
"We want to create a world, because if you don't have a world you don't have a cult," says Zilla, when asked about his mindset in the studio. "Our world is still being crafted right now, so nobody really knows what it feels like."
Here are the facts: Zilla, real name Junius Rogers, grew up in Long Island, New York, and celebrated his 19th birthday in September. SosMula is a little different: He's 24, from Harlem, and finished up a prison sentence in 2016. Together, they cut their teeth on New York's insurrectionary new hip-hop movement — and Zilla himself even ghostwrote a few 6ix9ine songs, long before that controversial, Kool-Aid dyed misfit scaled the Hot 100. (Asked about 6ix9ine's recent run of transgressions, which include racketeering charges and a now-infamous sex crime involving a minor, Zilla demurred: "I don't care at all. I heard 6ix9ine is releasing a new album. I'm more hyped for that.")
Long before Zilla started rapping, he was a bona fide metalhead, and carried a particular obsession for Polish occultists Behemoth, and the ghoulish, turntable attitudes of Slipknot. "I think it was because I was little and they wore masks," he laughs, when asked how he discovered the band. "They were creepy, and they wore masks, and Corey Taylor's voice was mad heavy."
At every show, City Morgue makes sure to play "Spit It Out" — an everlasting tribute to their own personal canon. Nu-metal takes a whole lot of guff from purists and dogmatists, but Zilla's mission is to give the scene new life, and focus it under a different lens. The context becomes clearer when you revisit those old Slipknot videos. The Nine never crushed pills on camera, but they did preside over a frenzied house-destroying mob in "Duality" and cavort with a troupe of corpse-painted, straitjacketed nymphs in "Dead Memories." The City Morgue posture, and its emphasis on shock value, is deeply entrenched in the same tradition. "That's literally what it's meant to be," he says, "[City Morgue] is just a modern take on [nu-metal]. It's more trap, with more 808s and high-hats." "Everyone calls it 'trap metal,'" adds SosMula, "but we don't really like to call it that."
Obviously City Morgue's artistry is also more visceral and street-level than Slipknot's gory fantasies (Zilla has made repeated references to the heroin epidemic that's stricken his particular neighborhood), but the specifics of their interest in extreme music are immensely relatable.
"Do you like scaring people?" I ask. "Yeah, that's like 90 percent of it," he replies. "Me walking around is me trying to get on people's nerves. It's fun. It takes people out of their comfort zone."
"The person who goes onstage is a different person," continues Zilla. "That's like a blackout, because normally I'm super calm. I wouldn't call it a character, it's just the purest form of myself."
At his core though, ZillaKami, like everyone who's uniquely in love with heavy music, is a bit of a nerd. You can suss it out if you pay close enough attention to his lyrics. Between the gunshots, threats and debauchery, there are cockeyed cultural nods that can only come from a particular type of obsessive. "Ziggler with the suplex slam!" he shouts in the chorus of "33rd Blakk Glass," a direct reference to the platinum-haired WWE journeyman Dolph Ziggler. (Zilla puts him in his top three favorite wrestlers, alongside Mick Foley and Rob Van Dam.) A deeper look into Hell or High Water reveals a track called "Nuka Cola," named after the sardonic Coca-Cola stand-in from Bethesda's Fallout franchise. During our interview Zilla mentioned his fascination for FromSoftware's baroque masterpiece Dark Souls, ("that's like a heavy-metal video game!" he chimes,) and also admitted that he routinely browses spooky subreddits, like r/nosleep, in search of eldritch amateur horror stories.
Zilla self-describes as an aesthete for the culture — eternally curious, and eternally searching. "I like literally everything," he says. "Any genre, except for electronic shit. You can have a cool conversation with me about it. Not a geek, but a seeker of knowledge. My finsta page is just my fans giving me stuff that I've never heard of, and we just talk about it."
As he digs deeper and discovers new shit, it all gets digested and channeled into his own creative output, of which City Morgue represents the edgiest, evilest side. It's easy to get caught up in the duo's viscera, their sinister euphoria, the radiant passion they seem to have for documenting their misadventures on YouTube, but perhaps the most frightening thing about City Morgue is that ZillaKami and SosMula are just getting started — and there's no telling what they'll pull out from under the next flipped mattress.