I always love a good story album. Something about hearing an artist illustrate their lives within the framework of a fantastical universe makes the stakes higher in my opinion, like the musician has upped the ante on the already self-designed persona to dig even deeper. “Z1: The Zetaman Project” reads like a spy thriller title and the protagonist rapper, Zeta, is able to effectively delve into the character and storyline he creates on this album and come out the other side having offered his listeners an intimate perspective into his real-life emotions and struggles.
The album can by no means be called short. At 18 tracks, “Z1: The Zetaman Project” thoroughly runs the gamut of Zeta’s emotions concerning his relationship with success. He leaves no stone unturned, openly sharing thoughts on the impact of success on his friends, his former detractors, even his fans. Zeta seems to make the consistent point that his rise has been fraught with disaster, pain, and loss. But he also makes it clear that his setbacks only make him stronger and in the end his successes and failures rest on his shoulders alone.
In terms of the album’s story, the narrative element kicks off starting with the first track, “Test Subject Z” which introduces the listener to a secret lab where the project’s key test subject (Zeta himself) has just been developed. Another of the album’s story tracks, “Backfire” further explains the nature of the album’s Zetaman as a creature who “has no weakness” because of his capability to “believe he can accomplish anything… anything he dreams of”. On “White Seagull Beach” efforts to violently subdue the Zetaman fail to kill him and instead offer him the opportunity to express his true disenchantment concerning the organization that created him.
The storyline is a fantastic metaphor for what seems like Zeta’s real assessment of the clinical process of developing as a brand-name rapper. “Strangers” allows Zeta to share his thoughts on the music industry as a cold entity seeking to brainwash the youth and laments his own involvement as a product of that industry. Tracks like “All on Me” and “Don’t Want Me” meanwhile talk about the harsh toll that Zeta’s success has taken on his personal relationships, particularly with his best friend and with his longtime girlfriend.
“Z1: The Zetaman Project” is an energetic hip-hop album that does a great job of stirring the pot. It shines brightest at the moments it challenges the notion that rappers should happily sacrifice who they are for what they might become. What is especially interesting about this album is that although Zeta is angry, or sad at times, he is never hopeless. He takes every tragedy in his life upon his own shoulders and bears it on his own. But if his mythological lab scientists are to be believed, he can’t be beaten, no matter what’s thrown at him. After all he is the Zetaman.