Describing an album as “a robbery” sounds like a bad thing, right? We've all been there; it’s the era before digital downloads and after hearing one great track, you buy an album only to find there’s 11 more duds filling up the other 91.6% of the album. Hope you enjoy your $12 song. But, Sims' (and essentially, Lazerbeak’s) Bad Time Zoo isn't that kind of robbery. It’s the kind you see in films like Heat or, to a lesser extent, Point Break (R.I.P. Patrick Swayze). It’s two technicians, honing each other’s skills for a precise operation that is devastating and doesn't waste a second of time.
For those not familiar, Sims has felt like the Memphis Bleek of Doomtree for a while, always just one hit away (of course, this may be because his last proper full-length was six years ago). Sims lacks the crossover appeal of a P.O.S. or a Dessa, who can foray into punk or more traditional vocal work, respectively. Sims has been, more or less, a rapper. A damn good rapper, but fairly straightforward nonetheless. For him to stand out in a collection of such talented artists and emcees, he was going to need his best game and the best canvas to work with, and that’s what Bad Time Zoo delivers.
Sims has never been one to keep politics or opinions out of his rhymes, and while it’s crafted his image, it has earned him some criticism for being too heavy-handed, lopsided and, some would say, corny. Bad Time Zoo features many of the same strong opinions Sims is known for, but far more fleshed out and in depth. The lyrics aren't about finger-pointing or name-calling, but identifying the structural confines that perpetuate things like greed, consumer culture and self-interest (though it sounds way less nerdy when Sims does it). Sims knows the human condition is the symptom of a larger problem and works hard to express his anger and frustration without resorting to petty ideals or finger-pointing. It’s a line that is easily crossed, but one Sims walks with skill and enough energy to keep you listening.
On the music and production side of things is Doomtree’s resident beatmaker, Lazerbeak. Lazerbeak is one of those producers that puts an indelible stamp on his work and has warranted sharing the main artist title on albums he’s done with artists like F. Stokes and Mike Mictlan. With Bad Time Zoo, Lazerbeak continues to expand his repertoire, offering everything from high-energy tribal chants with “Future Shock” to something resembling post-rock with “When It Rolls In”. But Lazerbeak is at his finest when he’s pushing the envelope into the realm of “nearly too much.” Tracks like “Burn It Down” and “Radio Opaque” blare with everything from horns to vocal samples in a cacophony that begs to be played at levels comparable to MC Hammer at the Apollo (the volume levels were so high they cracked the plaster on the ceiling; Google it). In less skilled hands it could become nothing more than a garbled mess of noise, but Lazerbeak focuses like some sort of beam to keep everything loud, balanced and interesting.
Bad Time Zoo is a perfect example of two artists collaborating to make each other better (think the exact opposite of the Timbaland/Chris Cornell album). Sims is the mastermind, making the grand scheme and coordinating the logistics, while Lazerbeak is the getaway driver, plotting the best course to race to Sims’ chosen destination. And you? You’re just along for the ride, watching two great technicians work their craft. So just strap in and shut up. It’s get in, get out, nobody gets hurt.