LESS IS MOOR stands as an example to artists everywhere: you need not rush, nor turn to a label, to create an excellent debut.
Zebra Katz strutted onto the scene eight years ago with “Ima Read”, a declaration of arrival new artists dreams of. Its menacing jest found fans in Rick Owens and Azealia Banks, both of them assured distinctive individuals in their own rights. Katz, too, came out the gate with confidence to spare: “I’m trying to grow before I sign myself to something specifically” he told the Guardian seven years ago. Lacking a label never slowed his flow as exemplified by 2014’s mischievous “Tear The House Up” or Gorillaz highlight “Out of Body,” among other things.”
His debut album, LESS IS MOOR, likewise comes with no label and a sheer confidence few else pull off so effortlessly. “I like what you do to my ding-a-ling,” a joke in any other voice, inexplicably works when delivered in Ojay Morgan’s low, sensual timbre. Conversely, “Make you feel right,” the vocals garbled and layered, warns of danger instead of pleasure. Even to himself, he spares no mercy: “I kicked myself out of Berghain”. His word is law, and his voice is the authority.
Certain in its step, this voice always hits its stride, whether lurching or barreling forward. His hits a roaring flow early on in “ISH” where he cascades out of the chorus into a rapid fire verse, setting the stage for LESS IS MOOR’s relentless onslaught of abrasive soundscapes: “Flow equipped, it’s ready to go.”
But his reign relies not only on his imposing speech. Morgan peppers his songs with kitschy samples and references. In “UPP”’s bridge, he follows a line straight out of “Little Drummer Boy” with another by Grace Jones, one of his heroes: “Bump ra-pumpa pa-pump/ Pull up to my bumper, right?.” One track later, he plays a trick pulled by Will.i.am in 2007, singing “Where in the world did you get that from?” “BLUSH” thrusts the listener even further back to 2006 with a Cassie sample, preceded by none other than a reference to “Party rock.” Again, all are a testament to Morgan’s skill; he fits these pieces together into something like M.I.A. via Boys Noize, crafty and industrial.
These beats, though typically sparse as Morgan’s voice needs little assistance, flourish when left to their own devices. As “IN IN IN” ends one verse on another musical reference “And if you didn’t know, now you know,” whistles enter atop the driving drumline. They sound like a warning, an offering to tap out while you’re ahead. Then, the gong enters and signals the next verbal assault is about to begin. A similar break in the flow happens in the switch from cut-time to 4/4 on “LICK IT N SPLIT,” when a lone drum and a reverberating synth echo in the void of Katz’s personality. In each transition from spitfire verse to resonant space, LESS IS MOOR lives up to its name.
The blunt title also refers to a formative moment in Morgan’s past. Mentors and others from his drama studies said Black actors only play moors in Shakespeare. Turning stereotypes on their heads with his one-man show Moor Contradictions, Morgan created Zebra Katz, a character born from limitations and now thriving in spite of them. LESS IS MOOR’s sparsest moments, like the looming dread of “LOUSY” or the guitar-only “NECKLACE,” tend to leave the strongest impressions.
However, the latter track serves as a middle finger to limitation as well. Since the inception of “Ima Read,” people quickly relegate Morgan’s music to ballroom and hip-hop music. “NECKLACE” delivers another side, a bit of primetime bedroom indie you might just find on Dirty Hit. On “MONITOR,” he proves himself capable of threatening techno, a genre created by but not always associated with the Black community.
LESS IS MOOR ultimately culminates in these many different juxtapositions and contradictions. It does so thanks to Morgan’s ability to puzzle together these disparate pieces into songs about rough sex, frightening benders, and moments of tenderness. Though Zebra Katz earned his stripes many years ago, it’s a thrill to watch them flaunted so confidently.