When Russ drops music I usually keep my distance. Since his major-label debut went platinum, all I’ve heard is how great he is. A few years back my day-one homie showed me one of his songs. “What They Want” has a dope visual. While it may not break ground per se, I found it entertaining. Following my introduction to Russ, I became curious about his stuff. His talents are many. He writes, performs, produces and engineers all of his music. That is impressive. More often than not engineers and mixers get absolutely zero credit. In a way, Russ shines a light on just how much work goes into making an album. Yet not in the way he might think. To me, albums should always be a collaborative effort. Denying assistance usually leads to underwhelming results. Russ has always struck me as a hybrid of Drake and J. Cole.
Due to his self-sufficient nature, Russ has a tendency to make similar sounding songs. And while J. Cole is an amazing lyricist and activist, his albums tend to grow stale by the end. Additionally, Russ’s music suffers a comparable demise. In the past I’ve defended his talent and outspoken demeanor. Though that was a while ago. Him and I share common philosophies on the power of thoughts. Most of what Russ dreamed about as a kid has come to fruition. He is a platinum-selling recording artist with thousands of fans around the world. He has every right to be proud of himself. Frankly, however, none of that makes his music any better. Despite my applause for his do-it-all approach, his music has an overtly amateurish feel. Across these 14 tracks he claims it’s easy for him to talk his shit and make these hits.
Honestly, I don’t know if he and I were listening to the same album. Because ZOO is a hot mess. From front to back this cocktail of dated pillow talk anthems and generic emotions grows more harsh with each new listen. On first listen I thought to myself, “Aight, maybe I’m just not getting what Russ is trying to say here.” Yet the closer I listened, the less interesting this album became. In terms of substance a few tracks caught my ear. On “Parkstone Drive” the Jersey native discusses his broken relationship with his father. According to Russ, when he rose to fame his father fell to shame. I commend his transparency, though I wish the actual songwriting was sturdier. Also, one cut stuck out of this pile of bland, assembly-line efforts. “Voicemail” surprised me. It features the most polished instrumental here and flows well from start to finish.
Nevertheless, it is the only track with a concrete concept. Literally every other song is more wash-rinse-repeat than the last. By my third listen through, I was fed up with the lack of genuine introspection and astute commentary. Russ meant to make a statement with this album. However, after four complete listens, there is positively no theme or conceptual nugget afoot. The songwriting presented here is more basic than your #WCW holding a pumpkin spice latte while selfie-ing her own In My Feelings Challenge. Since all this album accomplishes are crooning and complaining, it has little to no replay value. If you think Russ is attractive and you want to make babies with him to his music, by all means, do you. He’s a good-looking guy. But for the rest of the 98% of us in the world, we’d be better off forgetting an album like this ever existed.