Much like a mirror, music bounces our reflections right back at us. Ultimately, we see ourselves as much as we see the artist.
Siphoning precise raps through a battlefield of distorted guitars and glitchy hues, Zero 9:36 beckons reflection. The Philadelphia post-genre sonic insurgent, singer, creative, and rapper rhymes with the force and fire of a prizefighter as he lands hard-hitting hooks meant to explode on impact. Adapting to any setting, he’s amassed 40 million-plus streams and collaborated with everyone from Travis Barker and grandson to Hollywood Undead and Theory of a Deadman.
However, Zero 9:36 proudly occupies a lane of his own on the 2021 EP, …IF YOU DON’T SAVE YOURSELF [ATCO Records] which has amassed over 41 million streams.
“When I’m writing, I’ll speak to a personal situation, but I’ll ultimately leave the lyrics open for interpretation,” he explains. “The feeling is the most important thing.”
Music always brought those feelings out of the artist born Matthew Cullen. Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA, he lived with his mom and stepfather, yet enjoyed a series of formative experiences with his late father. Dad turned him on to Slipknot and his “biggest influence” frontman Corey Taylor. Pops also took him to a total of four Hollywood Undead concerts. For as much as Matthew dug rock, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter II and Meek Mill’s Flamers 2 ultimately inspired him to make music. After his first recording experience in a professional studio at 10-years-old, he pursued hip-hop at full speed. Just as he began to gather steam locally, he tragically lost his father.
“My dad died when I was 16,” he sighs. “He was the reason I listened to rock. He got to hear my rap material though. He was a big inspiration overall.”
On a creative tear, he wrote and recorded over 100 hip-hop songs under the original name of Zero. He even threw down in a sneaker store cypher with an intro by none other than Meek Mill. After grinding under-the-radar for years and augmenting his signature style with cybernetic beats and guitar transmissions from frequent collaborator No Love For The Middle Child, he caught the attention of ATCO Records in 2019. Signed personally by C.E.O. and industry legend Pete Ganbarg as the relaunched label’s flagship act, he metamorphosized again, adopting the 9:36 in reference to the time of his birth. Powered by highlights such as “Leave The Light On” and “WWYDF,” the You Will Not Be Saved EP introduced him as it generated 25 million-plus streams.
On its heels, he joined forces with grandson on “Again (Text Voter XX to 40649)” in addition to dropping the acoustic Barebones Vol. 1 EP, evincing his versatility. Simultaneously, he and No Love For The Middle Child assembled the next project by way of ZOOM sessions with producers such as Keith Varon [FEVER333, Martin Garrix], Erik Ron [Panic! At The Disco, Godsmack], Drew Fulk [Lil Peep, Lil Wayne, Beartooth], and more in the midst of the Global Pandemic. Zero 9:36 paved the way for the 2021 EP with “The End” and its companion remix “The End/Undead” [feat. Hollywood Undead] and the anthemic “Adrenaline,” the latter of which hit #1 on Mediabase’s Active Rock airplay chart earlier this year and stands as the #1 most played current or recurrent at the format in 2021.
Emblematic of his aural alchemy, the single “In My Hands” [feat. Travis Barker & Clever] glides from a bright melody into an off-kilter guitar riff and searing solo. From behind the throne, Barker holds down the groove. Clever rolls through with nimble bars as Krupa’s electronic sorcery rages in the background.
“For me, ‘In My Hands’ is about a relationship,” he reveals. “When the other person finally leaves you, you want her to come back, because you know you fucked up. However, it’s better if she doesn’t, because you’d still probably let her down. It’s recognizing the problems are your fault.”
Elsewhere, “Tragedy” hinges on delicately plucked acoustic guitar as his voice flutters between a plea, “Help me, can you fucking help me? I’ve been all alone if you’re asking me.” Then, there’s “Fade Out.” Co-written with Hollywood Undead’s Johnny 3 Tears and Charlie Scene, dramatic piano and strings set the stage. Guitar creeps beneath intense raps and a massive, yet melancholic chant, “Hey now, did you fade out? Did you hurt yourself on the way down? Did your blood run cold? Did you sell your soul?”
Drawing on a horror movie obsession, he distills these vibes into the faceless figure who adorns the single and project cover art.
“The character has no face and no name,” he goes on. “You don’t know who he is, what he’s doing, or why he’s there. There’s no information about him. So, listeners can really create their own story.”
In the end, Zero 9:36 invites both interaction and immersion with an inimitable hybrid.
“When you listen to me, I want you to get a sound you can only get from Zero 9:36,” he leaves off. “I’m trying to bring something different to the table.”