How Low (I Love It Freestyle)
If I Die Tonight
NSD (feat King$aral)
Talking to Myself
Zack Calixtus, a Hong Kong-based Nepalese musician, dropped his hip hop in debut LP Gloom in October 2020. Combining elements of both old school and contemporary rap methodologies, Calixtus uses his music to present a varied, colourful portrait of life in the city.
Opening salvo Chill Vibes is precisely what it says on the tin- a laid back, carefree rap tune which evokes sun-soaked summer days spent with a beer in hand. It goes hand in hand with Down, a lo-fi track which boasts a surprisingly catchy chorus melody.
How Low (I Love It Freestyle) is a sharp and scathing diss track, one which features an uncharacteristic chorus section harkening the likes of Machine Gun Kelly’s Rap Devil. Calixtus clearly draws inspiration from myriad modern artists, even sampling a controversial Yung Nazty song to drive his point home.
How Low’s venom is quickly tempered with Ten, a smooth and clean-sung RNB track which features minimalistic keyboards and drum tracks. It stands out against Calixtus’s other, more playfully juvenile tracks as an edification of his vulnerable side. It’s okay Zack- we all have one!
If I Die Tonight is a breathy, atmospheric take on the modern day surge of so-called Soundcloud era rappers- rap which is characterised by a certain DIY, self-produced charm. The undulating, lo fi beats seem to recreate the sensation of being high, which is extended by a steady repetition of “head, face, body, drops”. These lyrics are a direct allusion to the phenomenon of “nodding” when one is extremely intoxicated on opiate substances, and could be seen as Calixtus commenting (or simply reminiscing) on the proliferation of drug culture amongst young adults and older teens.
A total change of pace, Adrenaline is a catchy, toe-tappable 80s electronic dance number, something which wouldn’t go amiss beside the likes of Spandau Ballet on an old jukebox. Its lighthearted rhythm reveals a refreshingly upbeat side of him, and stands out on the record as a pleasant surprise as Calixtus continues to push the boundaries and genre trappings of contemporary hip hop.
Late steps back to a more classic rap sensibility, complete with fast-spit verses and a sung through chorus. Bilingual NSD (feat King$aral) offers a same-same-but-different approach, the keyboard-centric music taking on a darker timbre. Catchy even to the monologuists out there, Calixtus shows masterful understanding of the power of symbiotic collaboration between artists, especially in this new digital music landscape where anyone can be their own music label.
Following up the punchy Blue is Picture Me, which acts as a tongue in cheek “dedication” to Calixtus’ alma mater of the Hong Kong Design Institute. Writing a diss track against an institution is a brave- albeit entertaining- venture, one which will definitely give rise to some compelling discourse. Once again, Calixtus borrows lines from prolific artists, in this case Drake’s Started From The Bottom, in an attempt to establish his artistry not only in the local scene but to tie his music to the international framework.
Talking to Myself offers flavours of The Weeknd, a tuneful lo-fi hip hop track with equal parts clear, clean vocals and rap flow to create a dynamic texture. Here we see a heightened sense of self-awareness, creativity, and intelligence instead of resorting to profanity for the safe of conformity- which is an unfortunately common pitfall. This track, stylistic and mature, is a welcome sidestep from the norm. After all, how many times can hip hop artists rap about sex, weed, and their second-hand Rolex before their mundane voices fade into obsolescence?
We round off with the anthemic Uptight, which harnesses a heavier approach and hints at his rock n roll foundations. Calixtus’s lyrical cadence and music composition make for a solid track, establishing his raw talents at their prime. Thematically, it addresses notorious Gen Z interests such as Instagram, fast cars, and the aspirational wealth of disillusioned youth. Much like the likes of G-Eazy, Zack Calixtus’ blend of rapidfire verses and memorable choruses prove that he knows his audience- and his influences- to a T.