ZACK FOX IS A GENIUS.
Zack Fox is allowed to toss the prince of England into hell, because Zack Fox is genius enough to exist outside of not having permission.
“For the most part, I don’t even partake in drugs.”
In a 2017 Youtube interview with the FADER, the comedian-slash-musician-slash-genius Zack Fox – then widely known online by the moniker Bootymath – sat down cozily on a stool, reflecting on tales ranging from punching someone so hard that their genitalia morphed into ants, to meeting Tyga and realizing he looked like “somebody put Tim Duncan in a dryer,” all between occasional sprays of orange soda into his mouth via a Windex bottle. Now, he was philosophizing about his decision to not take drugs. “I don’t even fuck with that shit.”
He went on to explain in-depth the preferred alternative stimulant opted for when in need of a fix – skittles wrapped in ham.
“I have been, lately, taking the – you know what I’m saying – interactive ham that we been using,” he started, “we” being a reference to the Atlanta-based hip-hop collective Awful Records. He hoisted a slice of ham in mid-air with one arm, and meticulously sprinkled a handful of Skittles into it with the other.
“Not too much- but just like eight of these…Skittles. And it’s not dangerous; like you could eat this shit. (He stuffed another few handfuls of Skittles into his mouth before starting the next sentence). It’s not dangerous. You could eat ‘em if you’ve got too many. Niggas think you can’t eat Skittles, you know?”
He counted about eight Skittles in the slice of ham. Then he rolled it up.
“And that’s what you got,” he announced, shortly before eating the concoction like it was a burrito. “A perfect Bootymath blunt.”
It isn’t Zack Fox’s fault that he is (1) young enough to gravitate towards interactive ham-skittles wraps, and (2) rich enough to dedicate part of his daily life to experimenting with meat-slash-Halloween-candy drug alternatives. Literally: before he starts rhyming about killing himself after getting his dick pic left on read by someone’s wife in ‘Crashed My Car,’ he raps: “Ain’t my fault I got bands and I look funny (Ha) / Dress like a single dad and I’m still a youngin’.” For the impact Fox has had on as many creative fields as he has dabbled into, “youngin” is an adjective that adds just one more impressive layer to his already hyper-eclectic climb up the social ladder. At just 30 years of age, his artistic resumé is comprised of becoming a pioneering black Twitter phenomenon, accidentally hitting #1 on the nationwide Spotify charts for a spur-of-the-moment comedy freestyle that was meant to sound as awful as possible, collaborating on music with Awful Records and Kenny Beats, contributing illustrations to projects by Thundercat, along with both writing and acting in the acclaimed Flying Lotus comedy thriller film Kuso (2017).
Look at Zack Fox in the scope of each category he contributes to alone, and his impact does not appear groundbreaking to the naked eye. With music, he’s got six singles and a handful of features to his name. With art, he’s the dude that did the album sleeve imagery for Drunk. On the screen, his official filmography is limited to one movie from 2017. But, it helps to consider that on a conceptual level, Zack Fox’s legacy (which is, of course, not anywhere near done being crafted) is most holistically viewed as the sum of all its parts. It is a familiar dictum that someone who strives to be a “jack-of-all-trades” is a “master of none.” Whereas for the typical non-genius, simultaneous endeavors in multiple arenas may result in sprawling, haphazard failures of varying intensities, for every single box Fox has immersed himself in, the same exact product has been generated: first, a laugh. Then, the inevitable afterthought – hold up, he might have just did something! Then – whether in the form of money in his pocket, followers on his Twitter account, or increased reputability toward his name – success. And every day, no matter how many of the tangible elements occur behind the scenes, his share of it seems to only get bigger.
One of the most encompassing reasons for which audiences gravitate toward Zack Fox is that, no matter the circumstance, his satirical output holds no form of respect for the gag line it seeks to conquer. When America is mourning, it is your absolute best bet that Zack Fox is somewhere choking on his own spit with laughter. He’s the dude who goes to his great Uncle’s military funeral and struggles to not completely lose his shit when the ceremonial horns start playing and everyone goes silent. Or, rather, the one who watches your dog get run over by a car, and rushes to your aid telling you not to worry, before pulling a skillet pan out from behind his back and assuring you that there “should definitely be enough for the both of us.” A few days ago, for instance, he made one of several edits to his controversial Twitter header: burning in hell alongside the long-tenured conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, and the infamous Capitol riot casualty Ashli Babbitt, was Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh – who had just died a matter of hours prior. Gaze downward about an inch from the hellscape on his profile, too, and you may catch that his bio reads (in emojis) “moon cricket:” a tongue-in-cheek nod to slurs hurled at African slaves who grouped up with one another after dark to sing negro spirituals under the moonlight.
It’s the same strain of unhinged, boundless humor that has allowed Fox’s likeness to be equally marketable across varying creative disciplines. “Is it that people want something this meaningless,” he posed in a 2019 Rolling Stone feature, “or is it that everything is already so meaningless that this fits right in?” The “meaningless” thing in question was ‘Jesus Is the One (I Got Depression)’ – the exaggeratedly nonsensical freestyle that quickly caught fire among youth on social media, and, with the help of Kenny Beats, went on to catapult an unsuspecting Fox into the inner folds of the American hip-hop zeitgeist that same year. (Taday, although Zack Fox’s discography only holds, as mentioned before, six singles and a handful of features, Spotify estimates that he gets around five million yearly listeners on the service. And that’s just Spotify).
The question can be applied to just about all of the music he puts out: it is so boisterously ridiculous that, conceptually, whoever let it go beyond the studio is criminally complicit in the mass distress it is always bound to cause – but who said we didn’t want to be distressed in the first place? Every day, not just in America, but worldwide, something asinine is happening to piss off anyone who dares to pay attention. Maybe a stuck ship as long as the Empire State Building is keeping dinner off of the table. Maybe your siblings abroad are getting their human rights violated on a daily basis, but are being suppressed from letting you have any idea that anything is wrong. Perhaps the possibility exists that you will be randomly beaten to death upon leaving your house because someone blames you for a global pandemic. There is enough serious distress across the globe for us to be made upset by – but if, no matter what, you are going to be unsettled at the end of the day – would you rather have your unrest be about dreadful politics, or dreadful bars? A failing economy, or a failing rhyme scheme? A system that doesn’t benefit your survival, or a system that doesn’t benefit your comfort zone?
‘The Bean Kicked In,’ for one, is a track that – much like its creator himself – takes a nearly surreal no-holds-barred approach to getting its point across. It helps to think of it in the context of a standard public encounter. When a child is exposed to something explicit in the city, its parent can pursue one of two courses of action: hide the child from the source, or attack the source head-on. Rarely do we see children exposed to something so horrid that the latter happens. ‘The Bean Kicked In’ is horrid enough for the latter to happen. If I blasted ‘The Bean Kicked In’ at maximum volume in a children’s playground, the children wouldn’t all wind up leaving the park because their parents dragged them away – they would wind up leaving the park because it would be a crime scene by the time their grown-ups are finished with me. “I just wanna fuck…Michelle Obama,” Fox shouts, seconds before alluding to Soulja Boy’s controversial what’s hannenin Breakfast Club quip. Over a beat that sounds as violent as the scene at the playground if I were to blast this for a bunch of people’s kids, he goes on to scream references to Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl Halftime Show incident, followed by serious demands for Jordan Peele to “free the nipple,” along with damnations of a sexual interest who lied about being celibate. (The other time Zack Fox used the word “celibate” in a song, he was boasting that “even when (he) was celibate, (he) was still cumming”). Oddly, in a very universal way, any listener to ‘The Bean Kicked In” must take off their headphones and admit several things. Yes, you just willingly listened to someone loudly vocalize sexual desires for the former First Lady of the United States. Yes, you just willingly heard #FREEETHENIPPLE applied to the comedian Jordan Peele. But you do still have your headphones in your ears. If you hated it so much, why haven’t you taken them out already?
“Zack Fox is on a journey to find whatever exists in the vacuum. And whatever it may reveal itself to be, he wants us to see it too.”
In “Marinate,” the namely second track on his two-song 2020 single IHY2LN + Marinate (IHY2LN stands for “I hate you too, little nigga” – and if you listen to the song, you come to believe it), Fox treads the same exact tightrope between unpalatably vulgar and unpalatably weird. “Hol’ on baby, I know you- I know you wanna twerk but um…” he stammers in the song’s instrumental introduction. “Yeah, I got a gun in my shorts and um…Yeah, it could be— It could get dangerous.” The danger does not stop with the possibility of a gunshot wound to the genital area (although that is made into a reality later on): in two verses that span less than 120 seconds, he raps about getting knots in his teeth from eating hairy female genitalia, purchasing Yankee Candles for illiterate girlfriends who pronounce “Chanel” “Channel,” and – lastly – how he “shot a nigga in the dick and (made) his kids evaporate.” The gist seems to be that no one’s sexual organs are safe except for Fox’s – some get theirs shot through, and others get theirs eaten in such a manner that the one doing the eating winds up with “hella knots in my teeth” – but, again, would you rather be unnerved by news of someone shooting up a government building, or raps about someone getting their kids disintegrated by a crazy gun-wielder with a preference for the crotch area? You may not want to say it out loud. But each of us are aware of the more desirable option here.
Very simply put, Zack Fox is a genius because he understands how to remove himself from the bullshit that is Planet Earth. And not only remove himself – but do so in a way that makes people chuckle, go on to realize mid-laugh that, hold up, he might have just did something, then follow him right out of the stratosphere before they know they’ve left the living room couch. “I needed an escape from being broke and homeless, and found that in jokes and art,” he told Mask in a 2017 interview. The question posed was in reference to his early days on the internet. “I rarely used social media, so I was just venting, stream of consciousness.”
The stream of consciousness is a literary technique that is often tied to unreliable narrators somewhat deranged. It is their insanity that makes them dynamic. Because there is the overarching impression that society writ large does not care about whatever they may say, think, or need at any given moment, they turn inward for pages and pages of increasingly more insane inward chatter until something happens to turn the system on its head – and, even when that thing does happen, whether it is conceptually positive or negative, one is always left to wonder what the future may hold for their tragic hero beyond the final page.
The genius of Zack Fox is one that flips the entire construct completely upside down: the typical crazy person in stream-of-consciousness literature is yelling into a void by accident; whatever it may be, circumstance has made it so that the world has turned its back on them. But Zack Fox is yelling into the void on purpose. It’s not that planet Earth has turned its back on Zack Fox. Zack Fox has turned his back on planet Earth. It’s the very reason why, when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, passes away – one half of the world crying over his grave, and the other half cursing him to oblivion – Zack Fox is taking it one step further and casting him into the depths of hell. It’s exactly why, while race relations in the United States are steadily being unraveled layer by layer after a year’s worth of the entire country being on edge, Zack Fox is allowed to apply a centuries-old slavery-era slur to himself without anyone batting an eye. And, even more so, it’s why it is absolutely normal for Zack Fox to publicly demand that Jordan Peele #freethenipple in the same breath that he admits sexual desires for Michelle Obama, without any sort of federal investigation being opened under his name. Rather than shout into the void, Zack Fox dives into it headfirst. Shouting at the void, he suggests, is futile anyway: why yell into a dark room to see if anyone’s there, when you could walk right in and see what’s up for yourself? Zack Fox is on a journey to find whatever exists in the vacuum. And whatever it may reveal itself to be, he wants us to see it too.
Laughter seems to present itself as the exclusive set of night-vision goggles for Fox’s mission to get us to see through the dark. Up to present-day, even, the headline of Complex’s 2018 interview with him rings true: Zack Fox Wants to Make You Laugh, and He’s Willing to Rap to Do It. Fox’s rapping career was, of course, an accident. Before he ever seriously entered a booth to lay down tracks for release, his sole claim-to-fame was that he was an upstart internet sensation; he amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter within two years, he had his jokes stolen by Saturday Night Live, and he pushed his eccentric style onto the radars of widespread hip-hop audiences by occasionally working with the rappers in his circle. In a situation like Fox’s it becomes easy to detect something that is common among similar multi-disciplinary artistic minds: whether the conscience agrees with it or not, the brain is constantly scouring for new ways to put its contents out into the world it observes. Zack Fox would have been just fine if he never collaborated with Kenny Beats. He didn’t have to pursue music when he already had money flooding his pockets from film, illustration, and comedy. But, what distinguishes him from the common non-genius given the same backstory, is that – even though nothing would have changed but his workload if he decided to rap – when Kenny Beats asked him when they would do a song together, he instantly told him to tweet that it was going to happen. “And then we did,” he told Complex. “We tweeted out that we were dropping a song, then three hours later, we just dropped the link.”
Rolling out music is a meticulous process for most. Even beyond full albums, especially for artists either of, or above Zack Fox’s caliber, singles are often big enough of a deal to have fully aestheticized release plans attributed to them. Some may hint at new tracks with strategically obscure tweets, like Travis Scott’s strange pre-FRANCHISE “Yep in my white tee” one-liner (or if you listen to advanced Yeezy theorists, Kanye’s ‘pre-Donda’ hyper-public mental breakdown. “Totally part of the rollout, slime!”). For others, all it may take is a brief peek into the cultural moment to trigger frantic fan-borne speculations that provide enough momentum for an actual release – like Frank Ocean, who, after years of silence in 2019, previewed a few seconds of “Dear April” at a live performance and rode that very wave into the single’s official debut. It’s hard to attribute exact percentages to artists and management teams with dynamics like this one, because of course, every one case differs from the next – but it’s impossible to say that management does not play a significant role…even if it means that the stars aren’t really the ones tweeting themselves.
Zack Fox, however, does not need a staffer to Tweet for him (he’s already quite good at tweeting for himself), nor a management team to guide him through the dos and don’ts of delivering music from his brain into the hands of the audience, nor an obsessive fan base to regulate his releases whenever he himself does not feel up to it. If Zack Fox feels like dropping a song, Zack Fox will drop a song. If Zack Fox feels like confessing his sexual desires for the happily married former First Lady of the United States, Zack Fox will confess his sexual desires for the happily married former First Lady of the United States. And, If Zack Fox feels like eating Skittles wrapped in ham and trademarking it as a “Bootymath blunt,” Zack Fox will eat Skittles wrapped in ham and trademark it as a “Bootymath blunt.” Whether it makes you throw up a tiny bit or not.
The common denominator is that no one really ever has to tell Zack Fox what to do – he simply does it. You have two options when Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh passes away at the age of 99: (1) mourn as if you knew the man, or (2) throw him in hell alongside Rush Limbaugh and Ashli Babbitt.
Zack Fox is allowed to toss the prince of England into hell. Because Zack Fox is genius enough to exist outside of not having permission.