-- The Boston Globe (January 18, 2008)
In 2005, when Elemental Zazen started working on his sophomore release The Glass Should Be Full, he envisioned the album as a political manifesto for radical social change - revolutionary hip-hop in the tradition of Public Enemy. Over the next two years, a series of tragedies in his personal life interrupted his plans and forced Elemental Zazen to shift his focus to survival.
"Fuck it. If I die tonight, I hope my last rhyme was tight"
In 2006, Elemental Zazen lost a close family member in a tragic accident, and then lost most of his worldly possessions when his house burned to the ground in a five-alarm fire. The following year, Elemental Zazen (real name Jason Trefts, age 25) was diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor in his occipital lobe, which required immediate brain surgery. His new album narrates the fear, hope and anger of a disillusioned revolutionary struggling against both political injustice and personal tribulations.
Recently profiled in The Boston Globe's "5 Locals on the Verge in 2008," Elemental Zazen raps with an aggressive flow, attacking the mic with honest grit and athletic lyricism. With an urgent need to tell his story, Zazen limits his guest appearances to an elite group of veteran and emerging underground hip-hop producers: Kno (Cunninlynguists), Maker (Glue), Joe Beats (Non-Prophets), Gnotes, Scroll, J.Ferra and Confidence.
Musically diverse, the album ranges from riotous fist-pumping anthems ("Handcuffs" and "No Survivors"), to subtle, reflective rhythms layered with lush instrumentation ("Silence of the Now" and "Machine" feature live trumpet, guitar, bass and violin).
With intricate rhyme-schemes penned by an angry scholar, The Glass Should Be Full is explosive hip-hop with a revolutionary purpose: "I'm a socialist vocalist focused on roping the hopeless in."
The son of international school teachers, Elemental Zazen was born in the US and raised in Al Taif (Saudi Arabia) and Beijing (China). Despite growing up in vastly different countries, Zazen saw a similar pattern of exploitation and injustice everywhere he called home.
Unwilling to accept a system that produces inhumane poverty and opulent wealth side-by-side, Elemental Zazen focused his fury into his 2004 debut The Adolescence Weapon - which The Weekly Dig praised as "one of Boston's most enlightened hip-hop discs in recent memory."
On The Glass Should Be Full, Elemental Zazen continues the fight against global inequity, but this time his rhymes are laced with an urgent appreciation of life: "All of the events that have happened to me in some ways have opened my eyes to the brilliance of life, so without them the album wouldn't have more upbeat songs like 'Machine'."
***Elemental Zazen - "Machine"
Prod. by Elemental Zazen
Featuring Gnotes on guitar/bass
(free mp3 downlaod )
***Elemental Zazen - "Handcuffs"
Prod. by J.Ferra and Confidence
Featuring cuts by DJ Slipwax
After The Weekly Dig featured Elemental Zazen in "10 to watch in 2007," Jason Trefts went into the hospital for brain surgery on July 24 2007. During his recovery period, Zazen started writing about his too-soon confrontation with death: "It's strange needing a will at this age / feeling caged, betrayed, jotting it down on the page." Later that year, Elemental Zazen appeared on Gnotes' album Rhymes and Beats and soon got back to touring New England with his five-piece band.
Since 2005, Elemental Zazen has shared the live stage with Immortal Technique, Kool Keith,
Mr. Lif, Cunninlynguists, Ill Bill, Murs, Cage, Boot Camp Clik, Masta Ace, Camu Tao, Akrobatik, Glue, Louis Logic, Slaine, Ed OG and Animal Collective.
The release show for The Glass Should Be Full will be on May 24 2008, at the famed Middle East (Downstairs) in Cambridge, Mass. Elemental Zazen will be touring Spain, England and France in July and August, then starting a PhD program in Sociology at the University of Washington this fall. For the past six years Zazen's has worked as as a Residential Counselor at a home for mentally ill young adults in Arlington, Mass.
"Dao. Wind. Water. Trees mostly. Hand out the car window. Running away from things and towards other things. Life on other planets. Time travel. Insecurity. Girls. Being poor. No more alcohol and drugs. Finally getting some sleep."
What about favorite bands?
"Radiohead, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, The National, Joy Division, TV On The Radio, Sufjan Stevens, Caribou, Sigur Ros, The Black Keys, Interpol, Death From Above 1979, Broken Social Scene, The Cure..."
The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac
Post Office by Charles Bukowski
Man's Fate by André Malraux
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami