Denver-based creator Mxlcxlm Z wears many hats, from business-owner to emcee, producer, engineer, director and activist. As a videographer, the 25-year-old Colorado native has a wide-range of experience, from covering events such as oil protests in North Dakota to the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico, to editing his own music videos. “At the end of the day, though,” he says, “it’s the music that connects it all and brings it all home.”
As a musical artist, he provides an interesting perspective on world events, daily life, social issues, and the entire spectrum in-between through a unique lens he calls “Trap Poetry.” “It’s like spoken word… but doper,” said Taylor Jade, a longtime fan of the work. Rhyming mostly over self-produced instrumentals inspired by trap producers such as Zaytoven, Drumma Boy, and the Renegades, Z has crafted a sound that combines heavy 808s and trap hi hats, with soulful melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. His range expands from energetic, bass-heavy bangers for the daily hustle, to deep, introspective ballads that document the struggles of the human existence. From family life to race issues to cannabis-friendly life in Colorado, there are few topic you won’t hear Z touch on. He looks to close the gap between generations with eclectic, wide-reaching sounds that resonate with people of all ages and social backgrounds. Above all, however, he professes a desire to spread positive music that uplifts, inspires, motivates, and provokes thought. “I want to make an impact on this world that extends long after the art is forgotten,” said Z.
When the then-18-year-old artist left high school, a career in music was, at the time, not being heavily considered. Born Nicholas Strickland in Colorado Springs, CO, Mxlcxlm Z had tried out several different monicker’s, and was still trying to define his style and direction as an artist. It was during his time at Hastings College, still making music but pursuing video journalism, where he would meet current labelmate DNA Picasso (know then simply as “DNA”). As the two began creating music together, it was DNA who began calling the young visionary “Malcolm” as a reference to Brother Malik El Shabazz, better known as “Malcolm X”, and referring to Strickland’s philosophical and progressive outlook on life. Shortly after, the name molded into “Mxlcxlm Z,” stylized as such to reflect the influence of the great activist. Now, the emcee is often referred to simply as “Z.”
Mxlcxlm Z finished his studies at Hastings College with a BA in Broadcasting, which he used to propel his career as a video editor back in Denver. Having already created “LocoMotive Entertainment” as a record-label to display musical talent, Z reconnected with DNA and added several valuable components to allow the label to function as a full production company as well. Since actively joining Denver’s creative scene, Z has shot over 50 music videos, hundreds of photo shoots, product shoots, and live events, as well as documentary-style videos with non-profit organizations like OpenWorld Relief and Grow4Vets. Professionally, Z also has paid experience with graphic design (flyers, album art, logos, animated intros, etc.), audio engineering (Pro Tools 12), and music production (FL Studio 11).
Coming out swinging in 2018, Z hit the internet with a freestyle over Jaden Smith’s late-2017 “Icon” instrumental that has been, to date, his most successful video release in terms of YouTube impressions. Perhaps just as impressive as the lyrics and one-of-a-kind flow is the fact that the official video was edited by the emcee himself. Between the popping colors of the sunset, the clean transitions, and the levitating car around the 1:30 mark, Z undoubtedly holds his own as a video editor as well. Z followed up the video five days later by dropping three EPs on the same day – 25 songs in total – with three completely different musical styles. “Soul.Food” includes classic samples and raw lyricism, while “More than Meets the Eye” features more modern production, including a lyrical remix to the popular song “Gucci Gang”, and finally, “Love in .Wavs,” which is a more calming, harmonic project featuring some catchy choruses and uplifting melodies.
Musically, he draws inspiration from legends like Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, as well as lyricists like Outkast, J Cole, Lecrae, and Big KRIT. Z aims to blend soulful melodies with blunt perspectives in his more natural pieces like “People of Color” and “World of Violence”; his gritty passion for rap is felt over bangers like “Greenhouse” and “Russian Roulette”, inspired by emcees like T.I. and Ace Hood. There are also pleasant R&B-influences heard on songs like “Love in Waves,” which shows off a softer side of his vocal range. “I don’t really have any one major influence…I’ve taken little bits and pieces from every style that has moved me to create something that resonates with me. I hope that it resonates with others as well, but first and foremost, I have to stay true to myself.” He brings a unique outlook on the paper-chase with high-energy tracks like “What You Mean” and “Game Winner” off his 2017 EP “Ball Room, Vol. II” that effortlessly ride the line between trap music and spoken word.
Coming off of a region-wide tour with his label LocoMotive Entertainment and Colorado hip-hop duo Top Flite Empire in 2017, Mxlcxlm Z is no stranger to the stage. He has over two dozen performances in Denver to his credit, at venues like the Oriental Theatre, Marquis Theatre, and Larimer Lounge, as well as some neighboring towns – Mesa Theatre (Grand Junction, CO), Hodi’s Halfnote (Fort Collins, CO), and Gezzo Theatre (Provo, Utah). He has also opened for national artists Sonny Digital, Chiddy Bang and Skate Maloley, as well as appeared at the House of Blues in Houston, TX to round out 2016.
Z’s music is a constant reflection of the current state of rap, and the need for a re-emphasis on meaning and purpose in hip-hop. Toting the aforementioned nod to black activist Malcolm X with his moniker, he aims to use his soon-to-be powerful voice to lead people toward peace and acceptance amongst the races, cultures, and generations. He gives those who are drawn toward the sounds of trap producers like Metro Boomin’ an alternative to the often negative or meaningless lyrics offered by some of the genre’s most popular current emcees.
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