Shuffle: Akron's ZOD1AC Creates Rust Belt-Inspired Instrumental Hip-Hop

Feb 21, 2019

Akron native Joe Maas, who produces atmospheric beats as ZOD1AC, is working to unite Northeast Ohio's hip-hop community by celebrating what makes Rust Belt cities inspiring and influential to local musicians.


Maas, who creates lo-fi instrumental beats out of his home studio, has contributed to the sound of local rap artists with his recognizably wavy, ambient instrumentals.

“I would say my sound is very much a product of the environment I grew up in,” Maas said.

“With a combination of the calming sereneness of the Cuyahoga Valley forests and kind of the urban decay and urban aesthetics you get in Akron and Cleveland.”

'I'm focused on trying to build and create something in Northeast Ohio.'

How it began
Maas’ musical journey began when he picked up a guitar as a teenager.

After realizing he didn’t fit in with bands in the area, he began his solo endeavor of producing.

“Pretty much from there, [it was] saving up as much money as I can—when I was broke in college—and I put together a home studio,” Maas said. “It’s been an obsession ever since.”

Drawing inspiration from his local surroundings, meshed with his own personal music tastes ranging from jazz to electronica, Maas has caught the attention of Northeast Ohio artists who span the hip-hop genre, but each have very distinct sounds and styles.

Collaborating with local rap artists
The producer releases original material for himself and creates beats for a range of performers in the Akron area.

He has worked with Akron emcee Floco Torres, notably on the track “Bounce Back Like Rubber,” included on the rap artist’s 2018 release “Nobody Cares News.”

The song was richly inspired by the Rubber City and work from local visual artist Micah Kraus.

In Akron, there’s no shortage of acoustic singer-songwriters, indie-rock bands and jazz performers.

Cleveland, with its musical history deeply rooted in rock ‘n’ roll, draws a variety of audiences in to its large variety of venues.

Although the area is rich with musical talent that spans genres, Maas pointed out that there is no one, unified hip-hop scene.

'...there isn't like a huge scene for the kind of music I do...'

“So you have Machine Gun Kelly, Kid Cudi and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, and there’s absolutely nothing in common between those artists,” Maas said. “So even though there isn’t like a huge scene for the kind of music I do, it’s really exciting to get the chance to work with some of the artists that I’m working with and to really build something from the ground up.”

Maas has collaborated with other Northeast Ohio artists, including Cleveland’s Eliy Orcko.

Building a community with beats
Maas has performed in several of Akron’s DIY spaces, including Hive Mind, Oakdale House and The Overlook, as well as independent record shops, art galleries and more traditional music venues in the Northeast Ohio region.

Maas frequents community-based events and local shows to find artists who are passionate about the particular music he’s interested in creating.

“Basically, it’s just a lot of going to new places, talking to new people, and then over time hoping you just can connect the right dots,” Maas said.

Attending local events and meeting like-minded musicians is helping the producer create more cohesion among local rappers and collaborators.

“I start trying to build organically that way,” Maas said. “And that isn’t something that happens overnight. It’s something that happens from going to shows, and from talking to people, and from really just putting yourself out there.’

Writing, producing and releasing his ‘proudest work’
Maas released his most recent album, “Year of the ZOD1AC,” in December 2018.

'...it's just a lot of going to new places, talking to new people, and then over time hoping you just can connect the right dots.'

The producer’s penchant for rap, jazz, electronica and the sounds of the Rubber City is evident in the music, which he created in his self-made home studio.

“A lot of the songs were recorded from original guitar parts and keyboard parts I wrote,” Maas said. “Some of the other ones had sample sources from old, rare records.”

The 11-track release includes jangly guitar woven with lush, ambient soundscapes and chilled-out hip-hop beats.

The jazzy “Pelican,” featuring Soul Food Horns, is a standout amongst dreamier tracks like “Meditation” and “Photon.”

Maas is self-releasing a new ZOD1AC EP March 8.

Gaining widespread recognition
Maas was approached by Majestic Casual Records, a global record label that has amassed a large YouTube following, to release an original ZOD1AC track.

Rainroom,” has garnered close to 100,000 views on the record label’s channel.

“I knew that would be a huge opportunity to get my music in front of a bigger audience,” Maas said.

Maas has collaborated with artists beyond Northeast Ohio on original material but stays loyal to the local community that has helped him thrive as an artist.

Remaining part of Northeast Ohio’s creative scene
“For a long time, I was actually thinking that if I wanted to make anything of my life, I had to move far away,” Maas said.

He explained that observing how much Akron has changed in the last decade, particularly as the community has banded together to create a vibrant art scene full of passionate people, has made him stick around.  

“The saying goes, that you either create waves or you ride them,” Maas said. “And I’m more focused on trying to build and create something in Northeast Ohio.”

Catch ZOD1AC’s performance at the Rialto Theatre, located at 1000 Kenmore Blvd. in Akron, April 5.