ZZ Ward is a singer and multi-instrumentalist currently based in Los Angeles, California. Though she was born in Abington, Pennsylvania, Ward spent most of her childhood in Roseburg, Oregon. It was there that she joined her first band, at the age of twelve, after learning to play her dad's Hammond B-3 organs and the guitar. By 16, Ward began to immerse herself in the hip hop world and began to craft hooks for rappers in Oregon's hip hop scene. Her music caught the attention of Boardwalk Entertainment Group, and Ward began to work on a four-song EP, Criminal (released in May 2012) and her debut album, Til The Casket Drops (released October 16, 2012) through Boardwalk Entertainment Group/Hollywood Records.
You wouldn't normally think a song about adultery and firearms could be fun, but ZZ Ward somehow manages to inject a healthy dose of catchy, upbeat soul sounds into “Put the Gun Down.” The song, off of her debut album Til The Casket Drops (released on October 16, 2012), has the soulful songstress singing raw lines like, “put the gun down/or I'mma set fire to the whole damn house” and “steal my money/steal my car/don't take my man,” but it's all set against a toe-tapping beat and jaunty piano riff—rendering the song nearly impossible not to dance to. Alongside “Put the Gun Down,” the rest of the songs on Ward's album are clearly influenced by vintage blues and soul sounds. However, her music is given an edge by incorporating hip hop flavor—a fusion she's dubbed “dirty shine” (referring to the gritty sounds of old-fashioned blues crossed with the glossy sounds of modern hip hop)—through collaborations with rappers like Kendrick Lamar (on “Cryin Wolf”) and Freddie Gibbs (on “Criminal”). “Cryin Wolf” starts out with a deliciously dirty old blues feel, followed by Ward's captivatingly sultry vocals and a handclap-heavy rhythm. Lamar doesn't make an appearance until nearly two-thirds of the way through, but it's a flow worth waiting for. Likewise, “Criminal” lets Ward set up the story, complete with mournful “oohs” and a darker piano and organ riff, before Gibbs comes in declaring, “I'm just a mother fuckin' criminal!” This isn't Ward's first foray into hip hop—she first started out going to underage hip hop clubs while living in the small town of Roseburg, Oregon, where she crafted hooks for local rappers. While many of the songs on Ward's debut album err on the side of sassy and upbeat, “Last Love Song” is a tender, yet heart-wrenching ballad that comes halfway through. Whether singing about firearms or heartbreak, ZZ Ward's bold voice stands out through her bone-deep, soulful delivery.