Interview below with Zo’s new single off the upcoming album produced by Frost Gamble, “Black Beach” on May 26th through 22 Entertainment.
Zo, let’s look back on how it all began. You grew up in a Detroit household surrounded by the sounds of Motown before becoming active in hip hop. Which aspects of Motown and hip hop correlate for you ?
ZO – I think the classic sounds of Motown and hip hop correlate through passion. Its the passion of the soul in the music. The brutal honesty and beauty in the music makes for classic musical moments.
Going back through the decades, Detroit has always been renowned as a home for pioneers in various genres. Whether blues and jazz, Bill Haley’s rock n roll, the highly influential MC5 & The Stooges in punk, Detroit techno, Motown, there’s always been a distinctive voice. Would you say that artistically the city has a different approach compared to elsewhere, and if so, why ?
ZO – I think it comes from the struggle. Detroit is a place like none other on the planet. Its bred some of the greatest artist that ever existed. Our ingenuity is often overlooked. We come from a place without much opportunity other than manufacturing positions, so we find other ways to survive. Other ways to create. Its a matter of survival. Pressure creates diamonds much the same way Detroit creates genius.
As with everywhere else, Detroit “inherited” hip hop from NYC. Some of the earliest artists like Insane Clown Posse and Esham put their own signature to it with a hardcore sound and lyrics which in turn has been continued through the generations. Do you feel the working class industrial nature of the city influences this edgier style – more a Renaissance than Empire state of mind ?
ZO – I believe its an individual evolution when it comes to creating. When you hear edgier styles coming from the city, I’d say its a accumulation of environment and individuality. Detroit has a way of breeding an air of honesty from the great artist it produces. You have to dig deep to stay focused on creating whether than outside impetus.
We’ve heard it said that Detroit rappers have traditionally built up their own businesses than relying on labels from NYC or LA to sign them. That said, the breakthrough for someone like Eminem ultimately came by working with Dre. You are signed to a label based in Miami. Is the MidWest still fighting to build up a more expansive industry in that sense, and of so, what would help in its development ?
ZO – That’s a fascinating question. I believe the industry is evolving and we are witnessing fallout before it settles in its new form. I think its more so most regions are trying to figure out how to excel in this new climate. With so much data available I think you have to concentrate how to interpret it into action. Things have changed, traditional means of pushing projects don’t exist any more. Its definitely a great time to morph the music business into a vessel to be piloted by the artist. To be delivered by the artist directly to the consumer.
There have of course been many outstanding names in hip hop to have repped the “D”. Tell us about the inspiration success by people like J-Dilla, Royce da 5’9″, Black Milk, Slum VIllage, D12, and perhaps more recently Danny Brown has given you.
ZO – I respect all those guys. Yet the power plant doesn’t run on energy or inspiration it creates it. Meaning I had to learn to generate inspiration when environment did not lend a hand in creating it. Big Proof made me know this thing of ours is real. I watched those guys and wondered how they connected with their truth and translated it to music. I studied their technique and learned to inspire myself to evolve. Definitely I will say their success inspires us all from Detroit from the aspect some of us made from a place we were taught should bring us to demise or prison.
You first met Frost hosting a Podcast. So you’ve seen both sides of the fence, an artist and show presenter. With that level of experience, what did you learn that you would pass on to other upcoming artists in terms of their approach as a guest on a radio show ?
ZO – That responsibility lies on both parties. The interviewer must ask great questions and the artist must answer completely and honestly with confidence. Its a matter of owning your story and being proud to tell it!
Frost, we spoke with you last year at the time of your EP release with Tone Chop. Naturally enough, Tone and Zo have different flow styles and address different subjects, so from a production perspective do you take this into account when writing the beats?
ZO – To an extent, yes. I’d like to think that I have my particular style or sound that comes through on every release, but I do make subtle changes between Zo & Chop’s tracks – for example, song structures tend to be more complicated for Zo, and there’s different types of rhythms I focus on with each artist. But, I do hope to build my brand to a point where my sound becomes recognized by more and more listeners.
Prior to you teaming up with Zo, he had begun development of his new “Hip Hop Soul Music” sound, and the new album “Black Beach” clearly has soul influences running through some of the tracks. So presumably you were producing in line with Zo’s concept?
ZO – Absolutely. That soulful feel is at the core of what I try to convey, and I’d like to think its part of the reason Zo wanted to work with me in the first place. We just took it to the next level by using great vocalists like Everready, Coko Buttafly & Dustin Davie – to draw out that soulful vibe even deeper.
You have both re-located on several occasions, Frost originally from NY State and now in Winnipeg, and Zo you’re living in Hudson City, Ohio. How do you feel the old adage “travel broadens the mind” would apply to you both, whether musically or in life more generally ?
FROST – 100%. As an example, I spent a few years living in Kansas City (not at the same time as Zo), and it really helped me to understand the “mid-west/southern bounce” sound a little better, and expand my horizons. Growing up in NYS, it was pretty easy to surround yourself with people who only appreciated NY Hip Hop – it wasn’t until I began travelling that I really could appreciate more of the range of rap music styles out there today – although, of course, I still gravitate to my roots.
ZO – I gravitate toward the aggressiveness of my roots when it comes to delivering. Moving around the country i have learned that most urban areas suffer the same plight. Yet being from Detroit we just move different. We can blend in with any group yet still stand out. Its a wonderful feeling to move around the country and receive love and be respected on the reputation of where you are from.
Moving onto the themes of your new album, Zo you have said it reflects the current experience for “Black America”, and in particular there is a strong emphasis in addressing police brutality and injustice while providing positive paternal role models. Speak more on this and do you feel that it would represent the experience for the majority throughout the country ?
ZO – I only speak about what I know. I know my father’s father had a conversation with him about police brutality. My father had one with me, and I with my sons. Instead of passing down more constructive means of bettering life quality we pass down means of basic survival. This phenomenon saddens me. Most blacks in the United States have at some point had a conversation about these same issues. Our people were murdered about these same issues. We are still screaming the same pain. At what point do we look at whats causing the response? Who gave the police the green light to murder us? What is there to fear of us?
I take pride in influencing children with a more non linear perspective. We face the ugly truths of what it means to be black in America everyday. Helping them understand they are more than just some black kid, more than a statistic, and definitely more than victim is beautiful. Helping them understand the true power and beauty of being black is liberating. It’s like helping them open their eyes for the first time. It’s all of our missions as adults. We have to right the wrongs we have made to this point through the children while they are still pure.
Of course it was written prior to Trump being elected president, and there are issues dating back decades if not centuries. Do you feel Obama could have done more, and what do you feel would be easily achievable to redress some of the situations that exist?
FROST – Yes, I believe Obama could have, and should have, done more, particularly as it relates to policing, Guantanamo Bay & prosecution of war criminals. Having said that, I also believe he’s been the best president of my lifetime, although that’s a very low bar.
Tell us a little bit more about the recording process. We understand it began when you met up in Detroit at Mr Porter’s original studio ?
ZO – At a point I had an idea for ‘Black Beach” and life prevented me from really digging in and we were just dropping tracks. When we worked in Detroit the energy and vibe was amazing. I sort of locked in.
I was back in Kansas talking with my son about being number one and the actual work ethic it takes to be number and he asked me why wasn’t I number one with the music. I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective before. That was the moment everything changed and I directed my undivided attention to “Black Beach”. From that point the pace and passion went into overdrive. We actually changed about 70% of the album in the last couple weeks before we had to turn the album in.
I owe my son number one; So now we are coming for it.
There are several featured artists on “Black Beach” including Boldy James, KXNG Crooked, Sadat-X and Guilty Simpson. We understand you’ve worked with some of them previously, so tell us about that and how they became involved in the current project.
ZO – Being from Detroit, like most cities, some artist are better than others. That’s something that just is. Most of us know each other or know of each and are just a phone call away. I kick it with Boldy all the time, that’s my bro, I rep his brand like my own because I’m proud of him. Guilty is my bro as well. We have recorded before over at the homie’s and fellow Almighty Dreadnaught Phlict a.k.a Konnie Ross. It was a matter of timing with Guilt. I’m blessed it all came together. The fact I can just reach out to artists of their caliber is a blessing in itself. To know they respect me enough to work with me is awesome as well, not something I take for granted. Detroit sticks together and I love my city and my bros for that.
“Rap is something you do. Hip Hop is something you live”. Do you both still see evidence of this mantra today ?
FROST – Yes! Hip Hop remains a participatory culture that encompasses the elements and celebrates the past. I’ve made a lot of friends through Hip Hop, but never through rap music, if you dig what I mean.
ZO – Well said Frost lol i agree with that sentiment 145%
Chic’s “Good Times” or Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” ?
FROST – Good Times, and it’s not close. I appreciate Sugarhill to an extent, but I’m more of an Enjoy records guy, as far as that era is concerned. When Grandmaster Caz starts getting paid for that record, maybe I’ll feel differently.
ZO – Good Times for me. I remember my Aunt playing it and the whole ambiance rekindles itself every time I hear it. Definitely Good Times
Finally, once the new album releases on May 26th, what do you hope people will take from it the most?
FROST – Hope, insight, joy, anger, passion – it’s a ride, for real. I hope that listeners find it to be engaging and fun, but very serious at the same time. It’s a privilege to support Zo in initiating these types of musical conversations, one that I take very seriously.
ZO – I hope they receive our passion for the concepts and life work we put into the album. its easy to make songs and show off technique rap wise, its far more difficult to put a peice of your soul in every thing you say. I hope this album sparks conversation and emotions strong enough for people to demand more.
Thanks for speaking to us at REUPSPOT.
FROST – Thank you!!! We appreciate REUP’s support more than you probably know!
ZO – Thank You!!! What Frost said, we appreciate REUP for having us!