Zo [Exclusive Interview]

Interviewed and written by Hector De La Rosa, twitter: @11journ_list

Foreign Exchange member and Detroit native Zo! is considered ‘half man half amazing’ - the amalgamation of dope music and high energy. His richly composed and multi-layered instrumentals considered artistically pleasing gives him uniqueness to a genre drowned with cluttered misogynistic messages and not enough substance and love making. Zo’s! is the very instrument to the science of eclectic improvisation and instrumentalism. Hector De La Rosa writes.

Hector De La Rosa: What is Zo’s! definition of consciousness?
Zo!: Consciousness is knowledge within itself. It is knowledge accessible to the masses in this digital age. Consciousness is an important lifestyle that I lead.
HD: How is Zo! unique from his producer counterparts?
Zo!: I approach producing and crafting records according to texture or a certain feel. I ask myself, ‘how would this feel if I incorporate a certain adlib, melody, or drum patterns to this song?’ I ask myself, ‘Is there something missing in this record?’ I would ask, ‘Does this record give me the goosebumps?’ If ‘yes’ to all three questions, I am satisfied with the song or record. Seeing how a certain record connects to an audience and seeing their reaction to it is gratifying for me as a producer and musician. I am definitely a producer whose music connects to the masses to where it helps elevate and soothes the soul.

HD: Can Zo! recall the most memorable moment of his career?
Zo!: Two years ago, I recall going back home to Detroit to play with Foreign Exchange. Anyone who has been at a Foreign Exchange show would know we would do introductions of group members towards the middle of a show. Usually, the group would always introduce Nicolay last. Since this particular show was held in Detroit, Phonte and Foreign Exchange decide to introduce me last. He tells the musicians to lower the music’s volume. I thought to myself this is another one of Phonte’s pranks. Therefore, I sat back to observe. He introduces me to the masses for what would end up being a two minute ovation. He spoke highly of me; I felt a bit teary eyed. I felt honored as the Detroit crowd were clapping and cheering me on.
It feels good to receive such a response from the crowd. Leaving Detroit to the D.C. (DMV) area to pursue my dreams and career in music and coming back after making something of myself is a blessing. To see my parents and sister in the audience and witnessing the love the city has for me was remarkable. It is nothing like coming home for people to receive me in open arms.

HD: What is a quote or scripture Zo! lives by?
Zo!: It is the very beginning of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Sir Duke.’ He lyrically states, ‘Music is a world within itself/ With a language we all understand.’ This has significance on me. I can relate from a perspective of a fan and a musician because I can interpret music notes and different key ranges. A fan or listener of music may not relate to Wonder because they may not be musicians or mastered to learn to play an instrument. However, we as a people are all unified by this universal language. It is like the merging of Phonte and Nicolay. It cannot get any better than that to where they harmonically blend together to create beautiful music.

HD: Which artist would Zo! classify in the following categories: Authentic Neo-Soul, Best Lyricist, Best Vocalist, and Best Live Performance?
Zo!: Eric Roberson is the winner for Authentic Neo-Soul. I know him personally and I have known him to be a man of his word. He is a musician who constantly works, always touring and in the studio, and a family man. His artistry and music speaks to the soul. I call his music pure uncut soul.
Phonte would be categorized as a Ferocious Lyricist. I know his work ethic in the studio and his writing and production credits. I was already a fan of his work before we met. I have seen him evolve from a great hip-hop lyricist to a composer and singer.
Sy Smith falls under the Best Vocalist category. She goes by the Jay-Z adage inserting her own words, ‘I got 99 problems, but a pitch aint one.’ I laughed at the way she said it with much emphasis. However, it is the truth because she knows how to control, work, finesse, and polish her sultry pitch and vocals to perfection. She is considered a threat to other female vocalists.
I would award Best Live Performance to Foreign Exchange. I am going to cheat on this category. A Foreign Exchange concert consists of great improvisation meshed with comedy and laughter with a touch of organic funk. The group is definitely worth checking out and any concert from this group is definitely worth the money spent.

HD: What about Quality in Production? Should Zo! be added to this category?
Zo!: [Laughs] I am biased…I am going to add Nicolay, Thunder Cat, and Flying Lotus to the winning ballad. These masterminded individuals make anyone go into the studio to perfect their craft as musicians. They make a musician want to evaluate their assessment musically.

HD: How does Zo! go by in naming his albums and songs when most consist of instrumentals without added lyrics and vocals?
Zo!: I title my albums based on what I am currently going through in my life. The song “Fever” off the Man Made album got its title when I was coming down with a cold. Literally, I had a fever. The Man Made album got its title because I was a person and musician paving my own avenue, marking my territory as a producer. I book my own shows and produced 95% of my album content. I am hands on with every aspect of this record from marketing to distribution.

HD: Does Zo! pressure himself a lot to craft an album that would be viewed to the masses as a classic or to outdo the previous album put out to consumers?
Zo!: I would not call it pressure. I call it competition. I come from a sports background and played baseball up to college. When my Sun Storm album came out, it was herald as my best work. I had to figure out how to craft a unique follow-up to Sun Storm. With this said, I make music with a chip on my shoulder to where I am always proving myself. I wanted Man Made to outdo Sun Storm creatively and in sales. I am happy with the outcome of Man Made.

HD: Describe the importance of arts education.
Zo!: I witness and documented on the positive influence the arts have on a disadvantage youth. I taught music for five years to special education high school students in the D.C. area. I witness students completely turn their lives around once they learned to pick up an instrument. These kids need love because all their lives they were told they would never amount to anything in life. Learning to play an instrument would boost a child’s confidence. This transcends them into excelling in other areas in life including their studies. They see themselves having a productive future. It bothers me when programs pertaining to the arts are the first to be cut from the budget. It is a tragedy. This affects the youth because these programs keep them from becoming a victim to the streets.

HD: What is the ideal woman for Zo!?
Zo!: I am a simple person. Therefore, she would be one that would definitely have my back.

HD: What is the one thing Zo! has not done yet in his life that he would like to do so in the long run?
Zo!: The one thing I would like to do is tour outside of the U.S. I want to experience the beauty of different cultures. This would definitely be a major accomplishment for me.


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