The Many Faces of ZO!

The Many Faces of ZO!

Original and unique in his own approach, Detroit native and Foreign Exchange Member Zo! continues to uplift and unify his listeners and fans with the universal language that we know as music. Zo! sound is a reflection of his character containing quality, who stands proud as a dynamic musician and a man while displaying class and integrity. Some of his past albums consist of Overdue Process, Sun Storm and Man Made, along with a never ending archive of artistically pleasing compositions. Hector De La Rosa writes.

How do you stay relevant in the music industry?
I stay relevant by being competitive. I am a fan of music and always have an ear for what is current. I am always willing to listen to anything new from Phonte (of Little Brother and Foreign Exchange). I am driven with ardent passion when I see Nicolay (of Foreign Exchange) tweet about him being in the studio working on new material. I also center my focus on what the new school delivers both lyrically and production wise and get an idea on what the new generation of fanatics and lovers of music are currently listening to. I am not necessarily taking the similar path as to what the new generation is listening to but to study certain infused elements in music. I always kept my options open in how to incorporate certain drum patterns or sounds to make my sound cohesive yet rich in texture. I never want to be that producer to box myself in to one specific genre of music.

Describe your own sound in production.
Its ME! [Zo! laughs] It is soul. It is pouring out my life into the form of music. It is a sound made with love with that day’s experience in it. Metaphorically, it is me explained in the creative process. I want to be able to take what I am going through in my life and put it out there for the world. I do not sing or rap on my songs. Nevertheless, my instrumentals are my expressed words. These instrumentals speak for me in large volumes.

Have there been any significant changes in the Detroit and D.C. areas musically?
Yes there has especially in Detroit. I cannot speak much on the D.C. area because I do not have enough knowledge on the area’s historic music scene. I have not lived there my entire life. I will add that the thing I loved most about the D.C. music scene is there is always work for musicians. Detroit seems to be struggling in that aspect. Detroit is viewed as the landmark of hip-hop. It was a lot going on in Motor City. The untimely deaths of J. Dilla, Proof of D12, and Baatim of Slum Village changed a lot of things to the music scene in Detroit. I say this because these are the musicians that served as the glue to their respected communities. The hip-hop community changed and was dearly affected.

J. Dilla had an impact on many musicians including yourself, what memory do you have of him that you keep with you?
I met J. Dilla on Valentine’s Day of 2003. It was when I was going to the studio with Slum Village at Southhill, Michigan. I was sitting there hanging out and waiting for someone to call my number so I can go in there to play music. In comes Jay Dee as I was waiting. I believed he had gotten over being sick. The people in the studio were concern for his health and then introduced him to me. At that time, I was a newcomer. I only had been around the studio for a month and a half. I met and shook his hand. I am not the kind of person to be star struck. He was the musician I regarded as someone I listened to for seven years and grew admiration for his artistry and discography of great music. Ironically, he passed away three years later after seeing Jay Dee in the studio on the same day I moved to the East Coast. I felt bad once I got the news that he passed because I felt I needed to be in Detroit with family and friends to mourn. I never had the honor of working with him but meeting him was a great day for me!

What are some of your recent accomplishments as a musician?
At this present moment, I regard myself as a full time musician. Another is traveling throughout the world and being able to wake up daily and do music. There are people who would walk out of their jobs to pursue their purpose in life and what they have a passion for and get paid for what they love doing.

Society has gone through some of the most enduring times in 2014. For example, many of our young African American men becoming victims of police brutality. What have you learned from these incidents?
I learned who are the individuals wearing the mask? There were many masks that came off of faces last year. This has been going on for decades, though it is the same script different cast. As minorities, we know these incidents go on all the time even when I am on tour in terms of getting harassed. I encountered an incident where Phonte and I got pulled over. The police had me sitting in the front seat of his car to ask me a series of questions and then asked Phonte the same group of questions. It was wild but luckily nothing detrimental happened to us.

Do you think there is a lack of involvement in the artistic community when it comes to speaking out on societal ills that affect humanity foremost society like police brutality? J. Cole and The Game were respectively few of the artists that were involved in bringing a community together to recording a record on such notion.
I think when celebrities do things that are positive for the community it does not get publicized or enough media coverage. Press that is deemed inspiring and encouraging in uplifting the masses does not get the required coverage. It is funny how media covered on the rioting in Ferguson but did not expose the peaceful protesting that took place. Aside from celebrities, I think there are new leaders made out of these situations. It is at a point to where individuals are not gravitating to these celebrities to speak on such issues. They are creating their own voice, which is a really good thing!

Your dream was to always play Major League Baseball. Have you ever looked back on life and ask what would your life have been if you became that famous athlete or baseball player?
Yeah! [Zo! smiles] I thought about it a lot. At one point I was disappointed because I could not play sports like I wanted to. I always had old knees and ‘til this very day my knees continue to hurt. I was drafted when I was seventeen. I would have signed to the minor league team in Toronto and received that stipend and bonus money. However, I would have probably been out of the league with knee injuries by the time I would have been twenty years of age. It would have been hard for me at twenty because I still would not have obtained or received a degree from the university or college of choice. I would not have any credits. Instead, I chose option B which is my music career. Had I chose the other path I would fully indulge in baseball and neglected music. I am not the person to look back and have regrets. Currently, I enjoy the impact I have on others with my music. I enjoy what I consider making good music, remaining humble, and staying competitive. I made a family with the individuals I met within the music industry, which I would not have been able to find or form had I played baseball. I would rather be a musician.

In 2014, the music industry mentioned that there was not one platinum album? What do you make of this notion?
Society is not buying music. They are only streaming and downloading music, singles at least compared to wholesome albums. I recall when it was a major deal when listening to an album before purchasing it. This was at a time when Blockbuster introduced new music to customers through their listening stations. People used to buy albums because they were associated with dope record labels (So So Def, Def Jam, Bad Boy, Rawkus, and G.O.O.D. Music) or because a certain artist put out incredible music and had an amazing artistry. The dynamics of music and its distribution is changing to the point many have not caught up yet especially the record labels. Those sales have reflected this notion.

You, Phonte, Eric Roberson, to Carmen Rodgers have an amazing relationship with each other. How do you keep your relationship with them refreshed and rejuvenated when not too many friendships co-exist in the music industry especially today’s society?
I think that sometimes you have to put pride to the side. It is funny how Carmen Rodgers and I were talking about this notion last night after the show with Anthony David. We said it was dope how three separate artists came together to perform in one show. The chemistry was there because usually artists do not want others to perform with them or sharing the same stage or being on the same bill of the venue. We all want to see each other win.  

How do you end up scoring for the new season of Black Dynamite?
A friend of mine is the supervisor over the Black Dynamite animated series. I knew the supervisor a few years back through Phonte. The supervisor gave me a heads up on the opportunity to score for the series. That person only had me in mind for the project. The supervisor mentioned that there was only a certain budget amount and would rather give it entirely to me, which I play all instruments than to split it with five different musicians. I accepted the offer. Nonetheless, I knew it was going to be a challenge for me because scoring for Black Dynamite is not the same as recording in the studio.  I had to interpret certain scenes to different episodes by using different sounds and instruments. There is a heavy use of the guitar when scoring and the guitar is my weakest use in instrument. Therefore, doing parody work and mimicking a song, for example, from Earth, Wind, & Fire is difficult because I am the perfectionist that wants to get that exact feel of the original. I had to constantly practice and stay consistent until I got better with the scoring. It took me two years to complete the scoring. Animation is a process. The scoring of this animated series is a mesh of original works with Blaxploitation elements reminiscent of Soul Train. I would say that this learning experience has better me as a musician when I am in the studio preparing for my next release.



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