MC ZotheJerk has teamed up with soulful producer Frost Gamble to create their powerful new album, Black Beach. Set to drop May 23rd, the album includes hard-hitting features from KXNG Crooked, Guilty Simpson, Sadat-X, Boldy James, Tone Chop and Young Bleed. Each artist brings a full force of raw and honest material that is in keeping with Zo’s push for creating vulnerable moments in music and life.
We chat to Zo about the motivation behind creating Black Beach, the writing process working with Frost Gamble, and the importance of being vulnerable in order to convey true honesty through music. Ayla Dhyani writes.
I feel like your new album is such a powerful production in the climate of today’s society. What does ‘Black Beach’ mean to you?
The album is really a snapshot of life and times of a black man in the United States at this time. We just tried to give a real honest depiction of the emotional struggle. The journey from the streets to being more aware of what’s going on politically. I’m just trying to touch all my bases.
When you were writing tracks for the album, were you writing for your listeners in the black community as a message of support or were aiming towards creating an awareness to all other cultures?
Well, I look at music as moments. So when Frost would send me some production, I would essentially spew out whatever energy I received or felt in that moment. It could be something I was reading that motivated me or a concept I had floating around in my head. Anything in that moment. I really try to make my music ‘user friendly’ for everybody, but I really direct the messages with a more empathetic ear towards the black community. Mostly because we don’t really have any leaders and it’s time for somebody to emerge. So I’m trying to fill that void.
Tell us about your creative process with Frost Gamble?
Well when I first heard him, I didn’t know that he was white. All I heard was this soulful sound that he had, and I was like “wow, this is phenomenal!” Then I found out that he was white and I was like “bro, just from listening to your music, I never would have picked that.” It was just interesting because he’s just so passionate about helping everybody. We just really clicked. There’s a real emotional feel when we work together. It’s just a very very emotional journey that we’re in. The way that he feels and the way that he likes to help people is the same way that I love to give and work with people. We just want our music to be as honest and emotional as life is. So we try to really get our honesty in every song.
How did you find working on the record together from different states?
Yeah, so the album was recorded over three states. So Frost would send through a tonne of tracks and it would take all of about 15 minutes to do all those songs. So the process wasn’t too difficult. We recorded in Detroit. Actually at the same studio where Eminem wrote some of the tracks for Infinite. So that was a blessing.
You’re from Detroit originally and have moved around a fair bit since then. How do you find the changes in the hip hop scene in each city?
Yeah, I’m from Detroit, then I relocated to Kansas city then I moved to Ohio. Hip hop wise, there’s really talented people in every state that I’ve been to. It seems like there’s a lot of emulation where people think that they have to emulate whatever the “hot-current” sound is. The creativity has been dying off. I’ve noticed it everywhere I’ve been. But then you’ll see a spark and you’ll see someone bringing that consciousness and creativity to the forefront. Hip hop is alive and is very well. I think that people will eventually get away from trying to recreate “radio hits” and singles that they feel have these catchy jingles, and eventually get back to being honest with the music. Everywhere I’ve been, no matter where I travel to, everybody has the same story. They say that their hometown doesn’t support their music; that nobody likes hip hop and they just want to hear what’s on the radio. In my opinion, the reason those songs on the radio work is that the person who wrote it, wrote it from the heart. So when they did it, it was pure. You have to find that moment in yourself where you can be just as honest. With our album, it was difficult for us to pick a single, because we just threw out so much emotion on every track. The conversation might be different, but it’s the exact same mood and exact same energy around the music. It’s just that they say it different. But it’s still the same.
Absolutely. As long as you stay raw and true, then you’re able to touch people’s lives and connect on that deeper level.
You’ve gradually moved into a more soulful sound. Tell us a bit about how your sound has developed over the years.
When I grew up, my father would play a lot of soul music. It was the era of Motown and I always had a lot of passion for music. But I was into more street music at that time because that’s just kind of where I was at in life. I found that I would make this music and it was difficult for me to be vulnerable within that sound. That’s where the soul music comes from. It’s the vulnerability of the music. And if you think about that – if you capture a piece of your soul, your innermost thoughts, emotions and feelings on song – that is extremely powerful. It gives you power within your vulnerability. I can tell you that I was in love with a lady and my feelings got hurt. I cried about it and could still be a man about it and still have that power behind it. Through that, we can lead our community into a better place. Then, on the other hand, I can also tell my son I love him in a song I write for him and give a piece of my soul out to him. I finally got to a place as an artist where I can touch that emotion and record a piece of my soul through soul music because it is emotional and authentic.
100%. That is the true essence of creating. Tell me, what stands out for you as a pinnacle moment in your career and journey with hip hop?
Well the moment that changed everything for Frost and myself actually came from my son. Back in Detroit, I was making street music and a lot of people around Detroit at the time were dying. We lost a lot of real, great, talented artists and it just got overwhelming. So I wanted to start fresh. I had a son, we relocated to Kansas. Getting to Kansas, I was having a conversation with my son one day and I remember saying to him, “you can do anything you want to do if you do your best.” And he actually asked me, “well, why aren’t you number one with your music, dad?” (laughs). And I thought… you know what, that makes sense… if I’m teaching you this, and you’re not seeing it from me, you can’t respect what I’m saying. So I told Frost that we gotta get this turned up, we gotta take it to the next level. Then the production got hotter and I was getting more and more vulnerable. The more pain that I could get out, the better the music was coming out. So from there, it was just a method of mastering how to channel that emotion and bring that out and say it honestly. How everything came out, is honestly just how I felt. It may be something angry on this song, or super happy on this one, but as long as it was an honest depiction of that moment and those emotions, I got stronger and stronger within the sound. That was hard to find, though. That took some time.
What moves you?
(Laughs) well, the only thing that really moves me honestly is just life. The beauty of the simplicity of the human experience. Everything that drives me and moves me. The process is such an easy thing: to live and be a good person. Morally, everybody knows right from wrong inside. I just don’t understand why humans don’t act human any more. It baffles me. We just need to try to be a better person. Every day.
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