The Midwest hip hop scene is currently as strong as it’s ever been. Veteran artists, young stars and up-and-comers alike have been releasing dynamite material throughout this entire decade – with almost countless Midwestern cities serving as hotbeds of hip hop talent.
One of the artists contributing to this brimming scene is ZotheJerk. A Detroit native, Zo puts out hip hop with a purpose. The two of us recently talked over e-mail, discussing the Midwest scene, his recent album Black Beach, producer Frost Gamble, his daily routine and much more. Like his music, Zo’s answers were not only full of knowledge about the game, but knowledge of life itself. Enjoy and happy holidays.
What is your first memory of hip hop?
“Rocking Dana Dane and I think I heard the rapping Duke. I fell in love with hip hop first time I heard it.”
Detroit. Where it all started for you. What were some of the biggest takeaways from your upbringing in the Motor City?
“The biggest lesson I took away from growing up in the inner city of Detroit is things can happen to you unexpectedly. I learned to always be prepared and be present. This is a vital skill as it can save your life.”
You came up in the Hip Hop Shop – an infamous landmark in Detroit music history. To those unaware, could you please explain what exactly went down there?
“The Hip Hop Shop was in the front of a clothing store. Back then I was a spectator as I had never seen rap battles and was intrigued by the freestyles. Big Proof used to host the battles. It was dope. I think what was so instrumental in it is that it was pure. It was art. It wasn’t diluted with the overtones of industry yet. It was a place where like minds could build and push the boundaries of the art form to new heights. It was beautiful.”
Most vivid memories from your times at the Hip Hop Shop. What, and who, sticks out?
“My most vivid memory is Big Proof’s energy at the shop. The way he controlled the crowd and pulled the best out of the participants was amazing. I remember watching freestyles that are better than some writtens I’ve heard. There was a cat named Shawn Morriese that was one of the best freestylers besides Proof I ever heard. (Laughs) Great times man good memories.”
Why did you end up relocating from Detroit?
“Life happens to put it plainly. After having children I decided to put my children in a different atmosphere to seek better opportunities. When the opportunity presented itself to come to Kansas in the form of job relocation, I went. One of the best decisions I ever made. It gave my kids better opportunity and I got a chance to let Kansas City hear Detroit hip hop.”
What did you learn in Kansas City? Did living in a new city change your perspective at all?
“Kansas City taught me that in urban areas we are all suffering from the same issues. The dynamics remain prevalent. We just speak different slang. I see the beauty in it. It’s unspoken understanding yet a respect for the subtle differences amongst us. K.C. is definitely home away from home.”
You’re a father. In your own words, what is it like juggling the lifestyles of MC and parent? Is there anything you think the public might not be aware of?
“It’s process driven for me. I stay in control of my day and prioritize accordingly. Meaning, when I wake at 5 a.m. I plan every hour of the day. I actually write it out. It takes discipline yet is rewarding to watch my kids and career thrive. I think the mass public isn’t aware of how much time is wasted on things that don’t pertain to reaching a goal. I engineer my life to get goals demolished and be happy. That’s what makes it happen for me to be a hip hop dad.”
Let’s talk the Midwest hip hop scene. How does it feel to be apart of this scene as a whole?
“I’ve been blessed to be apart of and witness greatness. It makes me take the craft more seriously than most. The scene taught me to be unapologetically ‘me.’ To give ‘me’ every time and that is the ultimate expression in art. To give yourself in your art, it makes for exquisite pieces.”
We’re currently seeing a wider array of cities and sounds becoming popular in your region of the country. As an older, or veteran MC, what are your thoughts on the Midwest today?
“(Laughs) – as an ‘older MC.’ Our art form is the only genre to gauge the value of the art by age and not art. It’s almost like our art is bred to end early. I’m glad artists like Jay-Z, etc. are pushing the boundaries of that. Us older MCs have extreme value to the culture and sound of the music as we are what it means to stay alive in a genre promoting early death.”
“The Midwest scene is one of abstractness. We have some who follow trends and others who are authentic to their areas, also others who combine the two. I think the boundaries of what’s popular is beginning to grow with the surge of independent artists learning to market themselves. We are witnessing freedom in a relatively young genre and watching it learn how to mature and still add value. I think it’s great and I’m blessed to still be relevant and be one of those older MCs who redefine what hip hop is. One of those older MCs who is defining how to maximize earning potential on an independent level, just one of those older MCs who is still here to witness the Midwest grow and show the world its greatness.”
Describe your mindset when you step in the booth.
“I don’t have a particular mindset when I approach making music. Music is an emotion that causes a feeling. Respecting those two disciplines as individual helps us see what the artist is attempting to convey. I may want to party today yet see something that triggers an emotion that leads to the WHOLE Black Beach project being created. My attempt is to be human in music, not the toughest, not the sexiest, just human. Human in all its contradictions. I actually think how I rap. I actually engage in daily conversations on a metaphysical level. It’s actually me.
I just rap on topics and hopefully it resonates with someone who holds similar interests. My only mindset is to make listeners say, ‘hey that’s real, I never thought about it like that,’ or ‘I had no idea.’ I love that it’s been said I carry a message in music when that wasn’t the purpose. My purpose is to communicate my humanness. I love that it’s making people think and appreciate what I said. I’m glad people are getting it and taking something from it!”
What MCs, artists and whoever inspired you early on?
“I was inspired by my father, my homies, and pulse in the streets. Jazz – Motown in general was played a lot and inspired me. R&B inspired me. Let’s see, MCs… Big Daddy Kane, Craig G, Kool G Rap, Scarface, Ice Cube and Too $hort.”
Let’s get into some rapid fire questions. First one: whose beats do you look forward to hearing most?
Favorite verse you’ve spit on record?
” ‘Dear Momma’ (unreleased – coming soon on Bonzie album).”
If you could bring three albums with you to your grave, what would they be?
“AmeriKKKas Most Wanted
Mr. Scarface is Back
The Marshall Mathers LP.”
How nasty is Frost Gamble behind the boards?
“He doesn’t see his own genius I don’t think. He is a monster, he doesn’t use the normal samples, he flips samples crazy you wouldn’t even know he was sampling (laughs).”
Biggest lesson you’ve learned in the game thus far?
“As Tech N9ne told me… ‘the real will always shine.’ ”
During my research, I saw you came up with a “Jerk” philosophy about life. What does it stand for and are you still living by this today?
” ‘Jerk’ stands for: Justice. Evolution. Righteousness. Knowledge. It’s my motto and defines me. I actually program those four words to pop up as a reminder on my phone to keep me on point throughout every day. It’s a must to know what defines your intention. Those four words drive me to live as my best self all day every day, it keeps me inspired to be the best I can be in every situation.”
I’ve been bumping Black Beach since it dropped. If I can say, I think it’s your best project yet. Looking back at it a few months later, what are your thoughts on that LP?
“I loved the process of writing it, of hooking up with 22 Entertainment, and Urban Elite Promotions. It’s a blessing to work with Frost Gamble and know our brotherhood is what drives the music. To have such a great team behind me pushing me to exceed my own self inflicted limitations is unbelievable! I think the album opened doors and was very well received, I’m grateful for the journey!”
What does your musical team mean to you?
“Without a team it’s hard. But having the right team at the right time is everything! Huge thank you to Tony at 22 Entertainment for pushing me and more importantly believing in my art. Thank you to my twin Frost Gamble and the whole Nostalgia Clic, thank you to my snuggle without her I would be lost, and thanks to John at Urban Elite Promotions, he is amazing and so knowledgeable. I love the team! They keep the wheels turning. Huge thanks to Big Bo, Brian (RIP) and Jigalo Joe from The Jerk Nation side of the house without my team there would be no ZotheJerk!”
Where is ZotheJerk going to be a year from now?
“Celebrating the success of hard work, discipline, ambition and drive. I will be at center of conversations of who the best out is. It’s time to let the world know what this Jerk Life is all about…. one ear at time! Thanks for your time and I’m grateful to have had this moment to speak with you! #Salute RhymeBeat!”
Love to Zo and his entire team. Look for more dope hip hop from ZotheJerk and 22 Entertainment in 2018. For now, check out the official Jerk Nation SoundCloud page for updates.
#SupportHipHop and S P R E A D L O V E!
images & content via ZotheJerk, 22 Entertainment & Urban Elite Promotions
– Benny P