Detroit's ZotheJerk and New York's Frost Gamble have come together to create Black Beach, a probing of America's systemic social issues through adept lyricism and high-end production. Both parties have years of hip hop experience under their respective belts and have used this acquisition as a means to explore some poignant issues plaguing contemporary Western society.
Black Beach doesn't shy away from the seedier elements of urban communities and it's because of this that the project is so powerful.
Here, I speak with Zo and Frost about the project and it's conceptualization.
Prox: How have the two of you decided to approach this project ? Did the subject matter elicit any changes in the recording process?
ZO: Working with Frost is a dream for an MC. He never has censored me nor suggested I change a bar. He let's me breathe on his tracks no matter the content. He never tries to play it safe. That's what makes Frost so dope. His willingness to be uncomfortable lol. I told Frost my vision for the album and he let me do me. He supported it. We both are advocates for humans being human. I tell it from the black perspective and he provides the ambiance. My twin is dope!
FROST: Zo had a pretty clear vision of what he wanted to convey on the album, so from there it was a matter of building the right soundscape to capture all the ideas. Chuck D famously called Hip Hop "the Black CNN" - we're supposed to be talking about the issues that urban communities face. And Zo always surprises me with new flows and ideas, so I try not to limit him at all.
Prox: As far as production goes, what was the tone and energy you wanted to convey to the listeners?
ZO: I left that part to Frost as a producer. He is more than a beat maker he actually produces a record. I would just tell him concepts or him knowing what I needed he would send me tracks like yo you need to do this one. Frost master minded the ambiance, I told the stories.
FROST: In a word, SOUL. You have a real short time frame to catch a listeners attention, so the songs need to draw you in right away - Zo calls it "the ugh face". If we don't have that, we have nothing, and we move on until we do.
Prox: The entire recording process took place across three different states (Ohio, Kansas, and Michigan). Were there any elements from those scenes that you tried to consciously add to the tracks?
ZO: No. I honestly while finishing this project became a hermit. I stayed silent and in the studio writing, working, meditating, researching. My aim was to be honest and vulnerable to how I felt about these topics. To be able to open up to Frost's production and just have a moment of clarity. Every song I could tell you where I was and what I was going through when I wrote it. To take it a step further I can tell you what I felt and where I was when I first heard every beat he sent me. Each song on this project is special because they are moments in time that reflect a synergy of creativity merged to tell a story. Today's hip hop lacks great stories in my opinion. We aimed to tell great stories and just allow ourselves to feel human again. To be angry, sad, excited, and curious, know what I mean? I attempted to create a project authentically Zo influenced by Frost and no other scene. Only what conceived.
FROST: Young producers may think that 'producing' means making dope beats. That's the absolute minimum. To succeed as a producer, you really have to connect with your artists, understand what's going on in their lives and really rock with them - if you want to draw their greatness out on a track. I did try to maintain a balance between my so-called 'old school / boom bap" sound and the expansive thoughts Zo shares, in some cases we used layers of instrumentation and vocals to create more full, complex sounds - and other times, stripped down and raw.
Prox: Topics like social engineering and racism can be hefty (and touchy) ideas to conceptualize. Have you ever wondered how the new generation would embrace this release?
ZO: Nah… I think there is shift in what is considered the norm. The new generation has access to so much information, they aren't blown away so easily. The actual depth of knowledge they possess they don't see the power in yet. It's like being born a Jedi, but not knowing how to use the force or even what it is. I attempted to be guided by the process. Let them know it's ok to be smart and cool. Show them a man can have emotion and strength; that is where pure power lies. The mastery of those traits. I can give them a song like "Whispers in the Wind" (ft KXNG Crooked) that has a ton of layers and is conceptually amazing, but still be street smart in "America Made Me." It's these dynamics that make "Black Beach" special and socially important. I think the new generation is thirsting for more, yet like the young Jedi they haven't fully realized it.
FROST: Racism is sewn into the fabric of America (and the world), and we're not going to make any progress until we have honest, fact-based conversations. I refuse to let the fear of saying the wrong thing or being politically incorrect cancel my opportunity to support progress.
Prox: You two had previously planned to release an album called "Muscle Shoals" also keeping in line with the beach theme. What is it about beaches and water that bring out your creativity? What do they symbolize for the two of you?
ZO: ”Muscle Shoals" is actually a soundtrack for an unreleased autobiography of Luther Ingram. When the project came to me and I took it to Frost we just started working. That album has more of a love theme. Falling in and out of love. The beauty of a man realizing what a woman means to him while still being masculine. You don't hear too many hip hop love songs anymore. "Muscle Shoals" will change that. It was an honor to be able to be a part of it and we are eagerly anticipating completion of the movie and its release.
I think it was more fate. We didn't plan the water part lol. It just happened. Although the philosophy of being water I did adopt from Bruce Lee. Bruce said, "be water it takes the form of whatever you put it in." That's powerful. I consider myself water. Water symbolizes adaptation and life to me. Water changes form with whatever it faces. Water alone has no form it just "is." I'm that way when it comes to music and life. It just "is." I strive to master being comfortable being uncomfortable. That way I'm always changing and evolving.
FROST: That’s interesting! Water is fluid, adaptable and critical to life - maybe we'll have to stick with this! :)
Prox: What are you trying to say with "Black Beach" and how if at all does it represent both Detroit and New York?
ZO: I’m saying LOOK at what America has created with black folks. Look at the angst, hustle, strength, poverty, pain and triumph. Look at us. This is what we are faced with. Of course my story is from a Detroit perspective. I am Detroit. Of course Frost has New York influence, he is New York. Those elements will never leave us, yet we have been blessed to soak up other cultures and travel as well giving us a balance of life outside of ourselves.
Prox: What are your favorite hobbies?
ZO: I love reading, watching comedies, and working on cars. They all relax me and of course, my favorite hobby is listening to Hip Hop!
FROST: Boxing, UFC, cycling, walking - and digging for new (old) music.
Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
ZO: Malcolm X has always been a favorite and hero of mine. I admire Jay-Z for his business acumen. There's Dick Gregory and Warren Buffet, I could go on and on lol.
FROST: Word, Malcolm X's autobiography had a big impact on my young mind. I'd also say Thaddeus Stevens, and a diverse group of others from Joe Louis to Dave Chappelle. I respect business success, but it doesn't inspire the same way cultural change agents do.
Prox: Do you have any tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and those looking to start their own programs or services?
ZO: Believe in your ability to figure things out, this is ultimate confidence. You will fail... plan on it, and know how to get past it. Don't get stuck in failure especially since you know it will come.
FROST: Become comfortable with the idea of sacrifice, and surround yourself with people who love you enough to rock with you through years of it. Find beauty in the day to day, or it's a long hard road.
Prox: Please provide us with more information regarding upcoming projects and releases.
ZO: Frost and I are working on the follow up to "Black Beach" and getting "Muscle Shoals" perfected. I will be releasing tracks throughout the year as well. We are just getting started.
FROST: Please check frostgamble.com for updates on new projects - we'll be providing steady output as long as folks are still interested.
Prox: Any final thoughts?
FROST: Big thank you to Inside the Rift - we appreciate the opportunity! Black Beach May 26th - please cop it.
You can stay up to date with Zo and Frost and follow them, here.
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