With over 15 years in the game and plaques to show for it, there’s a youthfulness to Zaytoven and the way he approaches music. There is a reason why artists like Lil Keed and Lil Yachty will work on a whole project alongside an OG producer like Zay, with a sound that is not only timeless but constantly evolving. But at the same time, his chemistry with an artist like Gucci Mane, who he came into the door with, is still as strong now as it was when he would sneak Guwop into his mother’s basement to record.
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With 12 projects out this year, including his recently released joint effort with Young Scooter, Zaystreet, Zaytoven has had a creatively fulfilling year in 2020, one that ended in a full-circle moment. In November, Gucci Mane dropped a bombshell announcement when he revealed that he and Jeezy would be facing off in Verzuz in the same room together. In the days leading up to the event, Gucci Mane would throw jabs at Jeezy. First calling him SnoCone then poking fun at the fact that he fatally shot Jeezy's associate during an attempted break-in.
In our recent interview with Bun B for Day 2, he admitted that he called up Swizz Beatz to see if he needed to be in attendance, in case anything popped off, expressing his initial concern at the Verzuz match-up. But, it was all part of the marketing of the event. As Zaytoven puts it, “It’s like going to see Mike Tyson fight and he don’t knock nobody out or don’t bite nobody ear.”
“I was telling Gucci, ‘You are the show. The reason people want this to happen so bad ‘cause they know that you’re a wild card,’” Zay told HNHH. “For him to show up and do 'Round One,' being the bad guy, people get what they paid for."
For day 5 of our 12 Days Of Christmas interview series, we caught up with the one-and-only Zaytoven who explained why Gucci Mane didn’t play “My Kitchen” during Verzuz among other fan favorites, witnessing “So Icy” being performed inside of Compound, the unreleased Kanye West collab we'll never hear, and why working with Chief Keef gives him a similar fulfillment to working with Gucci Mane.
Read the interview below, edited for clarity.
If you missed it, check out yesterday's interview with Mulatto for Day 4.
Day Five: A Conversation with Zaytoven
HNHH: How you doing? You in the studio right now?
Zaytoven: I'm doing good. Yeah, you know I’m at the crib. I got the studio in the crib, man. So, you know, I’m always locked and loaded.
What’s been keeping you grounded these past few months?
The fact that I have a studio here, I’m always able to keep working. That’s really my comfort zone. If you go back to all the Gucci records that you talkin’ bout you listened to or grew up on -- we was doing that at the house, you know what I mean? So, it’s like, I’m in my comfort zone. I got the kids and stuff runnin’ around, they teachin’ me how to TikTok and all that. I haven’t been mad, really. I been spending some good, home quality time and still been able to work, so it’s been good.
Nah, for sure. I was actually just going through the Gucci autobiography, and just going through the bits where he’s talking about you. It’s always fascinating just how multi-faceted and how many worlds you kind of exist in. Like, at the time, you were producing this global trap sound -- I mean, you know the story -- that’s music that resonated across the world.
Across the world, yeah.
It’s just crazy that Gucci was coming to your mom’s crib and y’all were-
I mean, every day. Ain’t a day go by that Gucci wasn’t at my house -- my mama’s house, yup.
What was your mom’s first reaction to Gucci? At that time, he wasn’t necessarily the cleaned-up version of Gucci that we see today.
Well, everybody used to come to the house and the basement was like Gucci. They was rough, had the whole house smelling like weed, my mama was like, ‘What in the world goin’ on?’ [laughs] So, to really compensate, I got like $25K after we did “Icy” and everything. I gave my mom and dad like $7K apiece. They ain’t never seen that much money at one time before, so they was like, ‘Ohhhh.’ They started getting the picture, saying, like, ‘Okay, this could be something bigger and [more] special than what I thought it could be.’
At first, I almost used to have to sneak Gucci in. Gucci might call me at 4 a.m. after he left the club, like, ‘Bro, I need to record.’ It’s like, ‘Bruh, I can’t,’ you know what I mean? So I got to keep the music down, record him, sneak him in the back door -- but it all paid off.
Gucci mentions in his autobiography that he landed a major collaboration that he needed to record immediately and he called you at 4 a.m. desperately trying to record. How frequently did things like that happen with Gucci?
Man, that was all the time ‘cause Gucci would go out to the club and run into somebody. He might run into Da Brat. He might run into 2 Chainz -- whoever it is, he gon’ run into ‘em and be like, ‘Aye, let’s go to the studio,’ and he gon’ bring ‘em to my house.
For me, when I see a guy that’s working that hard, I know he gon’ do whatever it takes to make it, I gotta figure out a way to get him in and record. So, if I do gotta sneak him in the back door and keep the music down, that’s what imma do, ‘cause I know it’s gon’ get us somewhere.
How comfortable do you feel now that you actually have a basement, a setup within your crib that you’re not sneaking Gucci into through the backdoor, you know what I mean?
I mean, I think it’s cool, but I miss those times, ‘cause I think that’s what made us make the music that we was making, you know what I mean? It was so authentic. It was so thorough, that that’s why the music came out the way it did. I didn’t know how to mix good, I was just putting stuff together. I didn’t know how to record all that good, but I think that’s what made the music so special. So, I miss those times.
Of course, it’s good to be free and, you know, somebody could come over here and record at any time. But I miss those you-gotta-turn-off-the-furnace-in-the-mic-booth-’cause-it’s-making-too-much-noise, you know what I mean? It’s like, it makes you make gutter music like that.
Your output this year, despite the pandemic, has been incredible. What’s been your favorite beat that you produced this year?
I think my favorite would be “Hightop Shoes” with the A-Team. I don’t know why, just, it was so dope to me. The beat by itself, but then when Lil Keed got on that and started whispering, I was like, ‘Man, this is so hard to me.’ So, that might be my favorite right now.
Keed’s the next up out of Atlanta. As someone who’s always keeping your ear to the streets, what is it about Keed that really stood out to you?
I first did a song called “Accomplishments” with him and Lil Yachty. When I went over there, just how fast -- ‘cause you know, he had a buzz. He had a song goin’ on -- he had the hottest song in Atlanta. I was like, ‘I gotta get him on the record.’ I went over to Lil Yachty, got him to do his verse, then I was like, ‘Keed, I need you to jump on this.’ I went in the studio with him, and he records how I like artists to record. He heard the beat, and in two seconds, just turned the mic on and started rapping and going off. I was like, ‘Man, this guy reminds me of how we recorded in the basement.’ So, that’s what made him one of my favorites, bro. And his attitude -- he got one of them work attitudes where it’s like all he does is work, so I became a fan. Just like that.
"I wish I could play what we did in the studio that day with Chance and Kanye. ‘Cause the beat was made in five minutes, and he just automatically -- he did what any other rapper would. He grabbed the microphone and just started freestyling and I was like, ‘Man, this man is going so crazy right now.’ It sounds so hard. I wish the world could hear it. And I’d never been in the studio with Kanye before. "
You and Kanye were in the studio a few years ago working on music with Chance The Rapper. Kanye is a very meticulous individual when it comes to production and working, As someone who gravitates towards capturing raw energy, how do you adapt to working with someone like Kanye, who is very detailed in his approach? How do you find a comfort zone in a studio setting like that?
Believe it or not, I wish I could play what we did in the studio that day with Chance and Kanye. ‘Cause the beat was made in five minutes, and he just automatically -- he did what any other rapper would. He grabbed the microphone and just started freestyling and I was like, ‘Man, this man is going so crazy right now.’ It sounds so hard. I wish the world could hear it. And I’d never been in the studio with Kanye before. He came in first, just turned the mic on, and just started goin’. Then, Chance comes in right after him, and it’s just like, ‘That’s the essence of what I’m used to.’ So, it made my day. Man, I feel like that was so hard. I wish it would come out.
Man, I gotta ask you, then -- if you got cuts with Kanye and Chance sitting in the vault, what tracks do we not know about? What collaborations do you have in that you wish people could hear?
I keep ‘em secrets because a lot of times, I let the cat out the bag and it be too premature, and they be like, ‘Aw, I was tryna hold that.’ ‘Cause I got some -- I got some where it’s like, ‘Zay ain’t never worked with that person and it’s big.’ So, when they do unleash it, I don’t wanna spoil the surprise. I got some, though. I got some.
Okay, fair enough, But the Kanye/Chance one, we’re not hearing sometime?
I mean, Kanye, he’s more of a gospel artist now, and I ain’t mad at that at all. So, you know, I doubt it.
Because I know you’re very active in the church, did you and Kanye find some sort of common ground, at least spiritually?
I haven’t had that much time with Kanye to really connect with him on that level. I’m definitely proud of him. I definitely feel like he’s making a major move in what he’s doing. Even in the gospel, he done it so big that -- I’m a fan, man, like, ‘Dang, he done it super-big.’ I’d love to do something with him on that level. I did a project with Lecrae, Let The Trap Say Amen, and we did well with that so to do something with Kanye on a gospel level would be amazing to do.
Zaytoven with Gucci Mane, Lil Baby, 2 Chainz, Pierre 'Pee' Thomas and Chubbie Baby and Gucci's Black Tie Gala Prince Williams/Wireimage/Getty Images
For sure. But sh*t, I guess we gotta dive into the main reason we’re doing this interview -- Verzuz. So I guess just to start off, when did you first hear about this going down? I think many people were confused when it was first announced.
The night that Gucci put up the post with the Verzuz, saying ‘Gucci Mane Vs. The Snocone’ or something like that. ‘Cause he had just agreed to do it. He wasn’t supposed to do it. They weren't supposed to do it, so he had just agreed to it. Then, he was like, ‘Cool, I’m finna post this right now.’ I don’t even think he was supposed to post it right then, but he went on and posted it. ‘Cause we were in the studio, we were excited about it. And he was like, ‘Man, I’m finna post this right now.’ So that’s when I knew it was official.
So you were in the studio with him when he posted it?
Yeah, I was right there. ‘Cause he told me to come to the studio. You know, me and Gucci been doing music with each other from the beginning. So, of course, he wanna know my input, what’s the strategy, and how we need to approach it. So, I came right to the studio as soon as he called me.
Talk to me about the setlist that evening. ‘Cause you’re going 20-for-20 with Jeezy. Obviously, two Godfathers of trap music, incredible catalogs, facing off but I think there was obviously a different approach. Jeezy played to what he knew would work, whereas Gucci kind of played into the dramatics and it kept the evening exciting. So tell me about the decision to open up with “Round One”?
It was partly my idea. I was telling Gucci, ‘You are the show. The reason people want this to happen so bad ‘cause they know that you’re a wild card. You’re the show.’ It’s like going to see Mike Tyson fight, like the other night, and he don’t knock nobody out or don’t bite nobody ear. It’s like, that ain’t what I paid for, you know what I mean? I paid for you to knock somebody’s head off or something. And that’s what Gucci is to me. He’s always been looked at as the bad guy. For him to show up and do “Round One,” being the bad guy -- people get what they paid for if you get what I’m sayin’.
"I was telling Gucci, ‘You are the show. The reason people want this to happen so bad ‘cause they know that you’re a wild card. You’re the show.’ It’s like going to see Mike Tyson fight, like the other night, and he don’t knock nobody out or don’t bite nobody ear. It’s like, that ain’t what I paid for, you know what I mean? I paid for you to knock somebody’s head off or something. And that’s what Gucci is to me. He’s always been looked at as the bad guy."
And I was telling him I feel like that’s the approach, you know. That’s the way you approach this. ‘Cause you don’t wanna go in that watered-down, ‘we just playin’ hits after hits, song after song.’ It’s like, nah, that ain’t what people want to see. The reason why that battle was the most-viewed, it’s because of the drama behind it.
What was Gucci’s first reaction in the studio? What do you think changed in order to be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do this,’ for the city and for the culture?
Well, you always gotta think, now, it’s definitely a great number involved [laughs]. That’s always gon’ make you be like, ‘Oh, yeah. We can do it.’ It’s a great number involved, and Gucci looked at it as in -- ‘cause, at first, he didn’t wanna do it. You know, Gucci is almost more relevant now than he’s ever been, so he’s looking at Jeezy, or whoever he’s gonna go against like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t wanna do that.’ ‘Cause if you look at their social media numbers and stuff like that, they’re just so far apart. So, Gucci was like, ‘Nah, I’mma let that breathe, I don’t wanna do it. But then, he thought about it, like, ‘Nah, this could be big. This could be big for the culture. Let’s do it. I wanna do it.’ I think it was definitely big. It was a very good move for Gucci.
Nobody ever thought that would happen. As crazy of a year as 2020 has been, Gucci Vs. Jeezy might be one of the most unexpected --
That’s the biggest! That’s the most unexpected! That’s it! So imagine coming to the most unexpected battle that you ever seen in your life, and then it’s watered down and you ain’t really get what you was looking for out of it.
Did you have any concerns about how it would play out?
I definitely didn’t have any concerns because both of them are, you know, they older and they grown now. And they had actually conversed with each other. So, they got respect for each other, in certain ways. So, I didn’t feel like nothin’ was finna happen or nothin’ like that.
So Jeezy and Gucci talked before the Verzuz?
Yeah. They had to have a conversation before to make sure everything is cool.
Why was it necessary to add “The Truth” to the setlist given the history? Especially with the commentary in the lead-up and the commentary that followed?
I think it was very necessary just for the showmanship of what we were watching, or what we were getting into. Like I said, think about Mike Tyson in his heyday. It’s like, you comin’ to see Tyson knock somebody out. That’s what we expect and that’s what we want to see. It’s good that we’re grown now and we done moved past that, but this is still part of our whole history. So let’s still give the people [what they deserve].
I feel like if the people want to see Jeezy and Gucci, they deserve [to see] them going back and forth. They both did diss songs against each other. We deserve to hear that, you know? We deserve to see that right there on the screen. ‘Cause I feel like they never really seen each other since back in the day, and that might be something they want to get off their chest. Like, ‘I wanna do this right here, right in front of you so you know how I felt about our situation back then.’ They got it off they chest, then they mended that together like men at the end of the show. I don’t think you could ask for nothing better.
A lot of people felt that Jeezy’s strategy was far more effective because he went through the mixtape cuts. He went through everything that he knew would hit. Whereas Gucci, there were certain tracks I was dying to hear, like “My Kitchen” and “Freaky Girl.” Do you think Gucci would have benefited from just playing deep cuts instead of more recent songs?
All that stuff was on the list. All the songs you named was on the list. Gucci got so many songs. So I guess, in doing the show, he felt like, ‘Nah, I wanna go here. Let’s play that,’ you know what I mean? And that wasn’t a hit-for-hit type of thing. Gucci has charisma. He has something that, ever since I known him, he can step in the room, and demand all the attention. It don’t matter who’s in there, you gon’ pay Gucci Mane the attention. And that’s how he moves. And I want him to be Gucci Mane, you know? Do what you do. You ain’t gotta just come in here and just play your top records, top 20s and all that type of stuff, ‘cause that ain’t what the people really want to see. Sometimes, he switched songs where it’s like, ‘Dang, I wish he would’ve played that song,’ but at other times, it was like, ‘Nah, that’s cool. That’s Gucci Mane. That’s what makes him so special.’ So, we was rolling with it.
For sure. Before I ask you about Compound, I just want you to take me through the history of “So Icy.”
It was simple, man. Gucci called me. I was at the barbershop cutting hair, he was like, ‘Hey, man, Jeezy wanna do a song with us.’ I’m coming from the Bay Area, so I didn’t really know who Jeezy was. I didn’t know how big he was -- nothing like that. Jeezy wanted to do a song with Gucci. He must’ve heard something Gucci did and said, ‘I wanna do a song with dude.’ So when Gucci called me and said Jeezy wanted to do a song with us, I went home, we met at my house, I made a beat in ten minutes. I made “So Icy” in like, ten minutes, but if you listen to the music, you can tell I’m from the Bay Area. You can tell I wasn’t from Atlanta. I was fresh out there. I made the beat, we went down to the studio, and Gucci Mane -- like I said, his charisma, it takes over the room. So he’s like, ‘Aye, this is my producer, Zaytoven. He works with everybody. He is the dopest producer in the world.’ He was doing all that. He was puttin’ a show on. ‘We got a song. This is “So Icy.”’ Soon as I played the beat, I could tell Jeezy was like, ‘Aye, that’s what y’all wanna do? That’s what you was talkin’ bout that was so hard?’ [laughs] You know what I mean? It was like that.
So, after he did that, Jeezy wasn’t feelin’ it. He was like, ‘Man, let’s do something else.’ So, Gucci admittedly started saying, ‘Let’s play some other beats, this and that.’ But me, I’m not knowing who Jeezy is, for real. So I kind of got offended like, ‘What you mean? How you gon’ tell us what song to do?’ So I said, ‘Nah, bro, let’s do the song that we came to do.’ So Gucci’s like, ‘Alright, bet. Let’s go back to “Icy.”’ I put the beat back on and Gucci start doing the hook, but the guy Lil Will was in the studio, too, that sings real good. So, he heard it and was like, ‘Okay, I’ll do the hook.’ He went in the booth and sung the hook. Now, you can hear this song different. You know, you can hear it as in, ‘Hold on, this sound like a hit!’ So that’s when Jeezy started writing his verse. Everybody in the studio -- I mean, it might’ve been a security guard in there writin’ a verse -- everybody was writing a verse to the song, ‘cause they were like, ‘Oh, this is it,’ you know what I mean? Like, ‘This finna be it.’ Everybody was writing verses to the song. Before the night was out, Coach K was there, he was like, ‘Oh, this a hit.’ So what happened is, even though Jeezy was the biggest star out at the time, “Icy” was the biggest song that he was on. He got a lot of songs that’s hard that everybody know word for word. “Icy”’ sounds like, ‘Oh, that’s the hit.’ So, I think people started getting confused. Like, they thought it was Jeezy’s song, it was really Gucci’s song. So Jeezy might be performing it when Gucci ain’t there. They started getting confused with it. And then Gucci was like, ‘Hold on, this my shot. Ain’t nobody takin’ my record, this my way in the game.’ And it kind of went from there.
"Everybody in the studio -- I mean, it might’ve been a security guard in there writin’ a verse -- everybody was writing a verse to ["So Icy"], ‘cause they were like, ‘Oh, this is it,’ you know what I mean? Like, ‘This finna be it.’ Everybody was writing verses to the song. Before the night was out, Coach K was there, he was like, ‘Oh, this a hit.’ So what happened is, even though Jeezy was the biggest star out at the time, “Icy” was the biggest song that he was on."
It was Def Jam that wanted Jeezy to use the song as the lead single.
Yeah, Def Jam. I talked to Jay-Z and Jeezy on the phone. But Gucci and Jeezy wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye at the time, so I’m like, ‘What you want me to do? I did this song with Gucci, this my man. We work with each other every day, I can’t give y’all this. Even though I got the rights to the beat, I can’t sign that over to y’all.’ ‘Cause then Gucci gon’ look at me like, ‘Bro, you just sold my hit!’ You know what I mean? So we just rolled it out.
You have Jay-Z on the line, and you got Jeezy on the line, you’re getting pressed about this beat. But your loyalty to Gucci is way stronger than your desire for success without the loyalty, so how do you explain that to someone like Jay-Z?
It’s nothing to really explain. It’s almost like -- I did the song for [Gucci Mane.] I did the beat for him. He’s the one that introduced this whole situation so it’s not really nothing to talk about. And I know the character of Gucci. I know the type of person he is. And I’m with this man every day, so there ain’t really nothing to talk about. And that’s just what it was.
Was there any interest in Gucci going to Def Jam at the time?
No, uh-uh. You gotta think, Jeezy’s so big of a star at the time. It’s like, they don’t need Gucci Mane. They got Jeezy right now. But, you know how it is sometimes, a song can be bigger than the artist. Sometimes, it’s like, ‘Nah, this the song.’’ So, once it didn’t go that way, then I felt like the song was kind of getting blackballed. Gucci was kind of getting blackballed at the same time.
How did it feel like watching Jeezy and Gucci Mane perform “So Icy'' at Compound after Verzuz? That’s a big moment for the city.
That’s a big moment, yup. You know, I was a producer that never had a big record before, so I remember going to the club, and they would play “So Icy” -- I’m a nobody in the club -- and they would play “So Icy,” and the whole club singing it word for word. The DJ cuttin’ the music off and everybody singing the whole song. You know, you can’t even imagine the feeling of just standing back, watching and listening like, ‘Dang, bruh, that’s my song.’ You know what I mean? So, at Compound, at the Verzuz, I got that same feeling back of me having my first record. That’s how big it was for me. It took me back to my first time hearing my song on the radio.
Nah, for sure. I wanted to talk to you about your relationship with Chief Keef.I know you guys have plenty of dope work together. Chief Keef is also a relatively mysterious figure. So, how’s that relationship developed over the years?
Oh, that’s my guy, man. I feel like Chief Keef is probably one of my favorite artists in the world, and I can relate to him. I mean, every time we talk, he gon’ FaceTime me or he gon’ text me. He one of those guys that we don’t even talk all the time but we real close. He’s one of those guys that’ll be like, ‘Aye, man, I love you bro,’ or, ‘I appreciate everything.’ Those are genuine people to me. So hanging around him was like when I was hanging around Gucci. We totally two different people, but we connect so good. Our chemistry is so good. So, he’s definitely one of my top guys, man, for sure.
"I feel like Chief Keef is probably one of my favorite artists in the world, and I can relate to him."
I find there’s a lot of similarities between Gucci Mane and Chief Keef. As somebody who’s worked closely with both of them, what similarities do you see between them? Not only in their personalities, but also in terms of their creative output, and how they approach a mic.
I mean, it’s almost -- I wanna call it weird, the way they approach stuff. It be like, ‘Man, I don’t know what in the world they thinkin’ about.’ You know how you can be in the studio with an artist and you put a beat on, and they come up with a song and it’s like, ‘Oh, that’s dope.’ They approach it like -- bruh, do you hear the same beat I just played? Are we listening to the same thing? You know, it be weird, almost. Like, ‘Bruh, what you thinkin’ about?’ But I think that’s what makes them so special. And that’s what makes me such a fan ‘cause I know that another artist can’t do this. Another artist wouldn’t listen to that music and come up with that the way they did. And that’s why they similar in those ways, they’ll come up with something that’s so unexpected, so creative that it’s like you can’t do nothing but be like, ‘He the GOAT. He the truth.’
Does working with Chief Keef give you that same fulfillment that you had when you were in the basement with Gucci Mane?
It gives me the same fulfillment. That’s why I like working with him so much ‘cause he’s so unpredictable, and he’s still like -- I don’t know how old Chief Keef is but he raps like he’s nineteen, it’s like, ‘Bro, what are you talking about?’ It’s just that young thing that I don’t think it’s ever gon’ get away from him. He gon’ stay young forever, to me. ‘Cause just his approach, man, and the way he creates, it’s like, he’s a youngster.
What drives you in terms of collaborating with younger artists?
I mean, it’s just their approach, man. They got something new to them. They always got a new flavor, a new wave, a new swag to add. ‘Cause a lot of stuff, I feel like I heard that before, you know? Something that we done had created before. But they got they own twist to it.
One of the things is, like, I got a fourteen-year-old son, so he’s a fan of the younger artists. ‘Dad you need to work with him. T hat’s who you need to do a song with.’ So, he’ll turn me on to them. I worked with Lil Uzi ‘cause my son was like, ‘Aye, you need to be working with him.’ I never heard him before. But then I seen him at the mall, like, ‘Oh, that’s who my son be talking about.’ So we hooked up, got in the studio. I’m like, ‘Oh, I see why he like Uzi so much.’ These guys got a different approach to it, so that’s what keeps me motivated, that keeps me excited about making beats. ‘Cause I know they gon’ do something different to it than what the artists I done worked with before done to it.
Just on the topic of Uzi, you produced two songs on his collab album with Future, Pluto x Baby Pluto. Where do you think those two artists align with your own sound?
I feel like when we did “Too Much Sauce,” it was a sound of its own. To me, it just stood out like a sore thumb. Just the music alone. I remember playing that in the studio and I had my buddy with me. He was like, ‘Bruh, I’m so curious to see what they gon’ do to this beat.’ ‘Cause the beat doesn't sound like something that somebody’ll rap on, you know what I mean? But then when Future came with the hook, it’s like, ‘You see, you see what they doing?’ That’s why they so special. I know for me, they brought a whole new sound. Like, you never heard a sound from me like “Too Much Sauce” before that. You always heard something that’s like, ‘Oh, that’s Migos’ sound. That’s the sound he do with The Migos. That’s the sound he do with Gucci. That’s the sound he do with Future.’ “Too Much Sauce” was like, ‘Bro, what is this? What kind of music is this?’ And that’s what they do. I know they definitely bring something different out of me.
So your kid’s pretty much your A&R at this point.
Man, right now, listen; I’m not the cool daddy if I’m not working with the guys they like, you know what I mean? [laughs] So I got to go work with ‘em.
I assume you’ve probably had people over at the crib. it must be a trip for your kids to, like, sh*t, maybe see some of their rappers just posted up with their dad.
Of course. Certain rappers, my son’ll be like, ‘Oh no, I got to see him,’ or ‘I got to go,’ you know what I mean? So, that’s what it is. Like, if I go work with NLE Choppa, my son’s like, ‘Oh no, I got to go.’
You worked with Sosa, and you got joints with G-Herbo, and I recently saw you in the studio with King Von before his death. What do you think about why drill resonates with people the same way trap music does?
You know what, I’mma be honest, I don’t really know for sure what drill is. I don’t know the exact sound. Like, to me, Chicago is as hard as Atlanta. Their artists are super prolific, man, they got the juice. Chicago got the juice. And I just feel like they super hard, I be hearing them say drill music but I don’t know for sure what drill music sounds like, I just know they hard, you know what I mean? That’s probably Chicago trap music, I guess.
"I’mma be honest, I don’t really know for sure what drill is. I don’t know the exact sound. Like, to me, Chicago is as hard as Atlanta. Their artists are super prolific, man, they got the juice. Chicago got the juice. And I just feel like they super hard, I be hearing them say drill music but I don’t know for sure what drill music sounds like, I just know they hard."
What was it like working with King Von and interacting with him in the studio? How was his energy?
Man, the energy be so crazy ‘cause I always meet these young artists and they just be good guys. They seem like they’re just a good, good person, you know what I mean? So of course, I come in there and play beats, he like, ‘ooo.’ You know, they startin’ to rap, soon as I turn the beats on, ‘Oh, I need that one.’ ‘Oh, I need this one for sure.’ He started recording soon as I came and dropped the beats off. So I just felt like, ‘Okay, me and him finna have something special.’ You know, ain’t nobody expect me and King Von to have something special. So, we finna have sumn’ special.
‘Cause [his death] happened probably about a week and a half or so after I was with him. So I was like, ‘Dang, that’s crazy. I was just with the guy.’ I knew something special was gon’ come out of it.
Do you know when we’re gonna hear that track?
I don’t know, man. Just like Juice WRLD. When I was working with Juice WRLD, Juice WRLD said, like, ‘I got eight songs. I need you to make sure you don’t give these beats to nobody.’ And he’d play them for me on FaceTime, I’d be like, ‘Man, that’s so hard, that’s so dope.’ And then he passed and it’s like, ‘Man, we had some of the dopest music.’ I wish the world could hear it, but, you know.
"When I was working with Juice WRLD, Juice WRLD said, like, ‘I got eight songs. I need you to make sure you don’t give these beats to nobody.’ And he’d play them for me on FaceTime, I’d be like, ‘Man, that’s so hard, that’s so dope.’ And then he passed and it’s like, ‘Man, we had some of the dopest music.’ I wish the world could hear it."
Beast Mode 3 -- any update on that? 2021? What’s the deal?
All those are secrets. All of those are secrets.
A few years ago, Gucci Mane bragged about paying $500 for a haircut. In your opinion, what is the most that anybody should be spending on a haircut?
I mean, the right situation, $500 is cool for someone like Gucci that’s getting a lot of money. You know, sometimes it might call somebody out of nowhere that’s doing something else. He got something else going on. He might be a celebrity barber, but you want that person to cut your hair, it’s gon’ cost you, you know what I mean? And the guys don’t mind paying it. But most rappers, most artists, they’re gonna give you a hundred dollars just to give them a haircut. So, that’s standard, almost.
Do you still cut?
I still cut hair. I got a barbershop here at the house and I still cut my son’s hair, my brother’s hair, my dad’s hair, you know? My uncle, people like that.
I know you produced for E-40 and MESSY MARV. How has it been like reconnecting with E-40 since those time? What have those conversations been like from seeing you as a high-school student to being one of the most important producers of our generation?
I talked to E-40 probably about a week or so ago, and it’s amazing. They was just like, ‘Aye, Zay, you done went down to Atlanta and gave them they whole sound.’ You know what I mean?’ But they’re proud of that. They feel like that. They feel like, ‘Zay, you did something major. You went to Atlanta, and created a whole sound.’ So now, staying connected with the Bay, I got a special project on the way. I can’t really tell you who it is but top of the year, something strictly for the Bay Area, to get back to my roots. So, be on the lookout for that.
That’s what’s up. Last question: what’s 2021 looking like for Zay? What can we expect -- I know you said the last things are top-secret. What can you reveal to us?
I just did a movie called 2 Finesse. It’s a comedy that’s coming out maybe around spring time. I got a big studio with Microsoft coming to Atlanta. Major, major studio coming to Atlanta which I’mma do producer classes, school, do mentoring programs and everything, too, in this building. So that’s coming 2021. And what’s the most exciting thing about 2021 for me is not knowing what’s gon’ happen because that’s what keeps me excited about this music. You know, it’s like I don’t know what tomorrow holds. 2021 -- it could be like, ‘Man, you just did a whole album with Beyoncé.’ It’s like, ‘Dang, I didn’t know I was gon’ do that.’ You know what I mean? So that’s what keeps me excited about this music, is not knowing what’s really coming.
Most definitely. An honor, again, to be in front of the legendary Zay. Thank you so much for your time, bro.
Thank you, bro. Thank you, thank you.