The West Philadelphian singer and producer talks to Dazed about his new record and his spiritual experience in Brazil which unlocked a new wave of songwriting within him
New York’s globe-trotting Zakee has had a pretty illustrious past. It was his Ghanaian and Senegal-inspired Ku Ku Bass sound and the thunderous anthemic club track “Sane Eba” that first got the M.I.A. and Rye Rye collaborator onto the Dazed radar and into the magazine a couple of years back. And it’s the way this former maths teacher from West Philadelphia (and creative director of his production company 12-BIT, photographer and filmmaker) constantly evolves his musical craft that makes him such an exceptional artist. His debut full length is out now called “Assimilations” and was written in a prolific whirlwind session in Brazil, after falling for Rio during a South America tour supporting Seun Kuti and Erykah Badu with Theophilus London. With funked up vocals and rolling bass, “Assimilations” has a dense swagger with escapist, soaring melodies and an experimental pop vision that is unlike anything Zakee has created before.
Dazed Digital: How did you approach the new record compared to your last wave of EPs and remixes?
Zakee: I found myself getting boxed in this ‘world dance producer’ title. I’m mad OCD when it comes to music production and knew that I had to give it my fucking all, plus a billion just to strike it even. I wanted to make music that covered many facets of my life and numerous cultures. I wanted to make something that you could smoke to, make love to, cry with, envy or even fuck up.
DD: Can you tell us more about Brazil?
Zakee: When we arrived in Brazil I had this weird spiritual moment when I smelled the air, walked the favelas and ate from the tables of the locals. I would sit at the bank of the beach and stare at the Christo and just write and write. I wrote over 33 songs in South America. This process took place almost a year before I was completely done. I returned back with a full product, video treatments and a brief introduction of my visuals. It’s a hungry game out there and I’ve come too far to turn back now. Especially considering this is my debut and I’ve ghost produced for some of the biggest producers that you hear on the radio.
DD: How was it being a maths teacher?
Zakee: I started worked as high school calculus teacher rocking Jordans, hat to back and Moschino shirts and that was my Trojan horse entry. The only teacher with a MPC on their desk... and a guaranteed quiz. West Philly High became my home, not my class. The kids looked up to me like an older brother rather than a teacher and I gained their trust, respect and support.
DD: The visual element to your music is super important too? What links the Zakee aesthetic?
Zakee: It’s just being comfortable with who you are. I want to appeal to people with a common eye, so it doesn’t seem fixed or too perfect. I’m a regular guy who just wants to bridge gaps between cultures by making music and art identifiable, educational and cool to everyone.
DD: When did you start producing?
Zakee: In college is where I got my real production insight. My friend Chad Wes introduced me to the production world from him doing tracks with State Property via Jay-Z and Dame Dash. Just being a third eye and seeing those creative processes was mad inspiring. I was getting warmed up before I ran into M.I.A. on tour because at that time I was doing beats for Rye Rye. She invited me to come along on the bus and we just clicked. I had some crazy ass beats! Mad love to her brother Sugu and my production partner for holding me down since day one... ever since that ride my life has changed forever.