ZEBO – “We See Ourselves The Way That We Think Others See Us”
Zebo packs a cut-up crateful of styles, from hip-hop and B-more to French, Electro, Disco and even a nasty snippet of a techno track or throwback freestyle gem. While this maximal approach might be increasingly common among DJs who cater to the ADD-riddled mash-up club casualties, Zebo stays head and shoulders above the rest for knowing that just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Skills can be honed, but taste can’t be taught.
Although house and jungle dominated his early turntable diet, Zebo is a polygamous lover of music, and he hustled to find any opportunity to play, be it raves, loft parties, weddings, corporate parties, in-store events and fashion shows. He is also an instructor at Columbia College teaching both a Club Dj part 1 class as well as an advanced part 2. Outside of which he runs the Chicago-based, Hot Dog Records with partner Marco Morales. A label that focuses on releasing any style of music and artists that represent Chicago.
It is this genuine love of music paired with incredible deck acumen that propels DJ Zebo beyond the reach of all the other DJs trying to out-reference, out-cred and out-mix each other, their varied selections resembling 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound laptop. Zebo’s not simply wearing his musical heart on his sleeve—as the WAV file tattooed on his ever-moving forearm might seem to indicate—but actually spinning dance floor gold with both his technical abilities and intuition in reading the crowd, a modern day Serato-equipped Rumpelstiltskin.
Yet for all his vaunted versatility, no matter what direction his sets head, Zebo’s initial love of jungle seems to subconsciously permeate his music at peak hour, with bombastic basslines rolling on and on underneath familiar hooks and clever samples. Pitched-up, pitched-down, scratched-up and around, Zebo’s a populist at heart, finding the redeeming values in both subterranean cool and overt pop—it’s a delicate tightrope to walk, but this DJ has the balance to pull it off. Check out Zebo’s exclusive Q&A with S&S below.
S&S: What’s your style of music? How do you describe it?
Z: I play what I perceive as “good music” which I realize is completely subjective, but is something that all DJs should do. In my humble opinion there is good music and bad music and that is the two types. Being that it is subjective it makes it so that all DJs are not playing the same tracks.
S&S: Who or what was most instrumental to you when it came to music?
Z: My father was always into music and he got me into it at a young age. He passed away suddenly when I was 8 years old so the rest was my passion for learning music as my mother was not very musically inclined. When I found the Rave scene in the mid 90s I knew I found a place where I felt I belonged. I was blown away by future forward music being played on a retro medium known as vinyl. I wen to my first “Rave” in ’96 and it was all over from there. Before that I wanted to be a radio DJ, but after that first party I knew that the party DJ was the path for me.
S&S: What drives you creatively?
Z: First and foremost great DJs and second hearing new (or even old) great music that I have not been exposed to before. Watching DJs who push boundaries drive me to push my own style of DJing even further. The crowd also plays a big part in this. Being able to give them something different from the next DJ is what pushes me to think outside of the box.
S&S: How much does your audience influence you and your music selection?
Z: I have always been into sociology which is the systematic study of human group behavior. I feel that great DJs are also sociologists as they learn different demographics and what music works for said demographics. This is not saying you can put a specific group of people in a box and only play what you think works for that specific group, but it does give you a framework to go from and take your set wherever you want to go from that foundation.
S&S: What artists or genres do you listen to when you’re not working?
Z: My absolute favorite genre of music to listen to is old Reggae. I really love Rocksteady and Ska from the 60s and 70s and a lot of actual Reggae from the 70s. The style got kinda weird in the 80s, but came back with a vengeance in the 90s with a new style of electronically produced party style Dancehall Reggae. I also like underground hip hop and “Golden Era” Hip Hop from the 90s to today. I also listen to Soul, Funk, Disco, etc… as those genres were sampled in so many of the electronic music tracks I have loved.
S&S: Do you have any favorite memories of growing up with your family?
Z: My childhood was kinda tough with my mom raising me and my sister by herself after my dad had passed away. My mother was also super young when she had me so it was tough for her being a single mom. I do have some memories of family gatherings and I also spent a lot of my pre-teen years traveling around the US with my grandparents. We had some good times.
S&S: Is there anything you would like people to know about you?
Z: My religion is to do good and my country is Earth
S&S: Are there any charities you are working with or excited to tell us about?
Z: I host an annual charity where I take donations for requests and donate the funds to the Pacific Garden Mission on Canal St. I really believe and support what they do to help men, women, and children get back on their feet and get them job training, food, shelter, and tools to be able to take care of themselves.
S&S: Are there any questions that you wish people would ask you?
Z: I can’t think of any question I wish people would ask me. I enjoy any question as it provides learning on both sides.
S&S: And on the flip side of that, are there any questions or references you wish people would stop asking or using?
Z: No, I am cool with every question I’m asked and always answer with honesty. I don’t feel the need to have to tell the world who I am or try to portray something that I am not. So many do that with Facebook and it has distorted our perception on reality. There is a theory that suggests we see ourselves the way that we think others see us so many people use that and their social media as a way to make themselves feel better about themselves or to trick people into believing that they are something that they might not be.
S&S: What artist(s) have you been the most excited to work with?
Z: Opening up for Plastikman aka Richie Hawtin was one of the greatest moments in my career. I have opened up for almost every big name DJ you can think of and I’m blessed to have had those opportunities and experiences. I have also done a lot of work with DJ Godfather and feel he has been a big brother to me and has looked out for me many times and taught me so much! He is an amazing DJ, producer, and person.
S&S: Are there any artists that you dream of working with on a collaboration?
Z: Bob Marley, unfortunately it won’t happen on this plane of existence; maybe the next one.
S&S: What can we look forward to next from you?
Z: More mixes, tracks, and remixes. DJing is my main passion but I have learned to produce and remix as you have to be able to do that this day and age in order to survive in the electronic music game.
S&S: What legacy would you like to leave?
Z: I have already created that legacy by teaching at Columbia College, Scratch Academy, and by giving private lessons. I like showing kids how to DJ and show them the mistakes I made and how I had to learn on my own. I hope by moving them forward and faster than what I did that they will take DJing onto the next level and blow our minds with what they will be able to do.
Photo by K&N Media
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