Two singles and an EP release, a name change, a headline show and a debut album on the horizon, despite 2020 throwing the world a massive curveball ZZ’s stayed active.
This Friday, October 9, ZZ The Pharaoh – formerly known as ZZ The Slept On – of Roots Raddix returns to stage for his second headline show in Manchester: ZZ The Pharaoh and Friends at Lock 91.
An alternative hip hop artist and producer of Italian and Nigerian descent hailing from the West Midlands, ZZ’s been making his mark on the scene since 2015. With five EPs in the bag, his hit ‘The March’ in 2016 featuring emerging talent at the time, IAMDDB, plus performances across London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and beyond. As one third of Roots Raddix collective, alongside Woddy Green and LayFullstop, he’s also gained recognition since their breakthrough track ‘Clouds’; leading to the rising trio of vocalists becoming celebrated for the unique flavour they bring to Manchester’s scene.
We caught up with the 26-year-old luminary ahead of his show in Manchester.
New Sounds: So, tell us about the upcoming show?
ZZ: With ZZ The Pharaoh and Friends I’m curating an event that will bring an iconic hip hop sound back to the city, it’s been so long since we’ve been able to go to live music events let alone hip hop ones in Manchester, which I feel even pre-pandemic were lacking.
I’ve got some incredible support acts lined up, a lot of versatility too. IMVSOGIE will be bringing emotive lyrics over hard-hitting beats. He’s on the rise at the moment, especially in his hometown Birmingham, so it’s the perfect platform for him to show Manchester his talent. TheUrbanCellist is a dope cellist from New Orleans, who’s gonna be bringing high energy with earthy soulful trap, disco, funk, hip hop and soul. Then of course Roots Raddix which is the collective that I’m part of, our sound revolves around elements of hip hop, neo-soul and R&B infused into one. For my set I’ll be exclusively dropping singles from my forthcoming debut album ‘Pharaoh’ which will be released early next year – I’m excited to show what I’ve been working on.
New Sounds: How’s it been planning the show amidst all the government regulation surrounding live music events?
ZZ: Well we’ve had to limit tickets to be mindful of social distancing and are more restricted for time than usual due to the new curfew. However, in light of the circumstances it’s really a blessing to even be able to put a show on so I’m grateful for that. There’s only been virtual events since the onset of lockdown, and for me the best part of being an artist is the energy that you feel when you perform. Even though I’ve continued to write and produce throughout lockdown I’ve really missed performing so I’m excited to be able to get on stage again.
New Sounds: There’s been a lot of noise nationwide around the Government’s lack of support for the events industry, what do you make of it all?
ZZ: For me, a lot of the rules that are impacting the events and hospitality industry don’t make much sense, encouraging people to go out one month then the next imposing a curfew, I mean it’s not like corona goes to sleep! But on the flip side, there is a pandemic and I know that at the end of the day rules are put in place to protect the health of the wider population, so if we can still have events despite them being smaller scale with a curfew for now then so be it. All of us in the industry need to carry on coming together and finding ways to continue to do what we love in the safest way possible. As for the government, they need to do more to actively support the industry as we are the reason for entertainment!
New Sounds: Explain the name change – why and why now?
ZZ: From around April, I got tired of the name and didn’t feel it resonated with me anymore. The name ZZ, The Slept On, came from my frustration of not getting the recognition I’d have liked at the time, but I always knew at some point I’d change it. A name for me represents something beneath the surface and to be honest as a creative I don’t feel ‘slept on’ anymore, with the success of my last EP ‘Lava Lamp 3’ and doing my first headline show last December. ZZ The Pharaoh came to me one day and I was like yes that’s it, I believe in universal alignment and it just felt like the right time. To change my name to ZZ The Pharaoh means I’m at a place where I’m acknowledging my growth and self-worth; as humans we evolve, and the name change from ‘Slept On’ to ‘Pharaoh’ is representative of my evolution as an artist.
New Sounds: You’ve released two singles this year which are both a bit different to your usual style – with jazz influences in ‘Donny’ and a relaxed slower tempo in ‘Troops’, will your debut album ‘Pharaoh’ be a similar vibe?
ZZ: Yes! Definitely more of that chilled old-school hip-hop vibe. In my last project, Lava Lamp 3, I’d just come out of working my old job and had a heavier mind set. On that EP I was voicing a lot of frustrations with life at the time, so the energy was very different, a lot more trap sounds infused with some darker elements to my usual style. The music I make at particular times is always very descriptive in terms of where I am in my life, but my original style is more boom-bap hip hop. I’ve got a completely different mindset now, I’m more relaxed and feel like I’m on the right track to getting to where I want to be, and I think that’s really evident within ‘Pharaoh’. I think the fact that changing my name coincided with returning to making the type of music that really defines me as an artist shows the synergy in my development.
New Sounds: Roots Raddix released ‘Off The Bench’ EP earlier this year, how was working on that?
ZZ: The EP dropped in July, and it was really fun to work on. We’ve worked together for so long now, since 2014, so we’ve all really grown and developed as artists together (shout out to our manager T). We’re friends too so that helps a lot in terms of the ease of collaboratively working together. ‘Off The Bench’ was featured in Jamz Supernova’s Top 5 on BBC Radio 1Xtra which is insane, and earlier this month we performed at Nando’s studio in London which was a sick opportunity. Also, a little exclusive – we’ve got a new single dropping soon…
New Sounds: You’ve mentioned about your journey as an artist, tell us a bit about how you got into music?
ZZ: I started listening to hip hop when I was about 7 or 8 as my Dad had a few CDs, the likes of Obie Trice – Cheers and Eminem – The Eminem Show, and I started watching MTV around then too which exposed me to different types of music that I found interesting. As a kid I always had a vivid imagination, I loved writing my own books which looking back now made it a natural transition for me to start writing music.
The first time I rapped live I was nine years old; I wrote and performed my own song at a talent show at school called ‘Showtime’, aha. It’s the only time I’ve ever been nervous to perform. 5LK was my first artist name, to this day I’m not sure why! But then when I started making beats on FL Studio in 07’ I changed it to Mr Mekanik. So, ever since a young age I have always explored my artistry and have been figuring out what works for me.
New Sounds: Who’s your dream artist to collaborate with?
ZZ: John Cena – he’s the GOAT haha!
New Sounds: Fair enough! And what’s your favourite gig you’ve played?
ZZ: Manchester International Festival – performing outside to over a thousand people in the city was something else. But the O2 Ritz is close second, just because it’s the Ritz which is a bit mad.
New Sounds: What’s next?
ZZ: I’ve got another virtual show with Roots Raddix in the pipeline on the 17th October – See My World, which is a Pan-African Arts, Culture and Being festival by BPM which is going virtual this year so tune into that. The Nando’s performance will be available to stream from October 8th on the Nando’s Yard website. Then November time I’ll be working on my clothing brand usedtotherain winter collection, season 5!