Interview with Zay Greedo

By Nate Whitsell

IG: @SDLovesHipHop

Sometimes you just know. I listened to THIS SONG and just knew. I knew that Zay Greedo had it, whatever “it” is; mark my words, if he makes wise decisions and stays the course, he will be a powerful voice in hip hop in the future. I also knew he had to be my next interviewee. I believe so strongly in his music and in who he is, that I want him to be the first non-West Coast act to be featured in this series. I also feel that you will completely understand where I’m coming from after reading the interview and clicking on some of the links to his music therein.

I’m thankful for my relationship with one of the music industry’s hardest working A&Rs, YouTube, for its ability to market artists who may otherwise evade the modest reach of my ears and community. I saw the name “ZAY GREEDO” in a video description at the top of the suggested/related videos sidebar and, for whatever reason, felt compelled to watch. Unfortunately, the video ended up being a fight, but Greedo instantly became a likable personality in the short video as he tried to walk away and avoid the conflict. My curiosity was still unsatisfied, so I YouTube searched him, and the song hyperlinked above, “Don’t Play,” was the first song that popped up. I couldn’t help reaching out and couldn’t deny the gut feeling I got, similar to when I first heard J. Cole, Boogie, Phora and a few others, that told me there was something different here, something special. So I reached out.

I have been teaching my students to reach out to people they admire/look up to/want to connect with on social media platforms, because you never know who will reach back. Minutes after DMing Zay Greedo, I had confirmation that he’d be down for an interview. I jumped on the opportunity and created the questions during my prep period and about an hour later, Isaiah Soprano aka Zay Greedo, shared the following pieces of his journey with us, full of hubris and humility. Enjoy.

Nate Whitsell: Who is Zay Greedo?

Zay Greedo: Not sure if I should talk in 3rd person or 1st person here; I’m gonna run with 1st person. I’m a musical artist from Brooklyn, New York. I’ve had an attachment to music since a young age. I used to dance a lot as a baby, and in elementary school, I used to sing in the choir. By the time I went to middle school, I started rapping – it started off as freestyling for years, then that turned into me writing music in high school. Music is the only thing that feels right, like I was born to make music, perform, and entertain. Even at my worst, I find peace through writing music, I feel serenity. I hope I answered that right. *laughs*

NW: That’s perfect. So, how has hip hop changed your life?

Zay Greedo: Hip Hop was there during the most painful times. We’ve all been depressed before at some point. Either issues with family, or girl issues, or financial struggles, something always brings us down, and I channel that in my music. It all came full circle from a broken heart in high school when I didn’t even want to exist, I would skip school stay home and write music all day. It helped me, it made me feel good in a time where I usually felt pain. These days I don’t feel down within myself, but looking at the news and current events, I do. The beautiful thing about music is that issues don’t always have to be your own. You can be touched by the stories of others and channel that into great, relatable songs. Every conscious song doesn’t have to be your story, and every sad song doesn’t have to be based on what you’re going through. It could be about what a friend’s going through, and with you having the ability to write, you can use their story to make something great. That’s the beauty of music.

NW: I came across your music by accident. I was watching a video, and your name popped up in the suggested/related videos as “Zay Greedo vs. Unknown”. Your moniker seemed like some sort of a stage name, but I was unsure of what/who it was, so I clicked. It turned out to be the footage of your fight inside of Grand Central Station (I’m sure you’ve been over that enough, so I’m not even going to go there). The obvious next step was to Youtube search your name, and I listened to “Don’t Play” and instantly became a fan.

That backstory leads me to this question, that I believe will really let us get to know you and your mindset. You have a line in “Don’t Play” where you state, “I don’t deal with fake n****s / they always envy, that’s the reason why I hate n****s / I got a full circle here, and we dead broke / and that’s gon’ be the same circle when there’s eight figures”. First, tell us a bit about your circle and how it came to be.

Zay Greedo: We all have a lot of friends, and then we have best friends – people who pick you up when you’re down and push you to do better. That’s where my older brother Sam (videographer/photographer), cousin Jose (boxer), AJ (rapper/singer), Raul (producer/rapper/biggest fan), Richie Rey (rapper), Tharindu (photographer/videographer), Shahbaz (my biggest critic/fan), and Ricardo (engineer) come into play. They have all helped me strive to be better, and when I’m down they pick me up. Ricardo mixes all my tracks, Sam and T shoot most, if not all, of my pictures and videos. AJ & Rich are fellow artists and 2 of my best friends, and two artists I click with sonically … when we collaborate, it’s always magic. Jose is my best friend, he comes to every show, and when I’m not making music, we help each other stay in shape and stay sharp. Shahbaz & Raul are my biggest critics, but also my biggest fans at the same time, they’ll be the first to tell me if I’m slipping up with my music, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They believe in me like nobody else.

NW: Other than a tight-knit circle you vibe with, what keeps you hungry right now, while, in your words, you’re “dead broke”? Are you looking at anyone who is successful and borrowing from their blueprint?

Zay Greedo: My son, he’s been a blessing. He’s here now, but since we found out we was having him I began working on my sophomore EP, Truth Be Told. I also know he’s gotta eat one way or another, so that keeps me working, even if rapping isn’t putting food on our plates yet, it will.

From back in the day to now, I’m definitely looking at Hov’s blueprint – his ability to adapt and his longevity are some things I will always strive for. You look at all the artists from back in the day and Hov is one of the only ones who was able to still be successful 20 years later, he’s incredible. More currently though, I’m looking at Kendrick Lamar and Drake. Kendrick Lamar can’t make a non-classic album, and Drake is the hit/hookmaster of our generation. Last but not least, NAS is my idol – his sound is timeless and his vocabulary is on another level. These guys all play a huge role in my style; if there was some way to combine Hov’s adaptability/longevity, Kendrick’s musical ear, Drake’s honesty/sensitivity, and Nas’ vocabulary, that’s who I’d wanna be stylistically.

NW: That’s a powerful combination! One reason I ask that is, this line, “that’s gon’ be the same circle when there’s eight figures,” stands out as particularly bold, or as Gary Vaynerchuk  says, audacious. Do you really see this leading to eight figures? Are you studying mindset, and thinkers of our day, or are you just very confident?

Zay Greedo: I believe in my heart with the right team behind me, anything is possible. I know I’m talented, I been rapping since I was 12-13, and writing music since I was 15. If you heard me then, and hear me now, you’ll hear the major differences and improvements sonically. I’ve been finding myself all these years and I feel like I finally have my sound. All I need is a manager who believes, to get me to the places where I can display my talent and crack that musical stratosphere. I’m an old soul, back in the days managers used to find talent and believe in that talent and get behind it because they saw something special. These days it’s whoever got the most money and the biggest following. I feel the quality of music in the industry takes a dip because of that. I’m only 22 and getting better, if lesser-talented artists can make 8 figures, I know I definitely can. Aside from that, music isn’t all I wanna do, I have a business mind, I want to own businesses. I’m not someone who’s gonna blow all my money on materialistic items, I want to own a gym, star in movies if possible, open a recording studio, start a label. It’s bigger than music.

NW: Let me touch on your circle one more time before focusing on the music. As a new parent, how has becoming a father affected your music/career/process? Also, what role does your wife play in your movement?

Zay Greedo: Yes sir, my son was born November 22nd, 2017. Becoming a father for the first time has been amazing, but it also comes with a lot of pressure. My boy has to eat one way or another. I’m a personal trainer on the side, so I’ve been making strides to up my classes/clients as much as possible for him, and to better invest in my music with hopes of buying a house for us and just making sure my family is good. They’re top priorities; I really want my music to work so I can make sure they’re good always. My wife supports me, she’s always sending my music links to other artists to try to get them to hear it (still waiting on you Chance The Rapper). *Laughs*

NW: Haha, well let’s jump into your journey as an artist. How/when did you first get into rapping? What was the moment when you, and perhaps your circle, stepped back and said, “man, this is real, this is going to take me/us places”?

Zay Greedo: Music has always been a part of me. When I was a baby I vibed to tracks a lot and danced to them. My pops always played Big Pun, Biggie, NAS, PAC, 50 Cent, Cannibus, LL Cool J, etc, around me when we drove places. He’s a very old school mind; he hates MOST of the new music out. That influenced me big time, you look up to your pops, so naturally I gravitated to what he listened to. I also sang for the choir in elementary/middle School and I was really good too; been taking steps to find my singing voice, to be a double threat is lethal these days. But when rap really came full circle was late elementary/middle school, I started freestyling on my way to and from school everyday, and nobody made me do this, or influenced me to do this, I just did. In high school I was the lunchroom rapper – we got in a circle, kids made a beat with a pen on the table, and I spit and felt alive, it was an amazing feeling. Around this time I started writing and went through my first heartbreak and the rest was history.

My circle always believed since our high school days, but today they have renewed/reinvigorated confidence in it, they know it’s just a matter of time. We just need the right connections, that’s all it is, we weren’t blessed with connections, we been doing it all on our own.

NW: That’s dope. You are from the birthplace of hip hop, directly connected to the history and culture that has become a worldwide cultural phenomenon, primarily because of the power of the pioneers and their words/music/DJing/dancing. Who are some artists from New York that have inspired you along the way?

Zay Greedo: So many: NAS is my all time favorite rapper ever, I can’t even debate that. But Biggie’s delivery was IMPECCABLE, even at moments where the bars weren’t his best, his delivery made the bars amazing. Jadakiss’ flow is TIMELESS, I can’t say this enough, definitely one of the best ever. Big Pun’s breath control is unmatched, there still hasn’t been a rapper that could spit like that since and I wanna follow in his footsteps and be the next best selling Puerto Rican rapper, hopefully he’s proud and I don’t let him down. I personally think BIG L is one of the best ever and the best rapper from Harlem ever, even in the short amount of time he was alive (RIP). Then there’s Jay Z of course, his ability to adapt is second to none, every rapper in the world should strive for that. I feel like I’m missing some, but I mentioned the top dogs.

NW: On West Coast Wednesdays, I really try to emphasize the West Coast, and you are the first artist from anywhere else to be featured, so no pressure here, but who are some West Coast artists who have inspired you?

Zay Greedo: From the past, ICE CUBE, his rawness was on another level, he spoke his mind no matter what, you gotta respect it. Dr. Dre more business wise than anything else, he’s the West Coast Hov, not musically, but business-wise; he branched out and found a way to be successful outside the music. PAC’s simplicity – I know, I know. People hear “simplicity” and lose their shit like it’s a diss; it’s not. PAC’s simplicity is what touched everyone, he was honest and kept everything relatable and understandable. From today, Kendrick Lamar – it’s pretty self-explanatory how good he is, his musical ear and ability to give us a fresh classic every time out is unmatched. Also Schoolboy Q, I actually met him at the Best Buy in NY when Oxymoron dropped a couple years back. I went to his show like 2 days before [meeting him]; he’s the reason I perform at a high level, his energy was CRAZY.

NW: Thank you for showing the left coast some love! Every artist is inspired by those who have come before him/her, but hip hop is also very competitive. Who are some of your peers, from anywhere, that you consider your competition?

Zay Greedo: It’s only competition if it’s competitive, so I won’t name major artists until I’m actually there to be competitive with them. But on the indie scene, I’m in competition with EVERYONE; I’m not buddy-buddy, especially here in NY. I wanna be top dog, and when I get there, it’s gonna be no different, I’m gonna be in competition with every major artist out. *Laughs*

NW: The hope is that readers would dive into your SoundCloud catalogue and get to know you, so I don’t want to take too much time to look back – which song would you have them listen to to get a summary of who you are?

Zay Greedo: My first 4 track EP, GROWN, is available on my SoundCloud. I would advise everyone listen to that, I’m very proud of it. If I had to pinpoint 1 track that stood out the most, and is one of my favorite tracks ever, it has to be “JUSTICE” on that project. So, if you’re on short time I’d listen to that track. It’s all about cops killing blacks, and there being no justice for it; it’s very VERY powerful.

NW: I’ll make sure to hyperlink all of that! Now we can talk here and now. What are you working on right now? What’s the name of the project? When is it dropping? You say “Cloud9” a lot and I am guessing that it is your label/imprint/collective; can you break it down for us a bit?

Zay Greedo: I’m working on my sophomore EP, “TRUTH BE TOLD.” It’s scheduled to drop on all music distribution platforms mid-January; I’m going to the studio next week for mixing and mastering. We just putting the finishing touches on it. Cloud 9 Royalty is my, Jose’s, and AJ’s group name. It’s gonna be a record label one day and we also wanna open a chain of gyms called Cloud9Fitness. C9Royalty Music Group is also a plan in the future – I would like to have the best singers and rappers be a part of it.

NW: I have been telling my students that your movement, connection with your audience, your inclusion of your life (wife and child) in your social media posts, and your vibe/hustle reminds me of this young artist named Phora from Anaheim, CA. Are you familiar? What do you think about a comparison like that?

Zay Greedo: I’ve actually heard Phora recently through a friend; he’s definitely a very talented dude. I haven’t dived deep into his catalogue just yet, but based on what I’ve heard, I can see/hear the comparison. Thank you.

NW: I would love to continue asking questions, but I want to respect your time and energy. As we begin wrapping things up, is there anything on your mind/heart that you’d like to share with readers?

Zay Greedo: *Laughs* I’ve always got time for questions, if you’ve ever got any other questions, I’m all ears. One thing on my mind I’d like to share with readers, is just always be yourself. I’m me, no matter what’s going on, I’m always gonna be me. Society makes us want to be this, and that, and what happens is we end up being things other than ourselves. People are gonna love you and people are gonna hate you no matter what you do, so you might as well be you.

NW: What would you like to share with hip hop culture?

Zay Greedo: Open your minds up, be more open-minded to where music is headed. Everyone is not gonna be Hov, Biggie, or PAC. We talking about once in a lifetime talents; we need to appreciate and live in the now, before you know it, this time will pass.

NW: One emphasis of these interviews is to see a heightened level of unity in the hip hop community. Can you point to some other artists who you see as comrades, and who you also see as helping to progress the scene right now, whether locally or nationally?

Zay Greedo: Richie Rey, Jahlil, AJ, Hookz Murdock, PeteyxKraze, these are some of my guys right here, the talent out here is amazing. Hookz just dropped “The adventures of..” Like a month back, definitely go check that out.

NW: Finally, where should readers go to connect with you?

Zay Greedo: I’m most active on Facebook, SoundCloud & IG: ZAY GREEDO on all 3. Come check me out and feel free to let me know what you think, good or bad, and thank you for interviewing me Nate; I appreciate you.

Peace, Love & Hip Hop,

– Nate Whitsell