#WestCoastWednesdays presents Eddie Zuko

As a grown man in the culture, I am learning not to be skeptical of suggestions I get from younger fans, but it can be difficult to trust others’ tastes when I am so in tune with what I like, and what I don’t. Recently, one of San Diego State University’s KCR Radio DJs/personalities, Daniel, suggested I listen to “a kid in Barrio Logan named Eddie Zuko.” In such situations, somehow the salty old 90’s purist in me has remained humble, and has discovered a trove of hip hop music worth writing about as a result. Eddie Zuko is among the upper echelon of artists I have come across in the last couple of years, deserving the to-be-used-sparingly descriptor, unique. But really, he is. Raised on corridos and rancheras in the Imperial Valley, and exposed to hip hop culture by his father via Beat Street, Zuko has been brewing a sound that reflects the rich cultures he is a part of, and has found a perfect blend of legacy-honoring, sample-based production, melody, and powerful, witty lyricism, topped with soul-stirring singing that hip hop culture has been missing since the disappearance of Kid Cudi. My first few listens, Zuko’s music, message and delivery reminded me so much of my former students in Compton, California, that I couldn’t get through “Wanna” and “Tamales” (which you’ll have a chance to hear as you read on) without a couple of tears welling up in my eyes as I saw their faces as Eddie Zuko channeled their essence perfectly and put it into sounds and words. Eddie’s music and story are both powerful, and worth the minutes you set aside to spend with SDLHH and Eddie Zuko for today’s #WestCoastWednesday interview. Read. Listen. Enjoy. Share.

Nate Whitsell: Who is Eddie Zuko?

Eddie Zuko: Rapper, singer, musician, from Imperial, CA.

Nate Whitsell: Can you tell us a story about how hip hop has changed your life?

Eddie Zuko: My dad showed me the movie “Beat Street” real young, and my love for hip hop took off.

Nate Whitsell: I have to give credit where it’s due; Daniel over at KCR on SDSU’s campus put me up on game, telling me, “Eddie Zuko down in Logan is who I’m bumpin’ a lot lately.” Funny enough, I had already added Rossi Rock’s “Could Be Nice” featuring you to the January 2018 Spotify Playlist. That then led me to adding “El Tiempo” to the playlist as well. Small world. That’s all leading somewhere, I promise – first, what’s it mean for you to be heavily associated with San Diego’s hip hop scene? And second, how did the collaboration with Rossi Rock come about?

Eddie Zuko: I appreciate the entire SD hip-hop scene for welcoming me with open arms, so much support, especially since I’m not technically a “local” – growing up in the Imperial Valley about an hour and some east. I met Rossi through Richie Moon, who’s been making all of my artwork and branding. I knew of Rossi before I met Richie, and loved his music, so it was only right to eventually work on something together.

Nate Whitsell: While we’re already here, I’d like to ask about one of my favorites so far, “El Tiempo” (I love “Wanna”, “Made”, and “Tamales” as well). This line is in my head and I’d love for you to just break it down:

“…on my way up, wanna be Curry hit the three, but I(‘ll) take the lay up…”

Eddie Zuko: Basically, this is my way of saying, I want to do amazing things, but can’t necessarily get there with one right move, but rather many smaller but smart moves, staying consistent. Nothing happens overnight; real success takes hard work, day in day out.

Nate Whitsell: Okay, let’s back up a little. I get ahead of myself sometimes when I get super excited. Take us back. Back to the day that you realized you loved music, that day when music gripped you. What song was on? Where were you? What did you think to yourself as the song played?

Eddie Zuko: I’ve loved music my whole life, some of my earliest memories are of me singing my heart out to some Rancheras or corridos at family parties.

Nate Whitsell: That’s dope, and it’s rad how that has definitely helped to carve out your very unique lane in hip hop. From there, when did you begin taking a stab at rapping and singing yourself? Do you remember a few bars from your first verse? If so, what were they? Which came first, rapping or singing?

Eddie Zuko: I was probably about 10. My dad bought me an instrumental CD at Kobey’s swapmeet with like 18 instrumentals on it, all west coast type beats and the more I played it, I eventually got the urge to write something to it. So my cousins and I wrote our first song to one of those beats. Never recorded though, just written on paper. A few years later, around age 13, is when I actually got into recording and one of the first real songs I made with my cousins was called “Lowrider”. I started my verse like “I like my lowrider nice and clean, when I roll down the street I feel like a king” – I did not have a lowrider lol. I’d say singing came super early, but when I started writing, it was strictly rapping until I figured out I could actually sing years later.

Nate Whitsell: At that point, who were your inspirations, both emcees and singers?

Eddie Zuko: This was like ‘06, so I was definitely listening to a lot of Kanye and Lil Wayne; I really liked Akon and T-Pain.

Nate Whitsell: It’s super interesting to see the melody as a thread that is woven through your influences and definitely in your music as well. You came up in the Valley right? How did life in Imperial Valley shape your music, your sound, and what you choose to rap/sing about?

Eddie Zuko: It’s a very unique experience growing up in the Imperial Valley. So many different things that are specific to the area. Growing up in The Valley, most people share the same sentiment, that they want to leave one day because it’s too hot or because there’s no opportunities, no jobs, what have you. I guess that built up a drive in me to make it out, and then come back and face some issues head on. That’s something I’ve always known, I want to give back to my community and do what I can to help it flourish.

Nate Whitsell: That’s powerful. As you began moving forward with your music, when/what was the moment when you and your circle went, “oh man, it’s happening”?

Eddie Zuko: I’d say when I dropped “Tamales” that was a bit of a precursor. I knew it felt a little different this time. But as soon as “Made” dropped, I knew it was gonna be something special, the plays took off like I never expected.

Nate Whitsell: What brought you to San Diego? Now that this is your home away from home, how do you feel the life of the city is helping to shape and refine your sound and style?

Eddie Zuko: I’ve always loved San Diego growing up, so it was a no brainer coming out here, plus I wanted to get away from The Valley. San Diego really inspires me artistically. Moving from The Valley, which is very open, flat, and fields that go on forever, to City Heights, where it’s very dense and hilly, it was a complete change for me, and now living in Barrio Logan for the past year and a half I think it really served me well creatively. Just walking to Chicano Park can get all the creative juices flowing. Honestly I could go on forever about San Diego, so many things I love about this place. Big city with a laid back vibe.

Nate Whitsell: Okay, I wanna spend some time diving into your music now if that’s cool. Let’s start with “Wanna”. Which outside forces were you feeling imposing their will on you/your music when you wrote this song? And since I’m diving in here, let’s talk about what you wanna do. What’s the ideal future, whether this year, five years, or indefinitely, look like to Eddie Zuko?

Eddie Zuko: You know, I’ve just noticed since things have started taking off for me, every now and then someone all of a sudden has an opinion on what they think your next move should be, or what you shouldn’t be doing. It’s always the most random people too. Of course when it’s people from within my camp, or others who’s opinions hold weight to me, then I’m all ears taking everything into consideration. My ideal future is to continue to create, release another project this year, more visuals. As far as for the next five years or the rest of my life, I’m shooting for the stars, trying to take this as far as I can. Really want to leave a mark when it’s all said and done.

Nate Whitsell: Excited to watch all of that continue to take place for you. You feature Neptune on that track. How did you two link up? Was he part of the crew that moved to SD with you? I was just wondering if you were one of the “f***in’ friends” he was referring to in the song.

Eddie Zuko: I’ve known Neptune since I was like 14. He’s from The Valley as well, El Centro. Yes I am one of those “f***in friends” lol, he was living in Oklahoma for a while, but finally decided to come back west!

Nate Whitsell: This is the perfect segue for us to talk a little bit more about “El Tiempo”. This song bears the weight of the artist who feels the sands of time speedily slipping between his fingers. What was going on that pulled you out of your “zone” and had you contemplating the possibility of your “time runnin’ out”?

Eddie Zuko: At a certain point I became very distracted when it came to making music. I was not focused enough to establish goals and did not have a clear vision. I kept telling myself “tomorrow I’ll write,” or “next week I’ll record,” constantly making excuses. I was creating every day still, just not piecing it all together. Then I would go through moments where I would doubt if I was even cut out for this.

Nate Whitsell: What did/does it take to snap you out of a headspace like this and get you back on your path to, what I believe to be inevitable, success?

Eddie Zuko: It really took a lot of self-reflection and realization to finally kick myself in the ass and really start working. I think that’s the way you grow.

Nate Whitsell: Okay, let’s talk the El Zuko EP. The project dropped last year. It is well rounded, yet seamlessly unified project. Was there a single producer on the project? Or did you just select beats so well that it feels like a single producer? (if multiple producers worked on the project, please shout ‘em all out).

Eddie Zuko: The whole EP was produced by homie Anomeric with the exception of Made, that one was produced by me.

Nate Whitsell: What is the statement you sought to make with the El Zuko EP? Did it translate the way you had hoped? How has the listener/fan reception been?

Eddie Zuko: The EP really exceeded all of my expectations. It was just for me to showcase my work on an actual project; I’ve been making music since I was 11, but never made a solo project. The reception has been amazing; people really connected to it so for that I am truly grateful.

Nate Whitsell: Have you played the EP in its entirety in a live setting? It’s so dynamic and creates a world of its own, so I’d imagine the live show to be entrancing and super engaging. What’s the energy been like as you play it live?

Eddie Zuko: I’ve played it in its entirety twice before and I’d say both times the energy was great. It also helped because most people knew the words and sang along with me. I do, however, want to perform with a live band in the future; I think that’ll give the music a whole different vibe for a live setting.

Nate Whitsell: Can we catch you live in San Diego anytime soon?

Eddie Zuko: Apr 14 at the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park. Event is from 4-10pm

Nate Whitsell: I’ll definitely make it out to that! What are you currently working on?

Eddie Zuko: New visuals for the El Zuko EP and lots of new music. New project will be announced soon, so expect that!

Nate Whitsell: As we begin wrapping up, what’s something you’d like to share with San Diego’s hip hop scene?

Eddie Zuko: I’d like to say thank you, for welcoming and embracing me. So many talented artists in the scene, I’m proud to be a part of that group.

Nate Whitsell: One emphasis of these interviews is to see a heightened level of unity in the San Diego 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?

Eddie Zuko: Man there are literally so many people to watch right now it’s crazy; Rossi, Amon, TC Doe, the list goes on and on. I think San Diego is in a great place right now, so much good art coming out.

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

Eddie Zuko: My instagram @eddiezuko, and Twitter @spagheddiexavi those are probably the two socials I’m most active on.

Peace, Love & Hip Hop,

– Nate Whitsell