#WestCoastWednesdays presents MaZhe

In a recent #failingFORWARD episode with KillCREY (and 1019 the Numberman and DJ Inform), I shared my thoughts on why some artists feel authentic, and why others seem like imposters. Simply put, authenticity radiates from those who create from their soul, those who create because hip hop is a part of their identity, while those who seek to define or create their identity by adding hip hop to it, transmit the opposite. If this is in you, you know it and you can point to the moment you discovered it, already there, just waiting to be uncovered. For me, the bulk was unearthed upon first hearing De La Soul’s “Me, Myself, and I”, and smaller intricacies were revealed upon watching Breakin’ and Breakin’ 2, and listening to “The INC Ride” by Masta Ace Incorporated, or heavy spins of Southerplayalisticadillacmuzik and ATLiens, or the time I first heard Common – in Box Brothers surrounded by the scent of cardboard and almost losing my breath as “C to the Oh double em oh en” and Cee Lo shared their definitions of God on G.O.D.. I learned more about myself in each of those moments.

I am still learning about myself in moments like those too. The first time I heard Mazhe – probably during the first four bars of the first song I encountered – I knew that I wanted to interview him. This young, San Diego emcee showed me another piece of myself, and he did it through music that documents his going through the process of figuring out who he is as an artist and a man, by way of creating his recently released debut album, What I Learned (an even more apropos title now that I think about it). It is actually a bit, jarringly so even, surprising that he is so early in his journey, just a testament to the fact that he is simply uncovering what is already within. It’s pretty magical how it works in both directions, how listeners discover parts of themselves in the music and artists discover parts of themselves as they create the very same music; maybe that’s why real recognize real, because both are connected to the culture on a level much deeper than outsiders could fathom. We are fortunate enough to be front row as MaZhe gets to know MaZhe, and he graciously spent some time with us for #WestCoastWednesdays this week and hope you enjoy getting to know him… and getting to know a little more about you. Read. Listen. Enjoy. Share.

Nate Whitsell: Who is MaZhe?

MaZhe: I have no fucking idea. I ask myself that question all the time. I’m still figuring that out lol

Nate Whitsell: Haha. In reality, we are all there with you in some way, shape, or form! Can you tell us a story about how hip hop has changed your life?

MaZhe: Um, it put me onto a good ass genre of music that I’m pursuing as a career now. And through that, I found all kinds of other music too. Which is crazy because I used to not really like Hip-Hop that much. And now I listen to it all the time, lol. My life without it would be so bad.

Nate Whitsell: Pretty life altering, especially when you think about the fact that our career really consumes at least 1/3 of our lives! Okay. So, I was ecstatic when I found your music. I’m trying to remember who introduced me to it so that I can thank her/him. Anywho, the reason I love your music is because I can feel your soul in it, in the inflection, the content, the vibe. That being said, I can’t help but assume you are very purposeful with your craft, your gift. What is your “why”? Why do you create music?

MaZhe: Wow, thank you. That’s crazy. I’m really glad you like it. Those songs have that kind of content because that’s just what I was feeling at the time I was making them. It’s really a piece of me, if that makes sense. I make music because it feels good to me. And if people like it, that’s awesome.

Nate Whitsell: Speaking of people liking music, what was the first song that you remember immediately rewinding or replaying because you could tell that something in it was life-changing? What was it that grabbed you?

MaZhe: Dude, honestly, I have no idea; there’s so many songs I love, lol. But one of them was ‘Hey Ya’, by Outkast. That was the first one that came to mind. I remember listening to that HEAVY at one point. I think the energy was what got me, and the different dynamics in the song.

Nate Whitsell: I can definitely see an Outkast influence, now that you mention it! Let’s take that same idea, and think locally. As an artist from San Diego, how has the city, SD’s hip hop scene, and being on the West Coast, helped to shape your sound and vibe?

MaZhe: It really hasn’t to be honest. I was always into a bunch of different shit. Ever since I was a kid. Like, I never thought of my city as being a driving force on how to make my music if that makes sense. I just make what I want to make.

Nate Whitsell: I get that. Totally. I hope that as you continue to grow and shine – which you will – that you find opportunities to be strengthened by the amazing history, the lineage of San Diego rap, that you come from; I believe that will come with time – and know, we stand behind you for sure.

You released your first album, What I Learned, about six months ago, right. So, up to that point in your life, what had you learned? What’s the driving force in the album?

MaZhe: I learned a lot of different things, responsibility being the biggest. I was just learning how to be an adult. I had moved to LA to pursue music, had a girlfriend for a little bit, was broke, and I still had to finish my project, so it was a lot to juggle at one time. I was learning how to manage all of that. The driving force of the album is definitely self-reflection though, ’cause that’s all I was doing while I was making it. I self-reflect all the time.

Nate Whitsell: Perfect. Let’s do a little more self-reflecting together here then. What was the process of taking all of your life experience and distilling it down to 10 songs like? Can you take us to one of the moments during the creation process – can you tell us the story of when you, and your team, had like an out of body experience as you realized that you were creating something truly special?

MaZhe: The process was grueling as fuck. Just pushing yourself musically to make the best thing you can and working with what you have and feeling stuck, and relieved, and a whole bunch of emotions all the time. It was therapeutic, and stressful. But in a good way. Recording my family’s voicemails, was probably the most special thing about it. Like, those were the realest depictions of what my life was like at the time, so those really bring the project together. I was on the phone with [family members], and their responses were real as fuck. So I love those. Emotions just spilled out for every song, and [What I Learned] is what it ended up sounding like.

Nate Whitsell: Thanks for that. So, what has the reception been like? I mean, I can tell that there is an internal, “job well done”, that’s taken place. What’s some of the feedback you’ve been getting from others? Anyone’s reaction surprise you yet?

MaZhe: My friend Mahala said the phone calls on the project remind her of the skits from the Lauryn Hill album, [The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill], so that was fucking tight because I LOVE those skits. Everyone that’s heard it likes it though, like honestly. So I’m happy about that.

Nate Whitsell: Recorded music is one layer to an emcee. An important one. Have you had a chance to perform the album, or a good chunk of it, in a live setting? What was that like? What was the crowd’s response like? Can we catch you rockin’ live any time soon?

MaZhe: I don’t have a lot of shows right now ’cause a lot of people don’t care about me yet. I usually do a chunk of it though, like a few songs. I’m fucking good live; people in clubs don’t fuck with me though, I still don’t know why, lol. But I love performing; it’s a whole other type of thing. I wanna make stage diving music at some point, just rage kind of shit, then my shows would be even crazier. It’d be cool to have a small show just doing the entire project too. That’d be sick.

Nate Whitsell: First, I can’t wait to see you live man; I feel like it’s gonna be special. Second, let’s make that happen; I’m gonna start brainstorming. But for now, back to the album. “MesmeriZed” was the first track to catch my attention. Is this an artist’s musing about the perfect woman, or is this autobiographical non-fiction? Does she like rap now? haha.

MaZhe: It’s about some made up girl from Lebanon or something. I don’t know why she’s from Lebanon at all,  that’s just what I thinking of when I wrote the song LOL. It’s not about a real person, but they’re real thoughts and ideas if that makes sense. And she only likes Jazz & Kirk Franklin.

Nate Whitsell: Haha. Lebanese Gospel Jazz, is that a genre? That’s dope man. The way you approach songwriting sounds intriguing. The other song to really sink its hooks in me is, “Wishful Thinking”. Art like this is so necessary. Is there a single event that sparked you to tackle the issue of race in this way? Or is it the culminating effect of a lifetime of living with the reality of racial disparity in the US? I’m curious, what is your message to the world out there reading this regarding how we ought to move forward regarding issues of race in the not-so-United States?

MaZhe: Yeah, that song is all passion. That’s one I really wanna perform live. Thank you. The whole song was driven by the murders of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling. Like, right when that happened I got really mad, and depressed, and just confused about everything. And then I just thought to write about it. Honestly. Then it just naturally turned into a story. But the song applies to just being black in general. You’re black everywhere you go, no matter what, and that’s obviously not bad, but just know there’s a target on your back everywhere you go, and that’s just the truth. Educate people first, that’s the first part of the answer to me.

Nate Whitsell: That last question brings up an interesting concept in art. Do you feel that it is an artist’s responsibility to address society, as you do in “Wishful Thinking” as well as other tracks, or is it just a plus if an artist’s pouring out of his/her soul happens to tackle societal issues?

MaZhe: People should say something in their music if they think it’s important to say, but honestly, people need to just say things how it is sometimes, and not put it in a fucking song for people to decipher. People need to just say what the issues are. Music is obviously powerful, don’t get me wrong, but people need to just fucking say it, rather than putting it in a fucking song all the time. Or more often.

Nate Whitsell: Man. Thank you for digging into your heart and soul with us. So, what’s next for MaZhe? What are you currently working on? Touring? Creating new music? Just gaining more life experience and perspective? Let us in a little…

MaZhe: I’m just working on music, making better music. I wanna make different shit, like unique and refreshing stuff, not the same stuff I’ve been making. I’m experimenting with different styles and sounds, and finding what works for me and what doesn’t, what I like and don’t like, finding myself in my music. That’s where I’m at. Then another project, then a tour. That’s the plan.

Nate Whitsell: As you’re in that space, what’s going on in your head and heart? What you been chewing on lately?

MaZhe: How I’m gonna reach my goals. What I’m gonna be. If I’m gonna make it. Everyday. That’s it. And then reaching them.

Nate Whitsell: Word. Please let us know how we can be involved. A bit of a side note, but what are you listening to right now?

MaZhe: A bunch of different stuff. I’m expanding my playlists to all kinds of new things I find. Some people sent me their playlists the other day too so I’m listening to that right now. So Prince, Little Dragon, Current Joys, Jazz, just stuff that’s not Rap. I always listen to Rap. So I want to switch things up more.

Nate Whitsell: Well, I guess that wasn’t a side not at all, it is actually integral to everything you’ve shared so far! I may seem presumptuous with this next question, but I feel like you are a reader; what are you reading right now? What’s resonating with you?

MaZhe: Dude, I actually don’t read a lot lol I mean, I have favorite books, but I just kind of got back into it recently. I’m reading this book called ‘The War of Art’ by Steven Pressfield. It’s really good. I like it cuz it’s short, lol. It’s about overcoming your creative blocks though, and how to achieve. It’s a self-help book.

Nate Whitsell: That’s such a dope book! Every artist ought to read it, or at least listen to the audio version! As we begin wrapping up, what’s something you’d like to share with hip hop?

MaZhe: Me. Multi-factedness. Creativity. Honesty. Integrity. Great music. I wanna show that you can be an actual person, and be yourself, and have a successful career doing it. I want to be the change I want to see. And I want to be one of the greatest to ever do this.

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?

MaZhe: Mischif from TrackWide. That’s my dude.

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

MaZhe: Whenever I have shows, I’m really not sure when yet honestly. But I’ll probably just put a show together myself, and perform it, fuck it. I want to perform more. People can follow me on Twitter/IG @MaZhe__ too if they want. Cuz I’m awesome and hilarious.

PHOTO COURTESY of @thehomiegio

Peace, Love & Hip Hop,

– Nate Whitsell