RKZ has a mixtape called “21” dropping today. On his birthday. When he turns 21. So we thought it only appropriate to ask him 21 questions. Clever.
1) At what age did you pen your first full rap song, and looking back, how would you honestly rate it out of 10 now?
RKZ: My first rap song would be the original version of “Renegades” for Digital Desi’s mixtape (also titled “Renegades”). I believe I was 16, and for a 16 year old I thought it was quite good! That was until I heard 15 year old rapper KK spit a couple months back. Still, it got radio play from Mentor on the BBC Asian Network so I was happy with it.
2) You have to choose between being a rapper and being a singer, or your entire family and the first team squad at Liverpool FC gets it. Which do you choose and why? (We should make clear he has to choose between rapping and singing – NOT between Liverpool or his family).
RKZ: I had to double-take with this question! Just for the record, family always comes first, haha. I’ve actually been a singer for a lot longer than I’ve been a rapper. The main reason I chose the rapping route is because I felt my singing vocals needed to be strong once I decided to go down that path; I could keep my artistic expression with rap in the meantime – so I’d probably choose singing.
3) Are you familiar with the “10,000 Hours of Practice” rule?
RKZ: Practising your specific art for 10,000 hours in order to master it. Well, art, or any craft for that matter, right?
4) Yes, precisely. Do you think it makes sense, and – in your particular case more than most – are you glad that you got started in a meaningful way at such a young age?
RKZ: I’m pretty sure it’s a relevant academic theory, so of course it is legitimate – and to an extent it does. The best way to elevate and succeed is by grafting, and working at it constantly: always improving. I think the younger you start, the better. However, when you’re young there are always a million different things that attract you, so quite a lot of people don’t get the chance to [focus]. I started properly when I was 16, which I feel still wasn’t young enough. The majority of musicians I know (actual instrumentalists, not rappers) started when they were between the ages of 4-10. It’s neither here or there: I’m glad I started at a young age, but I wish I could’ve started a lot earlier.
5) How far along that magic 10,000 hour mark do you consider yourself to be? In other words, just how hard have you worked up until now?
RKZ: You could look at ‘10,000’ in two ways: literally, and metaphorically. Literally, after the release of the “21” mixtape, I’d probably be around the 5,000 mark. Metaphorically, it’s a different picture entirely. If ‘10,000’ = perfection, I’d never be there. I don’t believe anything can be perfect because of the audiences differing views. There’s never a cap on learning, and it’s no different with being a musician. The only time I will stop learning and improving is when I’m no longer alive.
6) What do you believe to be the most important aspect of your own music, the one that gives the listener a shortcut to “who you are”?
RKZ: That’s hard to answer – a lot of people take different things from my music. My styles vary a lot so it’s not an easy one. The lyrics I have are generally commercial, yet the occasional spoken word-based works I do obviously hit home, lyrically. I think people are beginning to appreciate my versatility more than anything. It’s definitely shown a lot in “21” – I cover a lot of genres, in various styles. The most personal project to date has been the “Dark Night of the Soul” mixtape – lyrically conscious and awake, and very mellow.
7) Do you think the aspect you just mentioned is lacking from the Asian music landscape right now? Which Asian artists give you goosebumps, if any?
RKZ: I think it’s something that’s constantly developing within the industry itself, as opposed to individual artists. Many are rappers to the fullest extent (Swami Baracus, Raxstar, Lost Souljah); some are more commercial (Menis). Then you have singers (Jernade Miah, Jaya, Arjun, Vee) and so on. A couple of artists I love within the industry for their individuality have to be Loven, Kaly, DJs Inc (their new material is ridiculous!), Raxstar, and Kazz Kumar for being a great musical personality, and songwriter. I can see Jernade and KK reaching new heights, too.
8) Speaking of “21” (the new mixtape), your aforementioned versatility is definitely on show. We got the feeling from “How Are You” that you’re actually quite a free artist – one that doesn’t appear to restrict himself or worry too much what people think. Is this true or are you, in actual fact, a Woody Allen style nervous wreck?
RKZ: I am a free artist to the fullest extent. I have no restrictions in what I do – if it sounds good, and I can work with it, I’ll do it. If people like it, then great; if not, it’s water off a duck’s back – no Woody Allen.
9) Some artists believe that putting constraints on their work can crystalise their vision. Do you ever think you’ll “specialise” or do you enjoy the free roaming libero role too much?
RKZ: I’d love to be signed, creating music I love – that’s the reason I started making music. But to have a successful career, and to be able to support a family via music, sometimes there has to be some leeway, unfortunately. I love playing the free-bird, and hope any potential labels will see that and exploit it, as opposed to change me. If they do so, then they’re not getting what they were initially attracted to. So I aim to be exactly as I am now.
10) It’s interesting that you’re so upfront about getting signed by a label. Most of your peers seem intent on forming their own small labels or digital imprints. What attracts you to the more traditional record companies?
RKZ: I consider myself a realist in that respect. I’ve already done the independent label thing (DAS Records) and now I’m a lot more critical with my moves. I want to be a musician, and make a living from it. Even though it’s a lot easier to be DIY now, the networking and PR doesn’t compare. And in terms of radio and TV play, it’s still mainly dependent on the Majors. I’ve always wanted to be signed – that way there’s better security and I can focus on doing what I love.
11) So seeing as you started five years ago, is that (being signed) where do you see yourself in five years time?
RKZ: Well, I’d actually want to be signed within the next three years (either as an artist or writer). If not, then I’ll continue making music for the fun of it, and we’ll see where that leads.
12) Random tangent, so be honest now. Was “Defeat Me”: a) About someone in particular; b) a general musing on defeat; c) About someone in particular…?
RKZ: “Defeat Me” wasn’t directed at anyone in particular; rather every person that had criticised/doubted me since I started. A musical middle-finger.
13) Aside from the music, we’re well aware of your acting chops – through your own videos – and some comedy vignettes on the ‘SSidWasHere’ YouTube channel. Is that a direction you could take (acting), or just another part of your free expression? S Sid seems quite a character.
RKZ: Acting is just another form of expression. I’d love to expand my work into drama, and who knows – it’s always open. Maybe I could put the 10,000 hours into practise? Yeah, Sid definitely is [a character]. You either “get him” or you don’t. I thought he was a little insane the first time I met him (and had good reason to think so, too), but artistically we’re pretty much on the same ball.
14) Cheesy question time: desert island discs. Choose 3 albums that you couldn’t live without. And don’t worry, we won’t judge you if you say “Greatest Hits: My Prerogative” by Britney Spears.
RKZ: You say that – but I actually am a fan of Britney: “Femme Fatale” is a beast of an album, haha! There are a lot, but off the top of my head: Outlandish’s “Bread & Barrels of Water”; Drake’s “So Far Gone”; and Diddy-Dirty Money’s “Last Train To Paris.”
15) We preferred Britney’s “Blackout” album, actually. Speaking of albums, what’s your plan after “21” drops?
RKZ: “Blackout” – also good! After “21” comes my collaborative Dubstep EP called “Power Trippin'” alongside producer ADP. It’s sounding amazing. The first single from the EP is called “Gonna Be That” – which’ll hopefully be releasing this month or next. The video is equally as quirky as “How Are You” – once more created by myself & S Sid (Double//Backslash).
16) How do you write songs? Both from a literal sense (pen/pad, laptop, mumble like Jay-Z) and also from a “where do you draw your inspiration” sense. You seem relatively prolific.
RKZ: I love working with production that’s already made: that way I can specifically cater to it, essentially. I used to write for fun, but a lot less now. Unless the project is set in stone, I won’t usually write to it – not enough hours in the day. Used to use a pen/pad, now on-the-go on my Blackberry. Inspiration? It comes from anything and everything around me. Also from things I learn, study, and so on.
17) Do you enjoy the technical aspect of creating music, or do you see it as a barrier to creativity? Or are you able to leave the techie stuff to the producers/studio engineers?
RKZ: I love the technical aspect of production, and hate that most of it goes over my head. I’m learning, though! On the vocal side, I’m quite competent when it comes to recording, mixing and engineering. I’d like to think so, anyway.
18) Robert Redford never watches his own films. How often do you listen to your own music once it is done and dusted?
RKZ: Never. However, I do still listen to the new EP – very excited about it!
19) When you’re on Twitter or Facebook, do you ever think “Ahh fuck it, allow being politically-correct, this is what I REALLY think of this bullshit!” and then type it all out… But then bottle it, and subsequently delete it?
RKZ: I’ve gotten into trouble for expressing myself a little too much in the past. I don’t bottle it up: if I can’t be honest on my personal profiles, what’s the point of having one? I have, however, stopped being as blunt as I’ve been in the past. Mainly because I try to promote positivity as much as possible.
20) On a scale of 1-10, how excited are you about the upcoming season for Liverpool FC and why? Also, who would win in a fight between Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez?
RKZ: I’d say 7! It would’ve been 10 but since Kenny officially signed [his three year contract] we’ve lost the remaining two games. A couple more signings and we should be up there again (we have to!). No competition [in the fight]: Andy has a foot on Luis, is from Newcastle, and has a pony tail.
21) Happy 21st Birthday… How will you celebrate? Do you have any physical injuries sustained through partying a bit too hard? (You really should by now, it’s a rite of passage).
RKZ: I actually haven’t! I literally landed back in London from New York a few days ago so haven’t seen enough people to get any. Get back to me at the end of the weekend! In terms of celebrating, I’m releasing the mixtape as soon as it strikes midnight – after that, who knows!
RKZ is releasing his mixtape (entitled “21”) today (05/06/2011), and it is available as a free download. He can be followed on Twitter, viewed on YouTube, and his mobile phone number is 07979212121. Maybe.