Top Spot: An Interview with Zilla Oaks.
Abuja, Nigeria’s capital is the base of a blooming creative scene. The New Age is blooming all across Nigeria and Abuja isn’t missing out.
With individuals like Lady Donli, Tay Iwar, Kyrian Asher, Psycho YP, honing different cultures/sounds and creating beautiful music.
This article is a highlight of one of these select individuals; Zilla Oaks.
If you’re on a hip-hop wave and you don’t know Zilla, you might as well not know anyone in the new age hip-hop scene — It’s not that serious, but for real Zilla is killing shit. His work ethic, attention to craft, love for hip-hop are evident in his records, as well as the many features he’s gathered under his belt.
Hip-hop is such a beautiful genre, the ones behind the craft posess peculiar traits which make their songs melodious murals of the world around them. This skill of storytelling and narration isn’t lost on Zilla who throughout our discussion dives into every question with an aim of answering it in the most definitive way he could. I saw a hunger of someone who wants to be the best regardless of whatever he finds himself doing. Another one of hip-hop’s defining traits; the drive to be number one. His career grows with his single Calm Down doing well on SoundCloud and a number of performances through the summer which culminated with a performance at the Wallflower Experience. For Zilla, the only way from here is up. I have the mind of a young hip hop maestro served on a platter of gold, coupled with his plans on pushing the culture forward. Our discussion was quite calming; surprisingly for someone whos trap vibes give him a very edgy aura.
PS. For anyone who’s ever said hip-hop is dead in Africa, I beg to differ; this is just the beginning.
What’s going on man?
Zilla Oaks: I’m calm, just dropped the new song called ‘Calm Down’. Great reception, I’m just here eating my Sunday fried rice watching the Premier League.
How did you become a rapper? What’s the unique thing about the rap genre you’re drawn to?
Zilla Oaks: I’d say when I started listening to music proper. My first iPod had loads of Jay-Z, Eminem, Lil Wayne. I just loved the fact that these guys could tell endless stories with words and effortlessly make it cool. I wanted to be able to do that. The unique thing about the genre I’m drawn to, hip-hop/trap is that generally it’s almost the most boarderless genre. There are literally no boxes with trap music because you can blend it with any other genre, an example is Post Malone does Country music and trap, I’d say my current genre is Afro-Trap.
Define Afro-Trap? What’s your opinion on the narrative about Trap killing rap music?
Zilla Oaks: Afro-trap is just basically trap with more Afro tilted vibes. More of the Afro culture Infused with the trap genre be it seen in the instrumentals with local drums or percussion in general to what’s being said, as per the lyrics on the song. A good example could be Terry Akpala with his Fuji Trap movement. It’s just boils down to the vibes you bring. As for Trap killing rap music, I think that saying could be both true and false. Looking at the new XXL list every year it gets weaker because of the so called trap artists that surface on there everything year. I feel it’s dying because the originality in lyricism is losing its strength these days. Also, I feel that’s the truth is also that there are still going to be those mumble rappers/traders out there and it’s just on the side from the rappers that actually rap and go hard rapping. At the end of the day rap is solidified with so many names like J Cole, Kendrick Lamar & Jay Z. and even new ones but the age we are in now knowing how everybody wants to try and make music we have such artists surfacing doing much less than these guys are doing but still seeing the spotlight. Artists such as Lil Uzi, Lil Yatchy, etc, aren’t the best rappers today but they’re all fast rising.
Conscious Rap or just flowing on the beat? As we push the hip/hop culture in our generation, which matters? What is hip/hop to a New Age african?
Zilla Oaks: We need a health dosage of both, There’s honestly nothing like variety. To a New Age African, hip hop is anything from Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Joey Badass, etc. Hip Hop isn’t really taken so seriously in Africa for some reason but those above especially Kendrick and J Cole are quite in the limelights.
Do you think it’s not taken seriously because it’s a borrowed sound?
Zilla Oaks: To me, the New Age hip hop artistes are basically trendsetters. Trendsetters for fashion and the music movement in general. Not for the bars. They’re all making money being flashy and all. Not really being in depth with the bars. Though a few are still, quite a number aren’t. I’d say they’re just in it for the money and the culture.
What are you in it for ?
Zilla Oaks: I’m in it for my own entertainment. Everyday I wake up and I’m like what am I gonna do today for myself and for rap. As I said in my song ‘Famous’ I’m just here to change arrangements, especially in the Nigerian Rap scene. It’s way too poor and no ones showing love.
No love FOR rappers.
What’s unique about your art?
Zilla Oaks: Down the years rappers in Nigeria have honestly been struggling. What’s unique is that I rap I sing, my voice is very versatile. I can go on practically any beat. Afro or rap. And I try my best to make doing both look effortless.
Is Afro-trap some kind of way for Africans to relate more intimately with hip-hop?
Zilla Oaks: Well yes, asides it being my persona and something I can connect with from the heart, it’s also something the people can listen to and relate with much easier. My last project. ‘Neg:Ro’ (New East Lord; Rodnee Okafor) was based on my Igbo heritage and coming back to experience Nigeria from living abroad all my life. If you give the people what they’re familiar with, they’ll be able to accept it easily.
Music is such a big narrative in Africa, it’s always been our strongest creative tool. As a New Age forms, what role does music play in shaping a new Africa to you as a rapper?
Zilla Oaks: Music brings us together in so many different ways. I know when I reach the heights I dream of, I’d connect Africa to the world through my music. As Wizkid is bridging the gap. I, for the rap scene in Nigeria shall connect to other artists globally and spread out a good name for the nation through my work. Music plays a solid role in shaping a new Africa. The content we put out, is very important and it gives out a perception of what we are and how we carry ourselves in Africa. The new age which is, artists as myself and my young peers have the responsibility of keeping our African standards high within the music while promoting the continent in the best way possible. These ways could be in our lyrics, our lifestyle, fashion etc. The aim is just to promote the best out of where we are from.
What’s the beauty of African hip/hop we should embrace more?
Zilla Oaks: The beauty of African Hip-Hop is basically the fact that we come from a whole different place of Hip-Hop origins which is the U.S. We do it quite differently based on the difference in our culture from that of the oversees. How we live, how we breath, the way we talk our slangs and everything. It’s unique because it’s coming from Africa in this New Age of ours where we can express ourselves differently but still put out messages in which everyone can relate to in general.
Why did MI lose his juice? Like many other Nigerian rappers, they always seem to lose their sauce or go pop?
Zilla Oaks : Don’t really feel MI has fallen off completely but I feel he has derailed a bit because he kept giving us the same vibes as Chairman 1 and he needed to diversify a bit and he never did that. Instead he got artists to do most of his choruses and jam packed the music with features. They probably do because they leave the fact that rap music has to be tasteful as Afro-Beats and sometimes they fail to realize that they need to be very relatable, another thing which isn’t the fault of the rappers is that Nigeria actually doesn’t support the rap scene enough.
AL: But rap seems to be a prominent genre in the new age, don’t you think?
Zilla Oaks: Very Prominent. And that’s one of the areas Nigeria is backwards in. Funny enough Nigerians love Rap and Hip-Hop but really won’t accept from their own.
I find that so fascinating, we listen to foreign sounds with content but want pointless music from our own artistes. From a hip-hop standpoint what do you think is causing this?
Zilla Oaks: I think it’s part of the few problems facing ‘the culture’, Nigerians want a song they can just groove to. And not every rap song can be.
Tell us about the new single ‘Calm Down’, why you’ve kept the single for almost a year before releasing?
Zilla Oaks: Well, it was all patience. Recorded it last year at savior studios. During one of my sessions Efe (Oraka) and her manager ‘El Deino’ came through, I was able to get her to harmonize for me even if it wasn’t really necessary to cause I’m a huge fan of her since she was very younger (we went to the same sec school was her senior). We couldn’t finish the jam before I went back University, so I actually just put it on pause till I came back. This summer I really settled down on the song. Concentrated on back ups and making the song sound really complete. Also used the period of the whole year to shoot the video. Shot some bits last summer and finished it this Easter. The video would be ready in about two to three weeks.
What are you working on now?
Zilla Oaks: Forthcoming Project. ‘No Zzzzz’ (Pronounced No Sleep).
Tell us about it.
Zilla Oaks: It’s the project I’ve been working on all year really since I released Famous in March. Solid rap songs on there with features from Psycho, Kuddiisdead, Denzel Oaks (my brother) HOC, Sute Iwar, to name a few. It’s a conceptual project where each track leads to another. About trying to make it out this jungle everyday not sleeping till you get it and all. It’s rap with some trap and a bit of everything else. A very nice blend I may say. I’m expecting it to be out by the end of the year.
Critics say what makes Kendrick one of the best is his ability to create stories that are melodic but still relevant, you also have the same with your music. Why is it so important to bridge the gap with your audience by being relatable? What kind of relationship has this created between you and your fans?
Zilla Oaks: It is important because you can’t just make up a story that won’t touch the people listening. You have to have that relative content that would catch their attention as soon as it’s heard. So at the end of the day they’re left with at least three or four quotes from the song that’s stuck in their heads and they’re like ‘wow, this bar reminds me of so and so situation I was in’ or this line reminds me of how we should be right now in the world. I’d place myself as one of the best because I have most elements a rapper needs and more. The lyricism. The bars. For sure. I’ve got that on deck if you really listen. The ability to be relatable, my approach to each and every song and how it would be perceived by others. I take a lot into consideration and I never rush. Taking your time to build your craft is the best because when it’s out and ready you’ll never have regrets. It has crafted a very good relationship because most of my fans are my friends from Abuja. They see me and they’re easily reciting my lyrics. When I dropped ‘Negro’ everyone was like ‘East God East God’ cause from that tape they learnt about me being an American boy from Imo state. Learning and expressing my roots and knowledge of our motherland was great for Negro. Right now as I’ve dropped ‘Calm Down’ my pals are saying to themselves “Guy No dey rush”, “Calm Down”, “Omo Omo Omo Omo” cause its all stuck in their heads. Just all these easy concepts I come up with to get the people’s attention. The whole hype process of the song I was using particular emojis “🚧🚧”, It’s all about being different. Unique. Someone can easily point out that it’s a caution sign and you’d need to calm down. So as I did for The last single ‘Hot Hot’ (🌶🌶 🔥 🔥). I just focus on the little details to make the work easier to love.
What’s lacking in the music structure to actually make our industry as formidable as our western counterparts, especially now when the world is in love with everything african?
Zilla Oaks: To be honest, I don’t even know. I had a meeting weeks back with possible sponsors who already have two artists they’ve been with for the past three years. I was made to play my music for them, myself and Psycho YP. We played enough and they asked if we had Nigerian sounds, Afro-Beats and all, although I have a few ,”Hot Hot” being one of them I was really annoyed. My manager knows this person well and told me he plays trap in his car all day while on road, funny thing is when Psycho and I got the chance to perform at the same event with the sponsors’ artists we pulled way more crowd. Eventually, we had the Delphino show last week and the same artists performed trap music and got a way better response. I guess we taught them a little something. Afro beats is a wonderful genre of music, It’s being too saturated as everyone wants to jump on and not everything sounds nice at the end of the day. The support for rappers is really needed. Dremo is an example. Davido could promote him well but it’s evident he isn’t really. If we get enough support from sponsors to get our sound round and have the best conceptual videos, it would take only the ignorant not to like us.
What’s the future of hip/hop for african kids with the new age pioneering things different?
Zilla Oaks: The future is GREAT. They’ll be exposed to a lot because we are creating music from a new age perspective. The new era! We are gonna pave a way in which no other generation has really. They’ll see the music in its purest form yet and it would be us recognized for that in the end.