A look back at our May 2022 cover story featuring Zoocci Coke Dope in celebration of 50 years of Hip-Hop.
Visualz: Courtesy of [STAY LOW]
My very first vivid memories of Zoocci Coke Dope I would say stem back about six to seven years (possibly more, though) during what many would call my “come-up” days. I vividly remember hearing his name being spoken in prominent hip hop circles, specifically within Cap’ City – especially after that Blaklez ‘Freedom or Fame’ joint – as this new, crazy-talented emerging producer who had the solution to your struggling rap career problems. Man, back in the day, Zoocci was like this almost mythical new force that was single-handedly raising the qualitative standards of the hip hop sounds we were all feeding on at that time and, although many were reluctant to sing his praises at that time (oh, how things have changed), it was quite evident that Zoocci had set himself on a course towards significance and greatness.
“I mean, I used to see this type of sh*t that’s happening in my life right now when I used to just sit and imagine, you know… I used to make beats in a single bedroom, while I was working and while I was doing stuff, that were probably never going to be heard.”
Over his years as an artist, Zoocci Coke Dope has successfully managed to separate himself from the rest, respectfully… The man truly can’t be compared to anyone else in the game and that’s absolutely fine. In fact, that’s how it was meant to be because, when you spend so many years militaristically grinding every day until you reach a certain top, only to realise that the top you’ve reached is just the start to reach another, and so on… then, of course, all the rewards and praises you currently reap had to happen without a doubt. This has to be destiny sh*t, right? Because how else can you comprehend such dedication, execution and belief in self?
“I’ve kind of always understood that if you want something or if you’re on a certain journey, you can’t be the first to want to throw your toys or want to go home as soon as it gets hard, because the type of dreams that we have, you’d kind of be naive to think that a part of it is not going through pain.”
Look, there’s so much more I could say about the [PiFF AUDIO] founder but, you know, editorial margins and all… But let me end this intro by saying this: Zoocci Coke Dope is such a perfect example of how sometimes sacrifice can become an essence of self-love, particularly when it comes to chasing your dreams. Just reflecting on the kid he once was and the man – and, most importantly, father – he is today is truly inspiring, and kind of mesmerising. Now, because of how extensive this new cover story interview is, we’ll be presenting it in two parts. So, below is part one, which I’ll just let you explore for yourself. Zoocci, thank you for being you, bro, and for sharing this moment with your beautiful daughter with us.
To kick it off, bro… Do you think that you’re the hero or the villain in your story? I say this because a hero is always presented as this overconfident person who seems to have everything go their way. Yes, there are times when the hero experiences conflict but, usually, that conflict is introduced as a way of just creating drama. Right? But the villain always has this sense of awareness that is reality… A villain seems to be more in tune with themselves.
That’s a good question, bro. I think it’s the making of a villain… I think that’s where it’s going, to be honest with you, because you can try to be a hero but, sometimes, things steer you towards being the villain. I think, in my story, it’s become holistically the story of how a villain was born more than being a hero… In my attempts to be a hero, I think it’s contributing to the making of an actual villain.
How does that make you feel? Because, as much as we can have a deeper understanding of what the villain represents, mainstream-wise, the majority of people would be like: “Oh, that’s a bad person.”
I don’t have a problem with it, really, because in my attempts to be a hero, as I said, it’s only steered me towards this direction… So, I don’t have a problem with it because I tried but, at the end of the day, there comes a time when you have to do things differently, and I think that’s what it’s ultimately going to become.
Yeah. I was thinking about the past… correct me if I’m wrong, but my perception of you has always been that, back in the day, you really fought for your identity. It would have been easy for you to just become that go-to producer who makes for other people… You really stood your ground because there was a whole big picture that you were trying to create. Talk to me about how much it took to make your identity.
Yeah. It’s always been a thing that I knew… It was going to take more time than the textbook things that happen in somebody’s musical journey or industry journey. I always knew that my journey was going to take time because of the things I wanted to achieve.
And I really got into it, knowing that an identity is probably the most important thing about it, and it’s been my focus, even before… You remember, when you just spoke about back in the day in Pretoria and stuff?
Even back then, I was hanging out with the guys who had the biggest hits. I was hanging out with some guys who had very good careers or very good placements or very good moves that they had made, but they were always lacking in owning their work. They couldn’t own their work and be known for the work they did. So, I always made that a mission for myself that I wouldn’t be the guy who had the biggest songs, but nobody knows who I am. People are going to have to come to me for what I have to offer and not because I’m one of the guys or I’m just a person who produces music. It was more of a thing that is mostly about identity because that’s what people have to come to me for… That’s how I’m going to brand myself and become an actual brand. That’s how I’m going to have a longer career than a guy who made hits and got forgotten. It’s just always been really about that for me, and it’s taken a lot of years; it’s taken a lot of pain; it’s taken a lot of losses; and it’s taken a lot of sacrifice on my part. And it’s really paying off now and I’m sure it will in the future. It’s still something that I even preach to some of the guys…
Man, I think you used the word sacrifice like three times, or maybe less… I actually wanted to touch a little bit on that because, you know, when people hear the phrase “I sacrificed a lot”, I feel like they don’t really understand how deep it gets. Maybe they just think, like, you sacrificed your lunch money so you could buy this f*cking mic, or whatever. And that’s just surface-level sh*t. Right? Can you briefly talk about the depth of your sacrifices?
Yeah, I guess one of my biggest sacrifices that I always think about, which actually had a huge impact on the way that my career has turned out and the way everything has happened, is going so many years without seeing my family, bro… For me, that was one of the deepest things I think anyone could go through – I went like six years without seeing my own mother and, when that happened, there was a time I was actually homeless. Right. I’ve spent a night sleeping at a garage, bro… Like by a filling station. I slept out there and I was just hustling for a place to sleep, because I used to go to Hatfield Square (Pretoria) where the clubs were at, hoping to bump into any person I knew who had plans later on, after that situation, like maybe at their house or whatever, so I could go there to just crash. I was out there, it was like 11pm and my mom actually called me like, “Yo, must I make a way for you to come back home?” And I wanted it to say yes with all my heart because I was literally in the streets and I was literally looking for a place to sleep as she asked me, but I knew if I went back home, she was probably going to try to get me to get a job or some sh*t. So, I said no.
And afterwards, that “no” went on to like a whole six years without actually seeing her. It’s crazy – after that whole period of not seeing her – now I’ve spent quite a lot of time with her and, you know, my family spent December at my house. Being able to see her in that setting – so proud and so… you know… She’s very proud of what I’ve actually achieved.
I can imagine…
And she was calling all her friends over to the house and, you know, now she’s mad proud of her granddaughter too. It’s like I sacrificed all those years, like six years without actually seeing her, for this reaction that she has right now. It’s priceless for me because, when that sh*t was going on, I wouldn’t have been able to imagine that I was actually going to get to see her as proud as she has been recently.
Man, where do you think that determination comes from? Like the fact that you were in that predicament where you were homeless, needed a place to stay and your own mother was an option for you to go to and find that comfort… But, deep down, you were like, “Nah” – it takes a particular type of person to accept that affliction willingly.
I’ve kind of always understood that if you want something or if you’re on a certain journey, you can’t be the first to want to throw your toys or want to go home as soon as it gets hard because, with the type of dreams that we have, you’d kind of be naive to think that a part of it is not going through pain. A part of it is being able to feel pain and feel uncomfortable. And the minute you start feeling that you want to run home, or you want to throw your toys and say, “This is too hard”, you need to always measure your dreams and see how big they are, and understand the type of sacrifices you need to make. So, whenever I am in a situation that’s like super hard, I always understand that the only thing that I have to do about the situation is get through it, because it’s a part of a journey in a bigger picture. The minute I can’t take this type of pain, I might not even be worthy of what is to come at the end of the tunnel because, if I can’t take being homeless, why do I want to be a top cut industry person? Why do I want to be the best producer to ever live in South Africa, or wherever? The dreams I have, need to measure up to some of the sacrifices that I need to make, and that’s something I’ve always understood.
Before we talk about the music… When you were closing your eyes (back then) before you fell asleep and essentially started dreaming, were you seeing all of this that’s happening now?
I used to see this type of sh*t that’s happening in my life right now when I used to just sit and imagine, you know… I used to make beats in a single bedroom, while I was working and while I was doing stuff, that were probably never going to be heard. Or while I was trying to get better at making beats and nobody even knew me, I used to imagine being a big player in the industry. I used to imagine how it would feel to be in big studios. I used to imagine how it would feel to be with some of my favourite artists and work with their minds. I used to imagine how it would feel to be awarded and rewarded for what I do; make some money. I even used to look around where I was staying and imagine if I stayed in this type of house. So, I used to imagine all those things – whether I was working or sleeping…
You know, the concept of time is an interesting case study for me because, these days, I tend to think about different timeframes. I know it’s weird, but let me try and break it down… In other words, the current version of me has to sometimes reflect on the amount of work that my previous version put in, if that makes sense. Do you think that your past versions really put in the amount of work that they could have put in, or do you think that maybe they could have done a little bit more to sort of like prep you for what you’re experiencing right now?
I mean, the previous version of myself is a dude I’d even like to meet and be like, “Yo, bro, you were right.” You know?
I’d literally go back. If I could go back to the high school me even, I’d literally be like, “Yo, just carry on. You’re actually right.” Because everything that I believed in and the gut feeling that I followed when I had to make decisions – I’ve noticed that I was always right. I was really always right. The only things that might’ve made me stray away are the distractions and not being fully prepared to deal with some of the stuff that comes with this sh*t. But as far as putting in a certain, let’s say, amount of work or a certain amount of determination or like motivation, I think I was right on the money. I think I was even more than a lot of people, because the person I was back then was like the most motivated person I could ever come across.
You telling me that there aren’t past versions of Zoocci that were wrong? I know that there’s a version of me, if I think hard enough, that exists that was sort of like against who I am, and it was a battle to convince that version that they were f*cking wrong. Do you not have a version that was against all of this? The self-doubt version…
Nah. The doubts only came when the previous versions of me had put in all the work. But in terms of the journey? That guy was right on the money, 100%. The amount of work; the determination… nothing could stop me, bro… I would’ve rather gotten on my knees to pray about stuff that I wanted than ever doubt that it was going to happen. I never had cold feet about what I was doing. I was determined, which is why, even with the homeless stuff, like I wasn’t homeless crying around, I was homeless just understanding that it’s just a little period and I’m going to figure it out.
Let’s talk about the music. Anxiety + is obviously the latest focus and I was fortunate enough to have gotten a listen to it way before its release. I have this tendency of like trying to go back in time, so I had to bump Anxiety again. When I was listening to Anxiety + I was trying to sort of like put them together as one experience. There was definitely a distinctiveness, how do you feel about it when you listen to Anxiety and compare it to Anxiety +?
I think you’re on the right path with how you even received everything, bro. But the core idea behind the expansion pack is to sort of make people understand, “Okay, then what?” because, with the original Anxiety, the whole thing was a very victimising experience, and most of it was like very misunderstood from my point of view. So, I was figuring it out as I went… And I realised that I don’t want to leave people in a state where even I look back right now and I was like, “Damn bro, you were going through it, and you are a victim to this thing.” And I don’t want to leave it there. I wanted to leave it at a point where it’s like there’s this side of it where you can actually, you know, keep it pushing and you can actually even fight back against some of the things that want to victimise you and some of the things that cause you to be in a certain state of mind. You can actually say, “f*ck you,” to them. You can actually go back to people who make you feel a certain way and be like, “f*ck you,” because I don’t want to leave people with a victim mindset; I want people to actually rise above the sh*t and become better from the experiences, instead of just sitting there saying I can’t do certain things because I’ve got this, or this happened to me, and now I’m feeling sorry for myself.
Is Anxiety + like the end of a chapter for you? It feels like your next release is probably going to be way different, narratively.
Yeah, it’s definitely a closing. It’s a closing to a whole… I’d even want to call it a period of my life. It’s definitely a whole closing to that; it’s a whole closing to a chapter that I do want to forget because, as much as the music comes out and people receive music through these things and judge music, these are actually real experiences to me that I had to go through. These are actual things and challenges in my life that I had to face, so it’s also like not placing so much importance in running around in circles in your mind. The next chapter is more about a whole bigger holistic view than zoning in on mental issues. We’re actually going to zone in on a whole existence type of approach, where we talk about existence in general, instead of just mental health.
Has the birth of your beautiful daughter changed you? In terms of the way you conduct yourself? I can imagine it’s a beautiful experience to be a dad. Has it changed the way you think; the way you move or even your production, maybe?
Yeah, definitely bro. All my life, I’ve lived with one thing in mind, and that’s slaving away at my passion; dying for the cause. This is what my life has become, and I’m probably going to die in studio one day because most of my life has been spent “cross-nighting” and I’ve been probably awake for a very large part of my life because I’ve been awake working. That’s all I’ve been doing, but now I have to think about my health. I’ve got to think about splitting my time and responsibilities, and understanding that it’s not just about the cause anymore. It’s not just about the art and the craft – I need to live for somebody else. I need to live for my daughter. I had always planned to just slave away till my days were done, bro. Now, I understand the impact that would have on my health. I understand the impact that would have on people who love me and want to spend time with me… But I was always okay with it because that’s what I chose and it’s what I’m purely made of. That’s what I’m made for but like, now with my daughter, it’s kind of like, hey man, I actually need to plan for 10 years from now. I can’t be taken by the art so much that I forget to actually live for my daughter, or I actually forget that I need to be present in the long run.
Right. It feels like there’s a bigger plan that you’re working towards, besides just dropping music with [PiFF AUDIO] and your partnership with [STAY LOW]. Am I right? Can you talk about that? It just feels as if you have this master plan.
Of course, bro. There’s definitely a whole master plan behind everything that we do currently, and it’s starting to take shape, one project at a time. To give you a more overarching description of the plan, it’s to become the baseline standard of quality in music when it comes to the South African and even African market. We’re trying to be the standard and the example of quality and actual like precision, and we’re taking time to make sure everything is a good product, so that we become pioneers in quality.
What led to this concrete plan? Because, for you to say that you want to be the base of quality in terms of music in SA, means that there has to be some sort of lack somewhere, right? Obviously to say the lack is quality would be quite an obvious thing to say, but what other “lacks” have you seen, or maybe experienced yourself, that have embedded this mission in you?
Yeah. I mean, bro, we’ve come a long way with the whole having an opinion on the standard of the product in the industry. And for me, it’s always been a thing where it’s like: there’s so much to improve on, and people don’t know it yet, because people are only going to accept what they get, and they don’t realise that whatever’s coming later could come sooner, in terms of growth… I mean, I’ve been quoted going on Twitter, talking about how people don’t know how to put albums together. So, it’s always been a belief that there’s so much we could do better as a whole industry, in terms of just quality. I used to be on the side-lines in Pretoria, before my first big hit, wondering how the whole country could react to a certain song when the production and content of the song were just not up to standard…