ZULO talks rebranding, representation and authenticity in an exclusive interview

In music, authenticity has always been at the heart of it… well… at least that is how it started. Over the years, the commercialisation of music has led to a whole host of superficial artists who lost the essence of music. Music is like a gateway to a culture; It’s the soundtrack to a people, not some fad that is meant to discarded as quickly as it is consumed.  


With that being said, there has been a resurgence in South African Hip-Hop with a whole host of authentic artists coming to fame, and one such artist is ZULO. If you are aware of the complex dynamic of the Coloured community, you will understand how important it is to have representation of the Coloured community in fields like music. As I previously stated, music is the gateway to a culture, and ZULO’s distinct music is a peak into the Couloured community and broader Johannesburg South culture at large. Without further ado, this is ZULO.

When interviewing an artist, I like to begin at the beginning. What is your earliest memory of music?

There are two things that come to mind, the first one is not a memory I could recall but when I was younger, my mother said that I would beatbox a lot. So much so, she would tell our other family members that she was worried I would become a rapper.


In terms of a memory that I can recall, it came when I was around 10 or 11 years old. I would go to visit my cousin in Eldorado Park and we would practice rapping. I remember us listening to the song “Wanna Move” off of P Diddy’s album and my cousin would play the part of P Diddy and I would pretend to be Big Boi. You have to remember that there was no Googling lyrics at that time so we had to handwrite the lyrics. We would then perform the song to our other cousins as if it were our song. 


I understand that you transitioned from Lil Trix before rebranding as ZULO. Can you tell me about how the Lil Trix ‘persona’ came about and when did you first realise that you wanted to pursue rap? 

It was around the same time as my earliest memory of music. My cousin told me to call myself Trix and I went with it. The ‘Lil’ part comes from my admiration for Lil Wayne. Although I became Lil Trix around that time, I knew much earlier that I wanted to pursue music. I remember accompanying my Dad to work at Unisa and I would download video game-making software, beat-making software and graphic design software… anything that involved creating and naturally, I took a liking to the beat-making software. At the time I had a funny thought… I used to think how would an artist like Usher remember all of their lyrics? I remember thinking that I would never pursue that career *laughs*.

What does rebranding to ZULO mean to you and why did you take the decision to rebrand?

Given that I wanna be the biggest artist in the world, something about the Lil Trix name bugged me. I knew that I would never be the biggest ‘Lil’ rapper because that was already Lil Wayne. As I was thinking about my potential name, I would think about rapper names that started with each letter of the alphabet… I mean you have a Lil Wayne, you have a Jay-Z, you have a Kanye, you have an Eminem… but no one with a name that starts with a ‘Z’. On another note, I felt like Lil Trix was my Hannah Montana to my Miley Cyrus. It felt like the persona and I were different, and people felt the difference when they spent time with me off-stage versus when they saw me on stage. I feel like ZULO is just me… there is no persona. 


I attended your listening session for the release Talk To Me Naace and you spoke about representing where you are from. Can you tell me about where you are from and why it’s important to represent where you are from as a proudly coloured person? 


For Coloured people, there isn’t a whole lot of representation in commercial SA Hip-Hop… all we really had was AKA. I mean Coloured people don’t even know who they are because of a lack of education in the country. I mean take a look at what is happening with Tyla. The terms ‘Tyla’ and ‘Coloured’ are trending every other day because people are trying to tell her what she is. We (Coloured people) are told what we are and we kinda just have to take it. People will say that you are not Coloured because of the texture of your hair etc. People don’t know what being Coloured is and I think my music speaks to who we are. 

You briefly talk about Solo Ntsizwa Ka Mthimkhulu and it got me wondering if your relationship with him is in a mentorship role and how does he factor into your music?

I was signed to African Star Communications when I was seventeen and at the time, Solo Ntsizwa Ka Mthimkhulu was also under that stable. I hadn’t communicated with him much at the time but I started talking to him around the time I was working on my EP. I asked him for a verse and that kinda formed our relationship. I consider myself a scholar and here was someone who was more experienced and well-versed in the things I was interested in. From there, I would pick and choose what I wanted to learn from him. I would consider him to be one of my mentors because I have learned so much from him and I intentionally use those lessons in my music today 


In reading your bio on Spotify, I found out that Slikour mentored you. Can you tell me a bit about that experience and what did you take out of it? 

You know what’s crazy? I didn’t listen to too much South African hip-hop growing up but the one song that I did love was “Umsindo” by Slikour and I would wait for that video to play on TV every day. 


In 2014, I received a message from my publicist saying that Slikour wanted to reach out to me and take me under his wing. That was a moment for me because it’s Slikour. I spent 3 months working on his comeback album, which didn’t end up materialising. 

On another note, Slkour has a bad memory *laughs*. I remember bringing up a conversation with him that we had in studio years back and he didn’t remember it and he said, “If I said that to you, it must mean we must have been really close.” I took a lot from that relationship and I really valued it because there are lessons that I use till this day.

In listening to your music, I have always loved your lyrical ability and storytelling. Why do you choose to have a level of honesty in your music?

I wish I could give you some profound answer but the real answer is that I am a bad liar… I can’t lie at all. I have been in situations where I wouldn’t agree with something in a group setting and people would expect me to be enthusiastic but I wouldn’t because I think what is being proposed is rubbish. I have always felt the need to express my opinion and be like, ‘guys, I don’t like this’. 


If I were to introduce your music to someone who has never heard of you, which song would you like me to play first? 

I would say “Garden” because you are only as good as your last effort. I try to make every new song ‘the song’.


What do you want people to take away from your music?

I just want the world to hear coloured people; I want the world to hear Johannesburg South; I want the world to hear South Africa; I want the world to hear Africa. My music is about representation and when you listen to my music, I want that to come through. I want to make sure that we are heard and seen. Had I grown up in a time where I got to see a Coloured person win a Grammy award, that would have changed my life… it would have changed my perspective on life. That moment (Tyla’s Grammy win) is huge for us.  


In closing, if you were to talk to your future self, what would you say to him?


In all honesty, my younger self has more to say to my future self because I feel like my future self trusts my younger self so much. Even if I told my younger self what to do, he wouldn’t listen just because I trust myself that much. If my career hadn’t taken the turns it did, I wouldn’t be the artist I am today. I would probably still be Lil Trix. For the most part, I think my older self would listen to my younger self and just smile while discussing what my younger self has going on at that moment.

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