INTERVIEW BY JOJO KHOR
Zebra Katz // Get schoolin'
Fresh from our 2013 Noisemakers and from his breakthrough single 'Ima Read' is our new favourite rapper Zebra Katz (real name Ojay Morgan). We chat to Ojay about the importance of fashion on music, the label 'Queer Rap' and gives us a full explanation of 'reading'.
WN: So you worked as a caterer before Rick Owens even played your song [at his catwalk show], was music always your career path? What influenced you to be a music artist?
OJAY: It was very much to do with my thesis, I just started experimenting with making music and tried to see what I could do vocally and the it was just experimentation. I never really saw myself as a musical/theatre actor so it was great to finally hear that I had a voice in this dark, electronic, hip-hop world. So yeah, it just started out as that, out of nowhere. It kind of started last year, I had a few tracks out; ‘Ima Read’ has been out for at least 5 years so its great to know it still has a lot of popularity and its continuing to grow.
WN: How do you feel when people refer to your music as ‘queer rap’?
OJAY:I think it’s interesting. I know why they refer it to queer rap so I’m not too puzzled by it. I don’t really have much to say about it anymore; the more I talk about it the more its just going to be a word that people use to describe my music. Everyone asks me what I think about it, there’s not much to think about when you’re doing it and you’re making music and there are tonnes of artists that jump into the category, who aren’t even queer or even know what queer means. I think it’s difficult for an artist to look at subjects like sexuality when it has nothing to do with the music. Yeah, I think its just interesting; I try not to buy it.
WN: What importance does fashion play with your music?
OJAY: I think its definitely stylized, Zebra Katz is very much abstract. So, being that ‘Ima Read’ was born on the catwalk of Paris, so it plays a huge part of the trajectory of the character. So there is going to be a lot of different styles, different sexual freedom or just personal style. I once actually wanted to be a designer, so it’s funny how its gone full circle, now I’m making music.
WN: So does that mean we’ll see a Zebra Katz design house soon?
OJAY: Yeah, I’m not going to take the Kanye route directly but I’m definitely going to start continuing the Katz line because they’ve been doing so well.
WN: Can you give me a full explanation of ‘reading’? I’ve been trying to understand it, but I can’t seem to get my head around it!
OJAY: It’s an elevated verbal insult on someone. A lot of people seem to think its really threatening, but it’s just a play on words, a play on the meaning; that’s why context is so important in terms of music. So ‘reading’ is a verbal insult; being able to school someone, letting them know about something that they may have known or been able to point out in a wise manner.
WN: So how would you use it in a sentence?
OJAY: Ima read that bitch. [Laughs] Basically, I’m going to let that bitch know something about themselves that they may not have known. ‘Reading’ is all about schooling and learning; its old hip-hop terminology, so you’re going to take them to school, you’re going to teach them a lesson.
WN: OH, now I understand!
OJAY: Yeah, but it means so many different things to different people, so its difficult for me because so many different people are coming to me, people from YouTube.. Librarians at librarian conferences have told me they’ve listened to ‘Ima Read’, its just coming from so many people – like, politicians who listen to the song, there are sports players to listen to the song to warm up before games, so its taken on a life of its own. It had a meaning before, playing form the meaning from two different cultures, societies and lifestyles, its interesting to see how they come together. I think its going to continue to grow and the meaning’s going to change, even the song will change as time goes on. To a certain extent its all about literacy.I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the ‘Lamb Chop’s Play-Along’ song?
This is the song that never ends.
It goes on and on my friends.
Some people started singing it not knowing what it was,
And they'll continue singing it forever just because...
And you know, I think that’s the same way it relates to ‘Ima Read’ because some people starting reading not knowing what it was, ‘and they’ll continue singing it forever just because’ it came out of nowhere, and it had so many reactions from so many different people it wasn’t voted as ‘this is a queer piece’, or ‘this is a rap song’, ‘this is a new artist’ etc, and now its taken on a new life of its own, and that’s my way of looking at it; so when people ask me ‘what is it?’ or what did I mean by it, I mean its out there now, its for the audience, the viewer to find out what it means.
WN: That’s a very long and deep meaning behind it and people probably don’t realize.
OJAY: Yeah, some people do and some people don’t and some people will be like ‘oh, that’s a gay song right?’ but no its not necessarily, there are a lot of influences. That’s what makes it so intriguing, some people find it off-putting, some people think I’m a misogynist because I used the word ‘bitch’ and I’m not, I’m just making it different. If you think about hip-hop and how they use the word ‘bitch’, its very different compared to how I use it. There’s going to be more work and exploration into this, like why are people so fixated with the ‘n word’ and who can use the word ‘cunt’, and I think its really difficult for people to have a conversation about sexuality and music all at once if they don’t know the vocabulary.
WN: How would you describe your music in 5 words?
OJAY: Dark, daring… I don’t really like to label my music but compared to other music I guess it is very dark. I’ll go with 5 D’s – Dark, daring, dizzying, different and dream-like.
WN: On to another ‘D’ – What is your favourite dance move? I know you can ‘vogue’…
OJAY: Oh my god, my favourite dance move is… the Non-dance move! I’m fascinated by people who have no rhythm [Laughs]. At my gigs I like to see how people move their bodies, so I think when I’m performing you can see me doing a lot of non-dancing… [Laughs] Oh, dancing can be one of my other D’s!
WN: So you can ‘vogue’?
OJAY: Yes… But I don’t think everyone should know that yet… [Laughs] I’m very familiar with it, I know how to ‘vogue’. I studied Art Performance so I’m very familiar with modern dance. I just feel very comfortable moving. I have no problem with movement.
WN: What’s next for you after this tour?
OJAY: Just want to get more work out there. Hopefully there will be a new mixtape out by early next year. I want to make more videos too just get back to work.
WN: Does that mean we’ll see some more of your fashion?
OJAY: Not really! When we make videos it just tends to be me and my friends messing around just using what we have. Like, in the ‘Ima Read’ video we just used my everyday work clothes and a school uniform! But hopefully in the future designers will be donating clothes for my videos!