Xzai Talks "Mud", Growing Up In Washington, His Next Moves As An Artist, & More
Up and coming artist Xzai has been able to put up numbers on SoundCloud through his variety of different styles ranging from lyrics about real pain to music you can just get lit to. He has been able to put up tens of thousands of streams, but he isn't satisfied yet, he's got a lot left to prove and a lot more to accomplish. Keep an eye out for more music coming from Xzai this year.
Where are you from? What was your upbringing like? What's the music scene like in your area? And what were you listening to growing up?
Well, I'm from Northeast Washington, DC. I grew up with divorced parents, so for most of my life, I was bouncing from home to home. Even still, I grew up in some pretty tough neighborhoods. I won't get into detail, but I have seen some crazy shit that I will never forget. There are a lot of very talented artists from DC, but in my eyes, there are two types of artists that are from DC. I debate this a lot with my friend Grant. We were once in class, and we were talking about Xanman and other rappers from the DMV area. He told me that there are two types of artists. There are DMV rappers, and there are artists from the DMV. At first, I laughed, but then, I realized that he kind of had a point. I'm not saying one artist is better than the other, but there is a clear difference in style and flow between an artist like Xanman and Goonew and YBN Cordae, Logic, and Wale. Again not saying that one is better than the other, but "DMV rappers" have a very similar flow, but even so, I still say to this day that "DMV rappers" are the king of punchlines. I listened to a lot of different music growing up, and I still do, but I still mostly listen to songs in the r&b/ hip-hop spectrum, but I am still open to all kinds of music. If it's fire, I'll take a listen. Like a little while back, one of my friends was telling me that there is a rap craze in Sweden right now, and I'm not going to lie that shit was fire. I wish I could speak Swedish, though, so I could interpret the lyrics and hear if they had bars.
What made you want to first get into creating music? What was going through your head when you put out your first song? How long have you been making music? Who did you look up to when you were first starting?
Well, ever since I was in diapers, I have been into music. That's why I play so many instruments. When I was in first grade, the teacher made us write down what we wanted to be when we were adults. I would always say that I wanted to be a pop star or a musician. So me making music was bound to happen one day. I also said I wanted to be a dancer because I am good at dancing, but that's a different conversation for another day. When I put out my first song, I was honestly just so proud of myself because I was just so ready to start making music, and the whole process was so exciting. So, I know it says that my first song was posted seven months ago. Still, I consider myself making music starting five months ago because when I made my first song, "LUV Pt. 2", I liked the stuff that I wrote, but that was a song I recorded in my room on a snowball mic, and my friend mixed it on a free website online that our school bought for the music class. I say five months because Mud was one, the first time I was in an actual studio, and two, when I wrote and rapped "Mud", that was when I told myself I wanted to take music seriously. Music-wise I didn't, and still don't, really look up to anyone. I mean, there is a lot of artists that I enjoy listening to, and for some of the artists, I respect what they do in and out of music, but when I started making music, I didn't have an artist in mind while writing and rapping. I wanted to build my own sound and add my own style to my music. That's why some songs I put out might be way different from the last one I dropped. Because I am young, I have time to figure out my sound and experiment with different styles of rap.
You've been putting out music on SoundCloud for seven months, and you have been able to put up tens of thousands of streams on a handful of songs. How have you been able to achieve so much in such little time? For most artists, it takes years to put up those kinds of streams. What's the secret to putting up those kinds of numbers?
It's honestly crazy seeing how much I've done in such a short amount of time. I am so grateful for my accomplishments, and I look forward to accomplishing a lot more. There is no real secret to doing numbers. You just have to work hard and keep writing. Even if you can't record or don't have time to go to the studio, just keep writing, so when you do have time, you have a lot of material lined up. Also, a big thing I have done is that I am not afraid to invest in what I am passionate about. So for people who are trying to make music if you got some extra money, save it. You can put it towards some equipment, or to some studio time. Also, network yourself any chance you get. I bought myself business cards. I'm not saying you have to do that, but just network yourself in a way that people know that you are serious about your craft and what you are doing for your brand, and you don't have to do it alone. You can use friends and family to help get your name out there. Essentially, just make smart moves and move with a purpose.
One of my favorite songs of yours is "Mud", which is your most popular song with over 30k streams on SoundCloud. What's the story behind the song? Who produced it? And did you expect that song to put up those kinds of numbers?
Well, first off, thank you for having a favorite of anything I've put out. The school I go to is very, uh unique. It's a very accepting school with a dominantly white to minority ratio, especially with the younger students. The way I act and speak outside of school and with my friends that grew up with me in my neighborhood is very different from the students and teachers in the school. So I code-switch. For people who do not know what code-switching is, code-switching is something that is often done by African American people. Also, other race groups, to blend in with, usually the white race too, most of the time, keep things professional. I have been at that school for my entire middle school and high school life, so I have been code-switching for a long time. With some people, I don't, but with most I do. For the fact that I have been doing it so long, most people don't know the real me which I can't be mad at them for. Because they don't know the real me, I have had a lot of different things assumed about me. Mainly, a lot of other students have believed that I am some kid that comes from a wealthy two-parent home, which is most certainly not the case. I have been through some rough shit. So I pretty much let "Mud" tell my story with lyrics like "I came from the mud where niggas don't show you love", and "niggas fuck around then they get merked", and I wanted something people could get lit to. There are still people to this day who go around saying I right fake lyrics, and that's not who I am, but I'm okay with that. I know who I am, where I'm from, and what I've been through, so if they don't want to believe it, then that's perfectly fine with me. I recorded it with a producer named Face at a studio called Uptown sounds. Even though I don't work with them at that studio anymore, I will always be grateful for them taking me in and letting me make music. I learned a lot from being there. I did not expect "Mud" to get that many numbers. I was screaming when I saw it get two thousand, so when it hit 30k, I was losing my fucking mind. I honestly don't know how it did so well, but I am glad it did because it pushes me to make songs that could do even better than "Mud", but if it had to be one guess I feel as though people just mess with my sound and my lyrics also I got some loyal people in my corner and who listen to me and are willing to share my music and brand to everyone they know and don't know.
Another song of yours that stands out to me is "Baby Boy", also one of your more popular songs. What was the inspiration behind the lyrics? Can you run us through that session when you recorded it?
"Baby Boy" is one of my favorite songs that I have made. There isn't any meaning or inspiration behind the song. Most of the time, when I am writing my songs, I try to put some sense behind it, but I feel as though not all songs have to have meaning. Sometimes I just love making songs that people like to listen and dance too. I mean take dubstep for example, dubstep most of the time doesn't even have lyrics, but people go crazy when they play that shit. Music is just infectious like that. I'm going to be honest, I was looking for beats. I saw a beat with the name "Baby Boy" on it. The beginning of the song had clips of audio from the movie Baby Boy, and when that base hit, all the lyrics just started flowing. That's how it is with me. If I don't think of some lyrics in the first thirty seconds to a minute into the beat, then most likely, the beat isn't for me. There are some special occasions when the lyrics hit me later, but most of the time, that's how I roll. When I recorded "Baby Boy", I was already working with my current producer, MJ, from the producer duo Redzz and MJ. He is an excellent engineer and has worked with people like Shabazz PBG and other artists. I was just finished recording my first song in the session. My cousin was there with me, who is also a rapper. His name is BamBamDaSavage. He was featured on my song "Fiend", and he just dropped a tape so go check that out, but yeah I just recorded a mellow song first so when it was time to record Baby Boy I just brought on all the energy I had left, and the song ended up having so much hype. It just ended up being another successful night in the booth.
What's one thing you've learned so far as an artist that you wish you knew when you first started?
I wish I knew how annoying people would be at school once I started doing numbers. It's just a whole bunch of people that I usually don't conversate with trying to become all buddy-buddy with me and saying things like they're going to be with me when I blow and other nut shit like that. I also wish I knew that a lot of these bigger artists and management teams are janky as fuck. I'm not going to name anybody specifically, but they know who they are. I'm just waiting until I'm up so I can expose them for how they treat lesser-known artists. I feel as though their egos just get to them and forget that first off, we are people just like them and that we live in a generation where in the music industry, we now have anyone who can make it.
What's your next move as an artist?
For the most part, I am trying to do more shows and put out more good music. I also really want to find a good manager with good credits and experience.
Any new albums, singles, or features coming up that we should be aware of?
I have a song with Don Solo, who has made a name for himself in the DC and Maryland area. I am working on a song that I want this female artist to be on. She's lovely and has a great sound. I also have something massive I am working on that a lot of people have wanted from me, but that is definitely on the low and won't be ready for a little while, but keep tabs on all those projects coming up and follow me on Instagram @XZAI2SMOOTH.