Interview: Who Is Emzae?

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Emzae is a recording artist from Derby, England currently coasting off the release of her Lucid Dreaming single. I got a chance to have a conversation with her about music, her own work, and what’s next for her. Keep up with her on Twitter.
What is your earliest memory of music?

I’ve never really thought about that before. I guess it was just always on the radio and on Top of The Pops. I got told off for going round the house singing Right Said Fred when I was about 3. I remember when I first fell in love with music, though. I’ve always been a strange combination of flamboyant and anxious, and i’ve always been afraid of the dark. One winter afternoon me and my mum were walking from the shopping centre in Derby to the bus station, and it was cold and dark and I was scared. Then I saw the pink neon lights of the HMV sign, and my mum asked me if I wanted to see if there were any cassettes I wanted before we went home. I remember the feeling of warmth and safety when we went inside and I saw the rows of cassette singles in the order of the charts. I fell in love with it then, and that feeling has never changed. Music has always been the same to me – the place where I feel I can belong. The one thing that makes me feel safe and normal and that everything might just be ok.

How musical was your family growing up?

Not very at all. My oldest brother is a huge oasis fan and he plays the guitar, but it’s for his own enjoyment and he’s never played live or anything. I think the fact that my parents weren’t into anything like that has made it all a bit more of an uphill battle, because I started out with zero contacts and zero knowledge of how to do anything. Everything is a learning curve!
Did you ever consider going by your real name instead of Emzae?
No, because my name is the most average name ever and there are thousands of me, even if I went by my middle name. Having a stage name also gives me the ability to separate being a musician from being my everyday self, although my on stage wardrobe is starting to merge with my everyday wardrobe and I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

How did you get the stage name Emzae?

I came up with it when I was around 15. Everyone has always called me things like Em, Ems, Emz, Emsy and other variations of my name, and I’ve always had a strange obsession with the letter Z. At that time, most of my favourite artists ended in ‘e’ or ‘y’ too. I thought Emzy or Emzie sounded a bit too playful next to my more melancholic tracks and wasn’t available anyway, so I put an A in there. The username was always available, so I stuck with it!

What have you learned from other artists you apply to your own career?

I come from an area of the UK (the East Midlands) where there is a really awesome local music scene. Everyone is really friendly, welcoming and supportive and there are so many talented artists that I’m constantly inspired by them in different ways. The biggest thing I’ve learnt is just to keep going and never give up. To push through any challenges, to believe in myself and to always be kind and encouraging. I post a lot on social media about music and live gigs from other local artists that I love, and I genuinely enjoy watching good people achieve success. I’ve learnt that anything is possible if you have the work ethic and the enthusiasm.

How did you craft your Lucid Dreaming single?

I’m big into meditation and I sometimes meditate to binaural beats. I wanted to create my own binaural beat and use it as the bass in a track, and that’s how Lucid Dreaming started. The rest of the song was basically built around that, and it only has two chords throughout. Sometimes I like to play with that repetition and progress the track in other more subtle ways. The album version is over six minutes long, so I had to cut quite a bit out for the radio edit, which is still over four minutes long. It’s one of the longest tracks i’ve ever made.

Inspiration behind it?

During the making of my upcoming album, i’ve been listening to a lot of assorted Trip Hop in my spare time, so some of my music is loosely inspired by the type of beats and the atmosphere of those songs. Lucid Dreaming is also about how I’ve been working towards making music my full time job for so long that I’ve almost forgotten why I work so hard. It’s about reflecting on burning out, and at the same time reminding myself why I love what I do. If that makes sense.

How different is your earlier stuff compared to what you make now?

Some of it might initially seem quite different, but i’ve always basically been the same artist. I just sing about myself, my weird thoughts and the world around me, the melodies and lyrics are often melancholic but usually always with a light at the end of the tunnel. Even when two tracks sound different, I think that they both contain the essence of who I am as an artist. I guess the only thing that has changed is the quality of my productions, as I am always learning new skills and techniques.

What helped make that transition smoother?

Definitely the older I get and the more I learn, the better I feel I get at songwriting. And the more I study production, the more creative I can be with the instrumentals.
How long have you spent in the studio at once?
Many, many, many hours late at night after work with tired eyes, a tension headache and a packet of biscuits. Lucid Dreaming took 8 months to mix. There are so many layers on it. The vocals are what takes the longest. I actually write the songs themselves in a really short space of time.

Who are your favorite producers of all time?

I’m a fan of so many people. My favourites have to be Timbaland and Danja, then I obviously love Pharrell, Mark Ronson, Bloodshy and Avant, Mike WiLL Made-It, there are too many to mention.

Top 5 rappers of all time?

I like a lot of different songs from different rappers and don’t necessarily have an overall favourite. I listen to British grime more than I listen to American stuff, and mainly I enjoy the legends of the scene like Chip, Kano, JME, Skepta etc. but I will sometimes watch things like SBTV, GRM Daily and Fire In The Booth to check out newer artists. I find grime so powerful, raw and honest as a genre. Plus, it has a unique sense of humour that isn’t found anywhere else.

What is your opinion on the state of the music industry today?

There are some truly beautiful, moving tracks being made and I think they have more of an impact on me and I appreciate them more because of the hard times we are currently experiencing in the world. The music is better than ever. It’s a little more challenging as an artist to get streams than it was say, four years ago, when places like SoundCloud hadn’t been infiltrated with major labels, but there are always opportunities and you just have to come up with new ideas and keep moving along. From a live perspective, one of the things I dream of is a minimum rate that artists must me paid for gigs that aren’t open mics.

What is your writing process like?

One of two things usually happens. I’ll either be feeling a certain way and need to express it in a song, in which case i’ll get it all out pretty quickly. Usually at least one verse and chorus will be written in a day, and fleshed out later. The other thing is that I will get an idea for a concept or melody whilst i’m out and about and i’ll quietly record it into my phone to re-visit at a later date. Those songs usually take longer to write, but all in all I write pretty quickly.

Who or what are you inspired by the most in the studio when crafting these songs?

I just take myself to another world. I switch off from everything and all that matters is the music. I try not to listen to too much music when writing, in case I accidentally rip something off. Usually i’ll be inspired by whatever the theme of my album is. At the moment my album is set in the city I live and grew up in, Derby. So I imagine that whilst I am working on music.

What’s one thing you’ve learned about making music in 2018?

It takes a while, sometimes you think you might never finish it or get it out there, you question whether anyone actually cares and what you’re doing with your life at times, but overall it’s totally worth it.

Would you change anything about your career?

No. Like everything in my life, it’s all basically me stumbling along through trial and error, but I look back and I can see a clear progression there. I’ve improved so much as an artist and a person since I first started uploading demos in 2014, and i’m looking forward to the future.

Matt Ox, “Zero Degrees”

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Matt Ox is only thirteen years old. I don’t know if he’s in school or not, but it’s safe to say he’s definitely been in the studio. After his closely affiliated producer(s) Working On Dying worked on I’m Upset from Drake, and turning down deals from Meek Mill and Generation Now in hopes to gain his own status as a Philadelphia recording artist, things are looking up for this kid right here. Check out his new song below.

The Kavanaugh Trial

The Democrats are using the Clarence Thomas method to try and stop Kavanaugh, but they will fail yet again. She’s been deleting her social media presence to hide her political activism in an apparent cooperation with the democrats. This is too easy. Why do the Democrats stoop to these levels? It never works for them. There are hypocrites everywhere, as we learn time and time again in America.

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No idea if it really happened or not but are people not allowed to change? And for the better?  Is everybody the same person they were at 17?  If Kavanaugh actually did it and he said, “hey I’m sorry this happened” it likely still wouldn’t be enough. There needs to be solid evidence for me to actually believe this. Due process should still exist – legally and culturally.  We are in a unique situation. We now have men losing their jobs and getting judged based on actions taken 10+ years ago.  Dudes are getting judged based on cracking jokes. Look at that one director from the Guardians franchise. This dude is getting killed over something that happened when he was a kid more than 30 years ago. That’s insanity.

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This is an example from back in Texas. This 50 year old superintendent had some trouble with bullying in his school district and a man came into a school board meeting and said he was bullied by the guy when he was 11 years old back in the 70s.

Can it not be that the guy was an asshole in his teenager boy days that is probably more of a result of herd mentality and realized he was wrong and improved as a person? This shit is tiring and it’s cultural. This is a new low, trying to smear a man for sth that probably didn’t happen 30 years ago at high school. The timing of the accusation is a dead giveaway that this is bullshit. People who support or even tolerate this behavior based on a misguided sense of loyalty are as much guilty in this as those who decided to make use of such abhorrent methods.

This Kavanaugh guy is scum. It’s been revealed that he lied under oath regarding domestic spying programs in the Bush era. He belongs in jail, not the Supreme Court.

AL Franken had the good sense to resign over an allegation. Mr. Kavanaugh should rescind his acceptance of nomination immediately. It’s the right thing to do. It’s obvious that all this circus is not about a nomination, it’s purely about politics. I consider myself more left than right, but this farce is just sad. It’s about fucking touching or not touching a pussy 36 years ago while drinking as a teenager, which is one of the most common things on earth. Yeah, Kavanaugh is the prime example of a fraternity brother with very wealthy background, enjoying the Ralph Lauren commercial lifestyle on the east coast but let’s be honest here.

Here’s the allegation. While he was drunk, he or his friend pushed a girl into a room and onto a bed. His friend turned the music in the room up, he got on top of her and started to grind on her while attempting to take off her clothes. She attempted to scream and he covered her mouth. Groping is highly inappropriate, but we’re talking about attempted rape here, or at least sexual assault. Now if he had admitted that he did what he has been accused of or that it is possible, though he doesn’t remember, we could go from there. Instead, he is clearly stating that these allegations are lies and that he is the victim of lies and smears. If we are to believe that this is a “prime example of a fraternity brother with very wealthy background,” we have a nominee for the Supreme Court who can’t cop to past mistakes and is lying under oath. This is serious.

Ford’s life, as well as that of her husband and children, have been turned upside down. She has received numerous death threats, her home address has been published online. The address of her parents has been published online. Her reputation has been dragged through the mud. Some would have us believe that she has done all of this to herself and her family for a lie. These were the things she was concerned about prior to coming forward and, in part, why it took so long for her story to come to light.

If you don’t realize that the Durbin/FBI probe is a trap, then you’re a fool. He denies the allegations. It’s not up to him to get the FBI involved. The committee had plenty of time to get the FBI involved. And besides, there are so many holes in Ford’s story that it would be a taxpayer’s waste of time and money. He’ll be confirmed by next week.

Who Is Maaz Khalifa?

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What is your earliest memory of music?

My earliest memory of music is listening to random Bollywood songs in my dad’s car when I was a kid. Even though I didn’t understand any of the words, the songs were catchy to me.

How much of a musical history do you have in your family?

My family doesn’t have any musical history, but my dad likes to sing random songs fairly often.

Are you the first person to pursue music in your family?

Yes.

What made you fall in love with the genre you make today?

I had a phase in my life where I was trying to figure out my top 10 favorite artists. I would listen to a fairly wide variety of music, and I realized that all my favorite artists were in the genre of Hip-Hop/Rap.

What is your writing and recording process like?

I usually listen to whatever the newest/hottest rap album is out at the moment to gain inspiration from. I type bars into my iPhone notes, and I don’t stop until I have at least 16 lines. I won’t go back and edit what I wrote until I finish at least 16 lines. It takes me around 15 minutes or less. Most of my lyrics are “rated R”, but I feel like if I spent more time on it, I would be able to convey a better message with my lyrics. My recording process involves me screaming into those white apple headphones with the microphone attached. I go into a corner of my bedroom to record. It’s not very soundproof, but it’s the best I can do. Everything is plugged into my computer, and I use GarageBand to mix everything. I’m not very good at it at all, but I try my best.

How has attending the University of Michigan informed your creative process?

I don’t think attending U of M has informed my creative process at all. None of my friends are doing what I’m doing, but I still share whatever I’m working on with them. I appreciate the feedback they give me.

Who was the first person to give you the name Maaz Khalifa?

I got it from my teammates from high school soccer. I was really skinny (still am) and I had a slight mustache. Everyone thought I looked like Wiz Khalifa. His mixtape Cabin Fever was really popping off at the time as well. All the upperclassmen would blast it on the way to soccer games.

Why rap under that and not your government name?

I’ve always used that nickname for everything. Whether it be my Xbox gamertag, my Instagram, or random website usernames. Also, “Khalifa” means successor in Arabic and I feel like it had more meaning than my actual last name.

How did you link up with Affluent and Mula for your song “I Wanna”?

Affluent is a family friend from California. And Mula is a guy I found off Soundcloud.

Who are your top five favorite rappers of all time?

This is a tough one. In no particular order, Biggie, Drake, Lil Wayne, Kanye, Dr. Dre.

Who are the newer artists you like today?

Travis Scott, Quavo, Future, Lil Uzi, Young Thug, Post Malone, NAV, Big Sean

You’ve only put out 2 songs, one being “It’s Maaz Khalifa”, how did you come up with that song?

Me and my friend were freestyling just for fun over random beats on Youtube. I decided to write my lyrics down, record it the next day, and post it on Soundcloud. All just for fun. I had no intention of making money or for the song to gain any popularity. It was only recently that I realized I was making money from Spotify streams. Can’t believe I’ve made almost $100 with a song I made in under an hour. (“I Wanna”).

How many unreleased songs are you sitting on right now?

Like 4 unfinished songs.

Who are your favorite producers?

Metro Boomin and Dr. Dre are my absolute favorites. Some producers that are current;y peaking my interest are Murda Beatz, Beats By Saif, DJ Mustard, Southside, Mike WiLL Made-It, NAV, and London on da track.

What are your thoughts on Nav being the first brown boy to get it popping?

I’m in love with NAV, but I feel like it’s just brown people that like him a lot. I wish he blew up earlier. Can’t wait for Perfect Timing pt. 2. And I can’t believe he helped produce “Back To Back”-Drake.

What are your thoughts on the state of the music industry in 2018?

I think the state of the music industry in 2018 is solid. I feel like a lot of “old heads” aren’t used to hearing mumble rap, so they might think 2018 rap sucks, but in general, I like the direction it’s heading towards. I think it’s kind of tiring to hear a new “Lil [insert name]” rapper come out like every week, so I would say things are getting a little oversaturated, but that just means that rappers have to do whatever it takes to make higher quality music and stand out from the competition. I like how rappers hype up their upcoming projects on social media and put out snippets every once in a while.

What are your goals in music?

My only goal right now is to keep promoting my song without annoying all of my social media followers. I’m currently trying to focus on school and my music isn’t a high priority right now.

What’s next for you?

I am trying to continue to grow my Instagram and give advice to those who want help promoting their music. I’ve learned a bunch of different tactics through my year long music “career”. I may not have the free time to make my own music, but I hopefully will have enough time to help others with their music careers.

Listen to “I Wanna” and follow him on Instagram.

Khalid Steals Music Midtown

6:43 PM

Gucci Mane’s DJ takes the stage and starts with A$AP Ferg’s “Plain Jane”. He went on to spin Future “Same Damn Time” and cult classic “Knuck If U Buck”. Gucci took the stage 7:05 with Both, rapping along to Drake’s chorus, and I Get The Bag. He wore a white red and blue tracksuit with shades. He took his shirt off at 7:07 PM to further bring out what felt like a last-second outfit. Long matching basketball shorts. High red socks and chains. Back on Road was #3 and the second Drake feature to reel the crowd in. After asking where the day one fans were, Gucci segued into “I Think I Love Her”. After performing fan favorites like “Lemonade” and “Freaky Girl”, he brings out out four guests, each escalating in reception — Lil Quill, Yung Mal, and Hoodrich Pablo Juan out, and Lil Yachty for “Minnesota”.

Khalid takes the stage 7:45. At 7:56, he’s steadily fueled his performance with an all black ensemble of an outfit and five back up dancers wearing green. At 8 PM, he launches into a self proclaimed “sad as fuck” song. He ends up stealing Day 3 of Music Midtown with a three song run of “Let’s Go”, “Location”, and “OTW”, a relatively new single featuring Ty Dolla $ign and 6lack that shows the direction he may be headed in, a syrupy rhythm and blues sound that recalls late 90s nostalgia.

While the Pulitzer winning Music Midtown headliner prepared to go on stage, The Damn. Tour hologram hung, anticipation grew. He took it like foreign territory, wore a shirt a darker shade of green with the lettering NOT FOR SALE. He opened with DNA, started King Kunta at 9:10 PM. Largely able to go through the motions, Kendrick did some of that, but managed to break through a slow start to a near-raucous set, thanks to choice cuts like “Goosebumps”, “mAAd city”, and “Backseat Freestyle”. Listing all of his projects up to DAMN., he name-checked The Kendrick Lamar EP, but the none of his songs performed dated back to before his debut album on Interscope. “Money Trees” made an appearance, as did “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Before closing it out, Lamar ordered fireworks shot into the dusky black hue that hovered above Piedmont Park, a fitting gesture for an artist whose own intonations and declarations do something to the air.

Who Is Ammar Annex?

 

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What’s your earliest memory of music?

Barney was my guy, as well as Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.  I also remember this tape deck in our Rav4 that would play Islamic lullabies.  I was all about that!

Do you have a musical family?

Not in a traditional sense.  Brown parents don’t really pay for piano lessons, but my cousins and I would make acapella songs.  I was in a band called “Da Mob”, and my sister was in “Lazer Gurls”. Jury is still out on which group was better.

How was the first time you heard your voice over music?

When I was 8 years old, a friend of my cousin heard this acapella song I made called “What’s Happening on my Feet”, and he put a beat under me.  I was astonished by how cool that was.  I remember showing on my friends like, yo I can rap!

Who were your musical inspirations?

I was put onto Outkast at an early age, so they are big for me.  When I was 11, my sister gave me a Radiohead CD and that’s when shit started getting wild.  At 17, I deep dived into the discographies of The Beach Boys and Beatles.  Those four comprise my personal Mt. Rushmore of bands.

Who was the first person to give you the name Ammar Annex?

I was at U of I for a choir recital, and I passed a building called Khan Annex.  That’s my last name, so I was telling my homies ‘yo look that’s my name on that building!” One of them was like “Yeah I know.  Ammar Annex.”  It was my 21st birthday, and I thought the symmetry was cool so I went with it.

How do you come up with such unique names and long sentences for your song titles?

I like song titles that either are one word, or the best phrase from the lyrics, even if they’re not from the hook.  Song titles should draw people into the world you’re trying to evoke. 

What inspired your last release I Was On A Tattered Roof?

The boonies and backwoods of Wisconsin, where I grew up, and Pakistan, where my family is from.

How was writing and conceiving the album in Pakistan for you?

I was there for 10 days, for the first time in 18 years.  I got to meet my blood that I’ve only seen through IG, and it felt like a mirrored reality.  They were just like me, but our lives were so different.  I took about four thousand photos and did a video series on my time there, and the album’s thematic scope came about while I was there.

Where in Pakistan?

Karachi.  A city with straight up 20 million people running around on motor bikes.  At night it looks like third world Blade Runner.

What is the local scene like there?

I got to spend New Years there, and we went to a compound with a disco floor.  People were popping off AKs til the wee hours.  Even though it’s an Islamic country, you can find your choice of vice if you know the right people.   And that’s on the wealthier side of things! I found the middle class areas to be much more tranquil.  The album art for Tattered Roof is of my grandfather’s abode, which my father and his brothers built in the 1980s.  Life on that side of Karachi felt like my hometown in Wisconsin, believe it or not.

Where were you musically when recording Bless The Lot and Wons?

I was still in university, figuring out how to make music. I turned my studio apartment into a studio, albeit an amateur one.  I would fill my class load with choir electives, from gospel to liturgical Catholic mass.  I failed music theory, but it taught me how to fool someone into thinking I play the piano.

What did you take away from recording those projects that you applied to your last project I Was On A Tattered Roof?

Those records reflect my time spent tinkering with the art. I had my midi keyboard and my drum pad, and I’d try to say something from the heart. But I feel like ‘Tattered’ is my first real record.  In that I built my own studio when I finished school, and I took the responsibility of making an album much more seriously. I made the whole record by myself, from the production, lyrics, mixing and mastering. 

What do you use to record music?

I’m an Ableton stan, and I have a tube mic set up in a recording room, in which all the walls are lined with home installation padding to dampen the reflections.

What are your thoughts on Nav being the first brown boy to get it popping?

When I first heard him we were out in Toronto.  I remember being super proud.  Made it feel like hey, we can do this!  My crew bumped his first mixtape hard, TTD is one of my fav joints.  He has a great sense of melody.  But god, I hope his music gets better!  Cuz lately it’s been real sus. 

Who are your musical inspirations these days?

I love indie female artists.  AdriAnne Lenker of Big Thief is my girl.  Also love Mitski, her new album has the hardest lines.  St. Vincent is my favourite artist though.

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

When I’m not making music, I’m a cinematographer.  If I were doing neither of those things, I would be a political revolutionary.

How was writing the novella to accompany the project like?

Every song had a little chapter to it.  It tells a story about a house, and the man who lives there.  He is throwing a party, and feels isolated so he hangs out with ghosts on his roof.  It really helped me feel the album more, and understand where I wanted to place the songs.  Before I worked on the novella, I had a completely different tracklisting!

What is your songwriting process?

Some of my favorite songs have come about by me having a conversation inside my head, and I’ll write a whole song around that one thing I said.  I love moleskine notebooks, and I write every song I’ve made in them.  Chord progressions on the left page, lyrics on the right.

How many unreleased records are you sitting on?

Oh jesus, so many!  I made a whole album during Ramadan this summer.  I ended up writing and recording 15 songs, 7 of which I think are good enough to release a mini album one day.  Its called Heartbeats on the Forest Floor, which is the same amount of syllables of my last album.  Every day I work on music, so the records just pile up.  I make alot of music for my friends as well, so it’s about helping them achieve their goals as well as my own.

What is your status as an artist i.e. independent, major?

I’ve never stepped inside a professional studio, so I very much consider myself under that DIY, bedroom indie branch of things.  But the goal is to turn my work ethic into a record deal.  I’d love getting paid to be an artist, including making music and movies. 

What’s next for you?

Working on the fourth album with my band, Bad Gesture.  Also, I want to work for National Geographic and capture the world the way I see it, so I’m getting my video reel right.

Stream: I Was on a Tattered Roof and follow Ammar on Instagram.