Zak Downtown spent his Saturday night witnessing the Knicks dismantle the Bulls enroute to a 107-91 victory. A rapper hailing from NYC, Zak Downtown is seated with his mom and also Joakim Noah’s family members. The independent artist meets up with Just Whoo Kid following the game ultimately kicking an interview with us.
Our walk to Zak Downtown’s section 111 is brief. My friends and I were sitting in section 116, so making our way over is simple. We enter this corner pocket of Madison Square Garden and locate Zak Downtown’s seats, which are behind the basket.
Humble and polite, the young professional rapper stands out. In the arena happy Knicks fans hit the exits as if this was weeding out time for player’s guests.
Zak Downtown dons a gray wool coat and a black beanie. After dapping Zak Downtown up, the artist with a low pitch voice introduces us to his mother, Wendy. At that point, stern Garden security guards demands that everyone wears post game visitor/guest passes Zak Downtown distributes.
My friends and I take four visitor/guest passes from Zak Downtown. The passes are a powerful credential for player’s friends and families. Also, they’re like a flex, so Garden security lets us chill out and linger while MSG empties.
Wendy informs Just Whoo Kid that “we don’t get to go into any locker rooms.” Yet we learn two things. Firstly, Zak Downtown is cool with Chicago Bulls all star forward/center Joakim Noah. Secondly, Joakim Noah is notoriously slow coming out of the locker room. Zak Downtown even points out that Joakim Noah may not show up at all for tonight’s meet and greet.
As Madison Square Garden staffers begin transforming the basketball court into a hockey rink Just Whoo Kid pulls up a seat next to Zak Downtown. The chill rapper who’s friendly with Joakim Noah’s other friends and family starts explaining how he’s just gotten off tour with The Chainsmokers.
A lowkey conversation, Just Whoo Kid senses Zak Downtown’s genuine enthusiasm for his hustle. The artist is making a name for himself through singles such as ‘Kylie Kendall’ that has over 2 million Soundcloud streams and is produced by Sammy Adam’s official tour DJ NEM.
Our interview wasn’t planned. Zak Downtown, however, agrees to continue discussing recent successes. Just Whoo Kid starts firing off improvised questions.
In our exclusive interview with Zak Downtown, the artist discusses ‘Kylie Kendall.’ Also, Zak Downtown talks about his new EP ‘Winning Means Everything,’ his relationships with artists and producers like Casey Veggies, The Chainsmokers, NEM, and DJ Fresh Direct before unveiling his some of his master plans for the new year.
Following our 10-minute chat, Joakim Noah eventually arrives out of the locker rooms. Joakim Noah is 6’11 and puts tonight’s loss behind him immediately. The Bulls lost, but not because of Joakim Noah’s effort who finishes with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and a double double tonight.
Joakim Noah cracks jokes with young kids and other aspiring basketball players. He makes his way over to our area where him and Zak Downtown meet up like long time friends. Without hesitation Zak Downtown finesses our quick picture with Joakim Noah before inviting us to party at Chelsea nightclub Up & Down with them.
Check out Just Whoo Kid’s interview with Zak Downtown, below and start following Zak Downtown on Facebook for new music and upcoming show dates. Enjoy!
How did you come up with the name Zak Downtown?
I grew up in downtown New York. That embodies everything that I stand for and I do. We were like ‘Let’s just rock with my real name, throw a downtown on it,’ and then rock with that.
How would you best describe the style of music that you make?
I think it’s kind of with influences from authentic old-school New York hip-hop. I grew up on Wu-Tang, Tribe, and the Kanye, Cam’ron, Dipset era, but kind of with a new wave of production that involves some club and trap stuff also with some classic hip-hop stuff. It’s kind of a little bit of everything, but it comes back to some New York hip-hop [music].
What kind of music did you listen to the most growing up?
In high school I really got into hip-hop [and] middle school too. But I kind of grew up listening to everything, which you could probably hear in some of my music. My mom actually worked for Cameo way back in the day. The ‘Word Up!’ Cameo like Larry Blackmon. She actually has a gold record from that which is crazy and my brother was super into pop music, so I even grew up listen to a lot of pop stuff. He was a huge George Michael fan. My influences come from all over the place.
Do you have one favorite rap song of all time?
I would probably say ‘Down And Out.’ Kanye West and Cam’ron. I think that was in ninth grade. That shit came out and I loved the soulful samples that Kanye was doing back then. It was just like ‘This is it.’ This shit got me so hyped. I was like ‘I’m making hip-hop music. I’m doing it.’
Are you currently working on an album?
I actually just released an EP called ‘Winning Means Everything.’ It’s an eight track EP. A majority of it is produced by my homie NEM and DJ Fresh Direct. There’s a few club bangers on it [and] a few RnB/soulful stuff on it. The whole thing comes together as a complete project.
Is there one single off the EP that you’re most proud of?
Yeah, the record that kind of took off the most was the ‘Kylie Kendall’ record. The song actually has nothing to do with them, but it’s just in the hook. The beat, the hook, and the verses all came together so well and the record kind of caught on a little bit on Soundcloud so that’s still going well. There’s another record called ‘One Hundred,’ which is the intro track. It’s kind of crazy [and] trap inspired with hard ass verses on it. That’s my second favorite song on it.
With the success of your own singles “Kylie & Kendall” how do you intend to continue innovating?
The reason that worked is because in my opinion the beat was just so unique. I have the luxury of having NEM the producer, in house with me. Working on the songwriting is not just a one person process. I have a whole team with me. I have multiple producers. We have a bunch of artists that we’re working with and it’s kind of a whole collective, which is dope just to be able to work with other people and get other people’s feedback and input on stuff.
Have Kylie & Kendall heard the song?
Kylie favorited one of my tweets about the song. I was like ‘that’s strange.’ I went back to her profile to troll a little bit. She had only favorited like three tweets in the whole year and that was one of them. They’re definitely aware of the song, so it’s just like if we could somehow get one of them to tweet it or some shit it would be dope. That’s not too much of my concern. If it happens, it happens.
— Zak Downtown (@zakdowntown) June 24, 2015
How did you make relationships with people like NEM and Casey Veggies?
When you’re in the industry, really working, and kind of busting your ass and grinding, which you’ve got to do if you want to get anywhere in this industry as you know even as a writer I’m sure. Casey Veggies was through one of my current managers out in LA. He was listening to the music we had done and he was like ‘Yo I think Casey would love this record. I’m friendly with his manager. Let’s just see if it happens.’ Sent it to him and he was like ‘Yeah. I’m vibin with it. I’ll put a verse on it.’ I was like ‘Fuck yeah. Let’s do it.’ With NEM it was the same thing. A homie that has been DJing in New York, DJ Sinatra. I used to go out in the club when I was 19 and he was DJing. I was like rapping every fucking song. He was like ‘How do you know all this shit?’ I was like ‘I don’t know. I just grew up listening to this.’ He knew NEM from DJing. He was like ‘You two have to link up and just make some shit.’ We ended up making ‘Kylie Kendall’ and have been working together since then.
What unlikely learning experiences do you get from working with other artists and producers?
It’s dope to see how everyone’s workflow is different. I was in the studio with Sammy Adams. Just seeing the way he works is different than the way I work and it’s dope. It just shows you that there’s really no one right way to really do anything. Someone like Fresh Direct is the most technical dude I know. NEM is more of a guy that goes off of energy. There’s different vibes and if you vibe with someone you can always make something up.
Discuss life on the road. What was that like and does touring inspire any of your new music?
We just did the tour with The Chainsmokers. It was kind of the first time I was ever on the road. I’ve done one off shows here and there, which have been great. This was the first time I got a crew together: we geared up and hit the road. It was me, a DJ, a photographer, and our tour manager. That was it. We rented a van for the week. It was some hood shit, but just what it is for the first run. It was dope. It was a learning experience and I got to see The Chainsmokers’ operation which is awesome like their tour bus and all that. It was dope. You learn a lot from it and you know what to do next time. It definitely inspired the music to make better music to just be able to go on more dates.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years hopefully I’ll have many tours under my belt. A few albums out and honestly me and have been talking about starting a label. Hopefully working with other artists, developing them, and just being behind the scenes a little bit. Still working on music though all the time. For sure.
What advice would Joakim Noah give to aspiring artists?
He’s a hustler in the way he plays. He’s like all work ethic and that’s what it comes to. On days when the Bulls don’t have games he’s in the gym. My brother’s his trainer. I know what they do. Their work out regimen is next level and you have to have talent but work ethic is twice as important. That’s the same for the music industry. You see it. There are some artists that their music might not be the illest, but you know that they’re putting the work in, networking, and doing everything that they can do to get their music heard. That’s really what it comes down to.
What’s your master plan for 2016?
I just signed with a booking agency finally and we’re just planning a few tours. Really I have so much music done that is not put out year. I’m set to go and really just like Taylor Gang approach. Got mixtapes done just waiting to go out and just give people music. They might love one track. They might hate one track, but I’ve got so my great music done in my opinion that it’s just time to really start releasing it and getting a catalogue out there.
Where can fans find more of your music?
Right now everything is up on Soundcloud.com/zakdowntown and iTunes, Spotify, and everywhere.