We interviewed Zach Pennycuff, a.k.a. Zekey, ahead of his WXJM Online Livestream show to get a better picture of him as an artist. Zekey is an aspiring rapper, who is also studying Marketing at JMU.
Interview conducted by Herbert Padilla
Herbert Padilla: How would you describe your sound to somebody who’s never listened to you before?
Zekey: You know, when people usually ask me, or when I tell people I make music, they’re like “what kind of music do you make?” and I’m like “well, I rap” and they're like “oh you rap?” and I’m like “well it’s more of like alternative rap” is what I tell people, you know? It's kind of like, I wouldn't say, like, mainstream, but it’s not necessarily alternative music. It's kind of like a nice little blend, so that's kind of what I tell people. Alternative hip hop, I guess.
HP: Yeah I’d agree, you’ve got a refreshing sound and funky beats which I like a lot. How’d you get your name? Did you get Zekey from Zach?
Z: One of my roommates that I live with here has been my best friend since we were five and them and my other two friends at school started calling me Zeke, well they started initially saying just Z. So they were just going Z, Zeke or whatever, and this is actually a funny story - you know the song Thotiana? Like, from Blueface. One of my other roommates, was just like “bust down Zekeiana!” So it’s kinda just, you know, it developed from my friends calling me Zeke.
HP: So how did you get into music? Is there anybody that inspires you or anybody in particular that like you look up to?
Z: So, starting in sixth grade is when I started first trying to rap. ‘Cause me and my friends, we wanted to start a YouTube channel, and we didn’t know what to post, so we just put on a beat and we just started rapping and it was horrible, but it was hilarious. So, we kept going and then just throughout the years I liked rap music a lot, and I just started doing it, and one of my friends was just like, “Hey do you want to come record a song?” and I was like “Eh, you know what? Why not.” So in eighth grade I recorded my first song and, messing around, put it on Soundcloud and it got like 6, 7,000 views and I was just like, “Oh this is kinda tough.” So then throughout high school I was kinda just messing around, I would do little things here and there, and when I got into college, I was just like, “this is my passion, this is what I think I’m best at, so why not try?”
HP: So what inspires most of your songs? I know some of them are about someone holding you down, stuff like that. Do you speak and write from experience or do you just kinda get creative with it and make up your own thing?
Z: A little bit of both. So, “Hold You Down” was the first song I put on anything big. I was dating a girl at the time and I was just like, “you know, I’m making a song,” and it was just like kinda creative, kind of about her, and I put that out and then that was a nice sound. Then I tried something different with this other song called “Understand,” which I really didn’t like as much. I was just like “Yeah, no that’s not me,” so I kind of started drawing inspiration from things that actually happened to me, and exaggerating a little bit here and there. Like I don’t rap about drinking or doing drugs and stuff because I don’t do that, so it’s like, what do I do? I mean, I play video games and I make music, but how can I enhance that to where people are like “That's relatable,” or “I feel you on that.” So then, fast-forward, me and my ex-girlfriend, we broke up, and then that’s where I got some inspiration from for a little bit and then now it’s been like a year and I’m kinda just making music, whatever comes into my head, whatever I’m thinking about, and then some people come into my life, some people leave my life, and, really, whatever I’m saying, or whatever I’m thinking about, I kinda just write down. That’s about it.
HP: What kind of video games are you into?
Z: Right now we’re playing Fort. We’re still on that Fortnite. But I was doing COD for a little bit. I also play Switch a lot, like I play Smash and Pokémon. Yeah, I’ve always loved video games. So that’s kinda all I do.
HP: So as a current senior, what are your plans after graduation? Like I know the other week we talked a little bit about L.A. and how that’s a huge hub for a bunch of rising artists, so what’s your plan? How do you plan to stand out? What do you think you’re gonna do out there?
Z: Right, so, I’m trying to be realistic. I’ve got a couple job opportunities lined up out there, so I’m not just gonna go out there and just full send it, but I kind of am? You know, you only get one life. I keep telling my mom, she doesn’t want me to go out there, but I gotta go where I feel I’m being called to and right now I feel like that's where I’m trying to be called to. So, I’m gonna go out there with a couple friends and we all got jobs, so while I’m still pursuing my dream and trying to do whatever I can to make connections, get my foot in the door any place, I still have a job and still focus on taking steps forward instead of remaining stagnant and just reaching for something that may never happen.
HP: Yeah, it’s super important to stay realistic, especially in a place like L.A. I feel like a lot of people kinda go out there and take a big risk not having any plans and just think “You know what, I wanna make it.”
Z: Like, where are you at if it doesn’t happen? Like, cool if it does happen, great for you, follow your dreams, but you always just gotta be able to rebound.
HP: So right now, you’ve got only five songs actually out on Spotify, but I know you have plenty of demos for other songs. I know you’ve got a lot in the vault, so, what can your audience expect from you and your sound moving forward?
Z: So, I’m actually about to drop my first project next Friday, actually, October 2nd. So, that’s coming right up. And the songs that I do for the radio show, they’re all gonna be new songs all on the project. Yeah, so, I’m really excited about that. You know, I’ve got like 30 to 40 songs just in the vault waiting to go out and I’ve been working really hard on this project, putting everything I got into it, so, after that, I’m gonna put it out, see how it does. Nothing’s ever a flop; if it doesn’t pop off, it’s a learning experience, lesson learned, that’s a piece of who I was, some music I made, and then keep moving forward, keep creating, keep evolving, and the plan is to start releasing way more often. I recently reinvested in myself, so I’m trying to take the steps to give people what they want to hear.
HP: Yeah, definitely. And first it’s a matter of actually having the music and then the next step is just getting it out there and performing and marketing yourself.
Z: Yeah, so I gotta focus on trying to market my music as much as I create it. ‘Cause I’m always in here, just in my room, just making music, but what’s the point if nobody ever hears it?
HP: Awesome, man. Well, thanks so much for joining us today, I think that’s all we’ve got for you, but it’s Zekey on Spotify and @itszekey on Instagram. I’m excited for your live show this weekend and I’m super excited for what other songs you’ve got coming out soon.
Z: I’m super excited for everyone to hear it. Hopefully everyone enjoys.
xX Long live college radio Xx