by Jamie Wu
Infused in the syncopated flickering of LA's bright lights is a curiosity. A curiosity for the unknown. A curiosity waiting to be explored by the swelling up of music, art and performance. Most artists share this curiosity but it's the ones hungry enough to pursue it that eventually realize its value. One such artist is the aspiring musician by the name of Zac West. [Originally from Grand Haven, Michigan, Zac has been making waves in the musical community of Los Angeles since moving to the city for college. I sat down with him to ask him where his love for music all began.
HI: What inspired you to start making music?
Zac West: I discovered hip hop when I copied .mp3 files from my sister’s computer into my music player. It was a lot of Lil Wayne and 50 Cent—but eventually I ended up listening to a lot of Kanye West, Childish Gambino, and Big Sean as well. When my friend got Rock Band for his Wii, I developed an interest in rock music too. Whenever my MP3 ran out of battery, I would make up songs in my head while I biked to middle school. At one point, I saved up enough money to buy a knock-off Ibanez while I was in China but my mom threw it away. I started making beats on my laptop in high school since instruments were expensive and my family did not support musical endeavors. The first actual song I made with lyrics was for my girlfriend in high school.
In college I realized I loved music and creative things despite being pushed the other way my whole life. But because of external pressure and financial instability, I built a career in a field I didn’t truly love. Even though I had everything all set up, I felt depressed and creatively blocked. I was sick with the world I had built. It took a lot of turmoil and anguish for me to realize what I had to do. I’m a very stubborn person. So I started getting my priorities straight and settings goals with music, and joined the freestyle rap club at USC. And that's where I met my two of my closest friends, Neyra and RAW-DAWG.
HI: Since you lived most of your life in China, does your music have any cultural roots?
Zac: I am very proud to be Asian. I represent a lot of people, but especially the Asians. I want to push forward the horizon of what people think Asians can do. This ambition definitely influences my music, which is like my diary. I put whatever I'm feeling into sound so others can relate to it and feel inspiration and unity.
Among his eclectic collection of songs is a piece called Louie's Lullaby. He shares about why this melancholy song is his favorite:
Zac: It’s one of those catchy songs you would hear on the radio and let the lyrics slide by. But on a second listen you can feel the melancholy infused into the acceleration of the song. I’ve never had a long relationship because they make me feel like I am achieving my dreams slower. There is a cost for greatness.
"you don’t need no makeup in the morning
i think ill wake up in a moment
i think ill be gone in a second
i think ill be gone before breakfast"
LA is a place for diversity--of thought, dreams, art and cultures. And in exchange for its diversity, LA is asking artists to inspire others to do the same. Here Zac tells us how he's going to give back:
HI: Are you going to stay in LA to connect with other artists? Or where is the next destination?
Zac: I'll be in LA for a little longer. I haven't milked the city empty. I want to see everything. Play more shows, get on the radio before I leave. Connect with people outside of the city like in Orange County, Anaheim. Then go back to China. I want to bring hip hop to my city. It's ripe for hip hop culture. Even though the government censors it, I'm not afraid.
HI: What about LA's atmosphere is dynamic, new and growing?
Zac: The thing about LA is that there's a sense of urgency and competition. I think you need that in music to make it. But everyone here is trying to make it, and no one wants to help you out. They're all here for themselves. I try to break down the walls people here have built by inviting them to collaborate or share my resources. We should collaborate instead of compete.
Zac continues to make music that inspires other people. But more importantly music that inspires himself. One day, Zac will no longer be in Los Angeles; he’ll be wherever his lyrics take him.
Jamie Wu is a contributor to Human Influence. She resides in Los Angeles.