The life and times of Zambia’s top hip-hop group: Zone Fam

Sara Drawwater
10 July 2013
This week we will be featuring an exclusive interview with one of the most popular Zambian hip-hop bands on the scene “Zone Fam”. But before that we thought it would be pretty cool to give you…

This week we will be featuring an exclusive interview with one of the most popular Zambian hip-hop bands on the scene “Zone Fam”. But before that we thought it would be pretty cool to give you highlights of an interview we did last year with three of the artists from the four man band. Nambeye, our multi-media journalist had fun getting the guys to spill the beans on all things music and life!

The experience of working together

NAMBEYE: The story of your name is well known but how exactly did you come together as a group?

THUGGA: Our manager, the Holstler, is responsible for bringing us together. We were all recording at the Zone studio. It came together from there.

NAMBEYE: How long have you guys been together?DOPE G: Three years this year.

NAMBEYE: What is the song writing and recording process like? Is there someone in particular who writes the lyrics or makes the beats?

JAY ROX: Everybody has a part to play. I often come up with the beats and we get together and listen to it and different ideas fly around. We build from the beat then come up with the chorus and verses. I believe the reason it works so well is that we all have the same line of thought.

THUGGA: It’s always a different process. Sometimes Jay Rox makes the beat and already has a chorus. Sometimes we all come up with something then work together on the chorus.

NAMBEYE: A band brings together different personalities that might not always see eye to eye. How do you sort out differences when it comes to your production of music?

DOPE G: Differences are inevitable, but I think we have more in common than differences. Of course we disagree on certain things. Mostly when we are coming up with the music we disagree on how parts should sound, but we believe at the end of the day that is a necessary process. We have more than one person judging a piece of music so we can look at everything from different perspectives until it is perfect. We use any differences as a strength.

Debut Album “The Business (Foreign Exchange)”

NAMBEYE: Your debut album The Business (Foreign Exchange) has received rave reviews so far. Since its release, you have won three Born and Bred awards including Best Newcomer, Best Collaboration and Video of The Year 2011. You were winners of the Global African Music Awards, Best African Group of 2011 and nominated for a Channel O Music Video Award for “Most Gifted Newcomer”, to mention only a few!

What has the success of your album meant to you?

THUGGA: The success of our album has been overwhelming especially since all this happened between March and December 2011. It was rewarding because it came with all the hard work we put in. We spent days on end in the studio putting everything together so we are just happy that the people out there have accepted and appreciate our music.

NAMBEYE: Would you define your music as strictly hip-hop?

JAY ROX: In a sense yes and in a sense no. What we try to do is not confine our music to a certain genre. We can work with any sort of music and often like to blend in. We can take a local kalindu beat and work with that and turn it into new beautiful music. We often tell people that we are not just hip-hop artists, we are musicians.

Music Influences

NAMBEYE: What have your individual influences been and who do you look up to in the music industry?THUGGA: It’s tough to choose because we have listened to so many different artists and each of them has inspired us in some way. But my top three would be Eminem, Jay Z and Ludacris.

JAY ROX: Its super tight but I would say Jay Z, The Notorious B.I.G and because I grew up in a family where reggae was played very often, I was also inspired by Bob Marley.

DOPE G: On an American level I would say Jay Z, The Notorious B.I.G and an artist called Papoose. On the Zambian scene I would say Daddy Zemus. I believe his album changed lots of things in terms of hip-hop in the Zambian music industry so he is definitely one of my inspirations.

NAMBEYE: Your debut album, “The Business” has showcased several collaborations with local Zambian artists like Peterson, Slap Dee, Macky II, Ozzy and many more. What has your experience been like working with artists like these who have been in the music industry for a while and what lessons have you drawn from them?

THUGGA: Working with established local artists has been a great experience. Most of these artists are people who have been in the music industry longer than us and know the ins and the outs, so working with them allowed us to pick up a lot of stuff. The chemistry has been brilliant and it has been an honor for us to work with people who we grew up listening to. And to some extent it made us feel like we were getting to where we want to be.

JAY ROX: Because music is what we do every day we feel that when we have a chance to sit down with other artists it’s an opportunity to exchange ideas. They tell us what they know and we share what we know. So it’s a mutual exchange of knowledge.

NAMBEYE: Any local or international artists you would like to work with in the near future?

DOPE G: In Zambia we have worked with pretty much everybody there is. Internationally, we would probably want to work with the Nigerians as we feel they are really on point right now. We feel we can learn a lot from them is terms of how they push their music because they are reaching across international boundaries.

NAMBEYE: Any Nigerian artist in particular?

THUGGA: You have to give respect to the likes of Two Face and there are young guys like the Whiz Kids and Ice Prince. They are making good music and we would like to work with them because we see them moving forward to a place where we want to be.

On Fans

NAMBEYE: It’s pretty obvious you have quite a number of fans. What has your craziest experience been with fans?THUGGA: During the Africa Cup of Nations. After Zambia won we walked out of the cinema at Manda Hill and found a huge excited crowd. When they saw us, they started chanting “Zone Fam!” We actually got chased from the cinema right up to the filling station! We had to run in for safety!

NAMBEYE: Glad to see you are safe! In the interest of your many fans, can each of you tell me one thing most people would be surprised to know?

JAY ROX: The weird thing is we have been in so many interviews and our music says a lot of personal stuff so it’s hard to imagine that people don’t already know everything about us! I guess something new is that my favourite colour is blue.

THUGGA: Mine’s black. (Laughs).

DOPE G: I’m a nerd. I wear specs all the time but I take them off for interviews, TV and videos so not a lot of people know I wear them.

Life outside Music

NAMBEYE: What are your lives like outside of music?

THUGGA: Our lives revolve around music. We literally live in a studio. Our house is a studio. We wake up and think “Oh I made a beat,” and the other guy wakes up and turns on the computer. It’s difficult to find time for other things.

JAY ROX: We like to watch movies.

DOPE G: And of course there is always family time, that’s always important.

NAMBEYE: If you were not successful hip-hop artists what profession would have been your next choice?

JAY ROX: We have all been to school and some of us are still in college. I studied IT and Computer System Engineering and have actually worked in that field.

THUGGA: I studied IT too so either way I would have ended up meeting Jay Rox! Either way I am stuck with him. (Laughs).

DOPE G: I’m still in school doing accounting. I’m actually missing a class for this interview but don’t write that! (Laughs). I would have ended up doing accounting. But if conditions were better I would really have loved to be a junior high school teacher. I love teenagers. I love how curious they are about life and I feel that their teachers have a great impact on their lives. However, I’m glad I ended up producing music because I am actually able to impact them better.

Message to the young generation

NAMBEYE: Your impact on the younger generation is actually my next question! What sort of message are you hoping to take out there?

THUGGA: Don’t do drugs!

JAY ROX: We encourage kids to go to school. Looking at where we are in Zambia, music alone is not sufficient. From our personal experience, it was hard to convince our parents that we wanted to go into music full time. It would have been impossible to win them over if we had not paid attention to school. The moment your parents know you are comfortable with your education, then you can do whatever you want and they will support you.

DOPE G: We do a lot of performances at schools and see how much influence we have over these children. We have to think about the twelve year old who may end up listening to our music and take it as the gospel truth. In as much as it was not the original idea in the beginning, we have become role models. If we can influence someone in a positive way we might as well go with the positive route rather than the negative.

JAY ROX: This is the reason our album has no age restriction; it’s clean and has absolutely no swear words.

Social Media Gurus

NAMBEYE: You are very active when it comes to social media. Your twitter account has over 4, 000 followers. Do you personally manage your social media accounts?

THUGGA: Group accounts are handled by our manager but we have personal accounts that we handle ourselves.

NAMBEYE: You have several of your videos on YouTube. How do you think this has impacted your career?

JAY ROX: Sharing our music on the internet has been one of the main things that has made Zone Fam so well known. We first became popular from the music we put online before our record sales.

We have a lot of Zambians outside the country that have no access to Zambian music and we feel putting it up on the internet helps us to reach fans internationally. Also, people tend to take you more seriously when they watch a video of your music rather than an audio.

NAMBEYE: Do you have fears about piracy considering that you put your music up on the internet for free?

DOPE G: The music industry is dynamic; we have seen changes from records to tapes to cd’s. The biggest challenge came when file sharing came into play. You can’t stop people from sharing music these days. You can take it down each week but someone else will share it again. You have to rethink your strategy. You have to establish your relationship with your fans so that they value your music and feel like the album is worth buying. Even when you look at the world market, people always listen to the album before it is released.We also feel we can’t just rule the internet out especially as distribution is quite a challenge here in Africa. We don’t have many companies that are able to take your music all out. Someone in Nigeria might like your music but have no access to it.

THUGGA: Of course there is an aspect of loss as you don’t get your full worth out of your work. But it has its pros and we have decided not to rule it out. We also have our music on iTunes.

The Future

NAMBEYE: Finally, with so much success achieved already, what are your plans for the future?

JAY ROX: We have only just started. When you do something and are successful it’s an opportunity to move on to the next level, to become even better.

THUGGA: We are currently in the studio working on Jay Rox’s solo album and immediately after that we are working on the next Zone Fam album. We plan to each release a solo album as a marketing strategy to reach more people. We realise we each have our individual fans and we want to meet their needs so that is all in the pipeline!

Want to find out what the Zone Fam boys are up to in 2013? For up to date news watch out for our latest interview with the entire group coming soon!