Exclusive: ZZ Ward speaks about working with DJ Premier, Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs and gives insight into how her mixtape "Eleven Roses" and "Til The Casket Drops" album came about.
Through many of her Hip Hop collaborations, you may have seen or heard a catchy song by a girl in a stylish hat. Internet-turned-television sensation ZZ Ward the past few months with her singles Put The Gun Down and Til the Casket Drops. After further research the listener will be able to find several videos of the Hollywood Records artist speaking about Hip Hop influences and even performances with her and DJ Premier, Freddie Gibbs and Kendrick Lamar.
Ms. Ward seamlessly from blues to Hip Hop and incorporates both elements effectively. ZZ is not your typical Pop hopeful, and she spoke with HipHopDX about some of the stamps in her musical passport.
HipHopDX: When did you start to be fully engaged in Hip Hop and what were you listening to growing up?
ZZ Ward: We all have certain people in our lives that influence us. Mine was my older brother and he really got me into Nas and Jay-Z. He wouldn’t let me listen to their albums so that just made it more enticing for me. When he wasn’t looking I would listen to them. He definitely got me into Hip Hop.
DX: In regards to your mix tape [Eleven Roses] how did you pick the songs you wanted to cover on there?
ZZ Ward: Well that project came about in an interesting way. I was writing songs for my record and the first song I ended up writing was over Tyler, The Creator's "Yonkers." I started singing some melodies to his chorus and singing lyrics that I like. That helped me free my mind from my own record. Choosing the songs to write over, it was just stuff that I was listening to at the time.
DX: Did you get any surprise backlash or shoutouts from the rappers you covered?
ZZ Ward: Not specifically. Obviously it’s a risky thing to do because doing a mixtape is not something typical that a singer-songwriter does over Hip Hop songs. It’s not conventional the way that I did it. One of the things that came out of it was that I ended up meeting Blended Babies and worked on a lot of my record with them.
DX: You have a lot of elements of a rapper without actually rapping. Was it a natural progression to make Hip Hop a solid sound on the album or did you decide out of the blue to incorporate Hip Hop instead of doing a traditional pop record?
ZZ Ward: I think that at least for me, I want to do music that feels good. If I did not have Hip Hop beats in my music, I don’t think I would feel satisfied with it. One of the songs I worked with Mike Elizondo on was "Put The Gun Down." He loved my music, my artistry and the song. That kind of started the record and we ended up working on over half of my record together. You don’t necessarily plan it but you have to like what you are doing. You can’t think about what other people would think.
DX: Did you have a hesitation about going with Hollywood Records because of their Disney background?
ZZ Ward: I don’t think I thought of that very much before I started to work with them. I don’t really look at the relationship so much as what Hollywood or what Disney is. I look at the people there. The people that was passionate about me and my music. That is why we ended up working together. I never felt they were going to try and make me something that I wasn’t or bullshit me. I felt like they were going to support me and help me do what I wanted to do with my music.
DX: How did you and DJ Premier initially link up and is there something you can tell us that we may be surprised about him?
ZZ Ward: That was actually my first time in New York City and we decided to go in the studio together and do some songs. It was really exciting because I grew up listening to him. The thing about [DJ] Premier is that to be where he is and have everything under your belt that he is done, he is still so humble. We met at South By Southwest last year and he was doing the Nas concert with Pete Rock. I went backstage to hang out with them and they were giving me tips on performing and touring. He is definitely a mentor for me.
DX: Is DJ Premier on your album at all?
ZZ Ward: We didn’t end up doing something on the record but we do have some music.
DX: You have Ali Shaheed Muhammad on your record which is unbelievable. What did he bring to "Charlie Ain’t Home" that brought out the song?
ZZ Ward: The great thing about [Ali Shaheed Muhammad] is that he brought his own technique and flavor to "Charlie Ain't Home." It was the perfect mix. It did not feel like he was trying to be overly sexy because it is a very sexy song. When he goes into the chorus his drum and bass line takes it somewhere else.
DX: Is there anything about Hip Hop that you don’t like or that you think should change?
ZZ Ward: I wouldn’t say there is anything that I don’t like. I would say that I love how Kendrick Lamar is going to save Hip Hop. He is a storyteller and I love how he can paint a picture for people and what is going on in his mind so I definitely love that about Hip Hop.
DX: You collaborated with Ryan Tedder from One Republic. What is the difference in studio sessions with artists like that and the Hip Hop artists you worked with?
ZZ Ward: I wouldn’t say that Hip Hop producers are different than other producers. I think that every artist and every producer are their own person and vibe. Ryan Tedder is a musical genius. I am very driven and focused when working in a studio. Ryan [Tedder] didn’t want to change it from what it was and its simplicity. He wanted to support the song.
DX: Have you been approached a lot to do songs on rappers projects? How deep in that arena would you go because it’s easy to by type casted as a hook girl?
ZZ Ward: Definitely, and you have to be picky with things and got to decide when a good time is to do something like that. To me, I love music and I want to do a hook on a song that I love. I heard the Asher Roth song ["Insurance"] and I just love that song and wanted to work on it.
DX: Which other rappers would you want to work with?
ZZ Ward: Well I would love to do some more stuff with Kendrick Lamar and Freddie Gibbs. I also love what Azalea Banks is doing and I think she is absolutely incredible. I also think Tyler, The Creator is a genius.