What DJ Toomp has been to T.I., and Shawty Redd has been to Young Jeezy, producer Zaytoven has been to Gucci Mane. Now the musical mind behind the trunk-rattling sound of Mr. Zone 6 is preparing to take his own career to the same heights his longtime partner-in-crime has seen his rise to in recent years. After landing arguably the most important credit on Usher’s platinum Raymond v. Raymond album with the divorce lament “Papers,” the San Francisco transplant to Atlanta is looking to expand his production portfolio beyond the trap in 2011.
On Thursday (January 6th) Zay took time out of his busy schedule (which includes preparing for the launch of his new website, IAmZaytoven.com, and the springtime release of his production tutorial book and accompanying album, A to Zay) to address recent reports regarding Gucci Mane’s mental state. The multi-instrumentalist, who began his career crafting soundscapes for Bay Area artists Messy Marv, Mac Mall and JT The Bigga Figga before his “Icy” breakthrough with Gucci and subsequent work with Plies, Soulja Boy and several other southern stars, also addressed allegations that the beat he sold to Usher was originally the property of a prominent ATL rhymer. And lastly, Zay explained to HipHopDX why he believes it is hard for Gucci to simplify his rhyme style for the masses while remaining lyrical on his mixtapes.
HipHopDX: Let’s just get the in-the-news stuff out of the way off top. Did Gucci really have a breakdown?
Zaytoven: I wouldn’t really say he just had like a all-out breakdown. I know that he had different issues from before – they probably done led up to what’s going on. But, I don’t think he just had a all-out breakdown.
DX: You said he had different issues; can you speak on that at all?
Zaytoven: Well, I don’t know for sure his exact medical condition or nothing like that. I just know he’s been on medications. I don’t know exactly for what, but I know he’s been on medications.
DX: When’s the last time you spoke to Gucci?
Zaytoven: We just been in the studio [about a week] ago, right before the new year. We was in the studio like a week straight.
DX: And did he seem, you know, good-to-go? I mean, [did it] seem like everything was okay wit’ him?
Zaytoven: Well he seemed pretty sharp. He still was – the music still turned out real good, so…he was still on his game.
DX: And what’s the game plan – do you know what the game plan is for his music in 2011 if he ends up having to do more time?
Zaytoven: If he has to do more time, I’ma have to kinda take it upon myself to step in [and] try to get our music heard – still keep the fire burning, still keep him relevant. So if he did have to sit down, we got enough music to keep it like he ain’t never left.
DX: Let’s switch gears to a different, but maybe equally newsworthy topic. I just wanted to ask, ‘cause I never seen your response to this: Why did you resell the beat Gorilla Zoe used for “So Sick” [on Don’t Feed da Animals] to Usher for “Papers”?
Zaytoven: When I first started working with Gorilla Zoe, he came over and that was one of the first songs we actually sat down and done together. He was just like, “Man, Zay, give me something different…” So we did it, and the song was never really supposed to be a song. It was just something we was kinda working on, messing around wit’. He was gonna use it [for] like a skit. For some reason when they end up using it on the album – we didn’t do any paperwork or anything on it really, for real. It was just a song that they used [the beat for], we thought it was gon’ be a skit, but it end up being the song. [But], that wasn’t no issue between us. So when Usher and them came back and wanted to use it, I guess they never had heard the song before. And to them it didn’t make a difference [that it had been used already]. And me still having the licensing and owning the song…and the relationship I had with Gorilla Zoe and Block [Entertainment], everybody was all for it like, “Oh man, that’s a [good look]. Usher and them wanna use that track? Man, make sure they use it. That’s big. That’s gonna be big for my career.” So, it just end up turning out that way. And then when they wanted to use it for Usher, I actually took the beat [and] enhanced it: added some sounds, changed a couple of things to kinda give it a different feel.
DX: …That beat was different for you no matter who hopped on it. Are you moving towards more melodic creations and away from the 808-driven dark shit?
Zaytoven: Well, I’m still doing both. Our core audience is more like a street-based audience. But, me being a musician, I always am melodic. And a complex track like the Usher [song], that’s what I been doing, and what I can do very well. I just needed something like that to kinda open the door. So, I’m still doing both. I think I’m a creative person, creative enough to still please the trap guys and then the R&B scene as well.
DX: Do you feel like doing the shit you do for Gucci, Plies, etc has held you back in any way, has held back your progression as a producer?
Zaytoven: Um…not really. It actually almost helped me. It helped me to learn how to get on different levels. ‘Cause me being a musician coming into the game, I didn’t know nothing but the music and the melodical way of doing music. So when I get with guys like Gucci [Mane] and Plies and all that, I have to simplify stuff and learn that…a rapper, their voice is an instrument. So you can’t cloud it up with too much stuff. You gotta kinda leave space [for their instrument], [and] you gotta make it where the club can jump and bounce – it’s a certain feeling. So, I actually learned by doing that type of music. It helped me be a better producer.
DX: Now, tell me about this new artist you’re working with.
Zaytoven: Well, man, me being the guy I am, I like to work with all the new up-and-coming guys, or anybody I hear that sounds good to me, so it’s really a number of ‘em. Like, me as myself, I’m working with myself as a artist. I got a guy from Alabama I just signed named Mook… I know he’s gon’ be real big. I’m working with a guy, Future, from out here in Atlanta. He’s one of the new hot guys out here in Atlanta. I got a group I’m working with called The Eragance.
DX: You’re working on yourself as an artist; you’re like rappin’?
Zaytoven: Well, [rapping], singing. I guess as a producer, anytime you produce as much music as I do, sometimes you wanna get behind the mic and just, you know, express yourself. I’m not really trying to be a artist artist per se, but still recording music that I wanna do. And if it happens to be I turn into a artist, then so be it. But if not, I’m still gon’ continue to do the music that I love to do.
DX: So what all specifically is on the Zaytoven itinerary for 2011?
Zaytoven: Of course still doing the production I been doing, working with the guys I been working with, but expanding my brand a little bit: working with more R&B artists, getting in the Pop world. I’m actually going to this Gospel awards ceremony to get my connections there, ‘cause I wanna get in the Gospel arena too.
DX: I understand you did some shit for Mystikal’s comeback, correct?
Zaytoven: Oh yeah, me and Mystikal been working hard.
DX: Did you channel your inner Beats By The Pound and take it back to Unpredictable?
Zaytoven: Well, you know what? I actually was sitting in the studio with Mystikal and KLC, so – And everything we did was from scratch. So I think the vibe definitely came from [what we’re all] used to hearing from Mystikal, plus my own Zaytoven sound. And they fell in love with it, so…I think it’s a plus.
DX: Now, I don’t wanna keep asking about Gucci, but I wanna wrap up this quick Q&A by asking you about something you said during your Producer’s Corner feature for DX. You said of Gucci’s lyrical approach, “It’s really hard to be simple.” So I was just curious, do you feel like Gucci is purposefully dumbing down his rhymes?
Zaytoven: On certain songs. If anybody is like a Gucci Mane fan, you can listen to some records that sound dumbed down. And those probably are the records that has been big records, [and] been on the radio. But then you can listen to his mixtapes and see where he’s actually like being lyrical, and just really rappin’. Like, being a rapper. Like, as [if] it’s a competition. So, I think it’s actually hard to do that, to simplify songs. ‘Cause we living in a music world [where] a song is what people notice you by. You can have a hundred songs on mixtapes and all that, but if you ain’t got a hot record right now on the radio, or something that somebody know now, then you kinda irrelevant. I think he’s good at both: making a simple record or making a record that everybody can sing along with and repeat the words for the radio or video, and then at the same time [making something to] satisfy all the Rap critics or the guys that really wanna hear him rap on his mixtapes. I think he got a good balance of that.