With his unique blend of scathing minimal beats and irresistibly dark lyrics, Brooklyn’s own Zebra Katz (aka Ojay Morgan) is an artist currently setting the worlds of hip-hop and fashion alight. Initially creating the Zebra Katz character as part of an art school performance piece, the rapper gained huge international recognition at Rick Owens’ A/W12 show in Paris, where Katz’s now-signature track ‘IMA READ’ (later dubbed “the song of fashion week”) played on loop. Having since shared the stage with the likes of Diplo and Lana Del Rey, this is one personality we’re going to be keeping a very close eye on…
Interview by Charlotte McManus
FAULT: What inspired the name ‘Zebra Katz’?
ZEBRA: It came off the top of the Katz’s head. Zebras are my power animal, because they’re dwelling with the fact that they’re so unique within their breed; none of their stripes are alike, like our fingerprints, but much more beautiful. So, ‘Zebra’ as an animal, ‘Katz’ as a surname, because it just, y’know, stuck.
FAULT: You originally created the Zebra Katz character for a performance – how does his persona differ to Ojay’s?
ZEBRA: He’s the alter ego – a lot darker, and mysterious. He has an incredible stage presence. When I perform as Zebra Katz, I’m totally transformed into the character of Zebra Katz, and put on the new faces and different characters he has within himself, and the energies that he carries about. It’s translated in video, but when you see him live, people start to see the dualism in his character.
FAULT: Obviously it’s still early days with the project, but do you see it ever sparking off to create more characters you can express creatively?
ZEBRA: I don’t know. I know they’re out there, and there are other performances that have happened before with other characters that I had, but I think Zebra Katz definitely outshined them all. Right now, at this time, I think there was a need for someone like Zebra Katz.
FAULT: What do you mean by there being a “need”?
ZEBRA: People needed a diversion from everyday pop music; and from the response I’ve received, it seems like there was definitely a want. Zebra Katz did a very, very minimal track [‘IMA READ’] that was to the point, you know? Some people think it’s a little brutal, but to me it was just pure honesty, this simplistic form. People needed a change – I know I wanted a change. Zebra Katz was it.
FAULT: A more minimal sound is definitely refreshing to hear – especially with the huge percentage of rap being so hyper-produced these days.
ZEBRA: That’s what makes ‘IMA READ’ so powerful – people listen to what I’m actually saying, as opposed to just hearing some ‘DUN DUN DUN DUN’ crazy riff. People want to dance, but you can still dance and have a message you can send out.
FAULT: Along with other artists like Mykki Blanco, you’ve been lumped in with the ‘queer rap’ label that’s doing the rounds in the media at the moment. What are your thoughts on that? Do you find it irritating to be categorised on the basis of your sexuality?
ZEBRA: It’s irritating that some journalists think it’s okay to disregard the music as a whole, and just reference people by their colour or sexuality. In most of my tracks, gender and sexuality are undertones, and they’re understated. I don’t think [my music] leaves anyone out, but if you happen to be from a queer background, or have a great vocabulary for slang or hip-hop knowledge, it makes sense. Queer rap isn’t really a genre, just a bubble in which a lot of people who don’t get it and really want to get it group [these artists] together.
FAULT: Considering how fast you blew up after the Rick Owens show, what’s been the most unexpected thing about gaining so much attention so quickly?
ZEBRA: The day after I quit my day job, I did a complete 180, and was managing Zebra Katz full-time, getting on planes, booking shows, and speaking to record labels – and really learning all this stuff. Everyone hopes to make it and break it, and I actually broke it – that’s the most surprising thing for me.
‘IMA READ’ will be released worldwide on September 14th (and stay tuned for news of an official full-length). You can check out more of Zebra Katz’s music at zebrakatz.com