Interview With Keelay & Zaire
Keelay and Zaire’s producer partnership in the super collaborative effort Riding High spawned one of a few stellar multi-player hip-hop projects to come along since Prince Paul’s A Prince Among The Thieves. Their conjoined histories of west and Midwestern beginnings into hip-hop during the Golden Era gave them the insight to make an album with classic appeal using contemporary artists. Keelay’s childhood in Los Angeles was spent listening to icons like DJ Premier and Pete Rock. Zaire’s Dayton, Ohio roots put him among the lingering vibes of famous funksters The Ohio Players, Zapp and Slave. His enjoyment of hip-hop was matched by his love of R&B which made Devante Swing a muse for him that can be heard in “Alright With Me’s” bedroom groove. They just released a video for “Slick Talk” the third single from the album and in this interview they explain how their dialogue that started on an internet forum two years ago turned into one of this year’s underground favorites.
Tell me something about your musical backgrounds? How did each of you get involved in music? Keelay I know you are another hip-hop lover from a place that isn’t known for it’s musical culture so how did it begin for you? Zaire you are from Dayton, OH what does your hometown have to do with your music?
Keelay: I don’t have any formal musical background or training but yeah it’s funny I just grew-up I mean really the first things I ever listened to was hip-hop which is funny so I just grew-up lovin hip-hop that was my favorite music I was the only kid in school or out of the neighborhood listening to hip-hop or rap. Both of my parents are from LA anyway so growing up I was always out there that’s why I really got exposed to hip-hop. I just remember like back in the day the first tape I ever bought was Criminal Minded BDP after that I was sold. It’s a funny thing because you know I was like a fish out of water. At the same time I’ve enjoyed being that one dude to listen to rap or hip-hop that’s just kind of how it all started. Every summer I’d go out there with my family because that’s where my family’s from being out there that’s kind of how I was exposed to it so it’s just kind of became like you fall in love.
Zaire: I grew-up in Dayton, Ohio I would listen to hip-hop on the radio because of course that’s what was around but my pops was a DJ he DJed a lot of R&B, soul and jazz whatnot so that’s what I primarily listened to in my household.
Did any of the legendary funk musicians from your part of the country influence you at all?
Zaire: You know I listened a lot to that stuff and I grew-up on it but as I got older I started getting a little bit deeper into hip-hop started discovering new music and not just stuff that was on the radio and I started taking notice of the art form of it. So I wanted to learn how to scratch I got a couple of turntables cheap Gemini turntables with a sampler on it you know scratching it takes a lot to learn this sampler on the mixer that came with the turntables got me into sampling things and making these l crude beats then I found myself four or five hours, six hours deep everyday playing with this sampler making these beats from then it was a wrap I wasn’t even trying to scratch no more I was making beats then freestyling with my boys and all that. I got into it like that from then I ended-up trying to learn more about it and went on the internet forums about beatmaking and whatnot I met Keelay and it was a wrap for me. It was downhill my life was over.
How did you meet?
Keelay: Yes that was it basically we all used to post on this messageboard undergroundhiphop.com it was just a forum like I was getting into trying to learn how to make beats and I went on this forum someone told me to go there there was lots of up and coming producers it was like a great place to learn different things and learn about gear stuff like that and I just happened to meet Zaire and our other friend J-Fish and we all started like just getting on instant messenger and sending each other beats from there it just turned into let’s meet up let’s make some music together, the next day we in like Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania we’re all together making music and we had never met each other before. It was something that slowly evolved finally a couple of years down the line me and Zaire just kind of said let’s try to put together an album that’s basically the story in the short form.
Did you start out with a concept?
Zaire: At first you know we were just going to put together a project just me and Keelay on doing some music we like to do with the folks we came up with or you know or folks that we respected that we talked to from time to time online our homies and whatnot. We were going to put out Riding High as a free project and basically the concept you know was a couple of heads riding around the city listening to music everybody can relate to that. Not anything that was too in-depth like Prince Paul classic something that just linked everything together really smooth concept everybody can grasp. We kept recording and working on it the project grew and grew and grew and it just turned into a monster. We linked-up with MYX Music label and they just took it to a whole nother level they worked their magic and boom we was out there. It was a real cool situation how that all went down it wasn’t any compromises.
Keelay: It’s like Zaire said we started off with the crew we wanted to reach out to people that we were fans of to be honest. A lot of people were like really really cool and did it off the strength other folks that we had reached out to we couldn’t quite afford and then there’s other people that we could afford that was within our own personal budget we did the whole album and paid for it with our personal income.
How did you come up the concept?
Keelay: Yeah we just kind of wrote a story and had a plot we kind of sat down with the beats and said who sounds good here that we at least know we’ll be able to contact who would sound here with the homies then you just start running into people meeting people it just kind of all fell into place after that.
How did you pick and choose the rappers for the album?
Keelay: We tried to set it up so when we were approaching artists we would already have the concept of the song so we kind of tried to make album sound cohesive we didn’t want it to be a compilation of just a whole bunch of rappers rapping about whatever they want we tried to step to people with a storyline and a concept and as many specific details to at least let them know
Are there any producers or musicians in general that have inspired what you do?
Zaire: People ask that b-bangers all the time and a lot of times the greats are the greats you know Pete Rock, Preemo, Dilla those guys you know changed the game basically as far as like regular hip-hop beats they took it to whole other art form so those guys get a big-up from me all of the time my personal favorite producer is Devante Swing because you know I have an R&B background so I listen to a lot of that growing up I really look up to a lot of the compositions Devante Swing did for Jodeci.
Keelay: You know I’m with Zaire I’m not a Devante Swing fan per say.
Zaire: I told you about saying that thing about Devante in interviews (laughs)
Keelay: I grew-up on Dr.Dre and Preemo and Pete Rock those are my favorites but I always tell everybody as far as being influenced Zaire and all the people we met on the internet forums those are all the people that really influenced me more than anything. It was just like a big competition we were sending beats back and forth on the instant messenger J. Fish and Zaire they made me want to make beats and that influenced my talent more than anything.
Zaire: Oh he blasted my favorite producer.
What’s going on with Sole Vibe Studios East?
Zaire: It’s not like they are my artists per say out west there’s a lot more folks in the scene especially out in the Bay the music scene out there is really popping I’m out in Newport News at the bottom of Virginia and there’s somewhat of a music scene but it’s not like any venues or shows like that going on all the time. One is Kozmin that’s my homie that works with Nottz and uh DMP Squad we’re getting into a lot of other things a pop rock type of thing so that’s the thing we like to harp on a lot we like to get into all types of music not just hip-hop we’re just big fans of music in general and we try to show that. Sole Vibe is an extension of the headquarters out in the Bay area.
How long did it take to do the album?
Keelay: I think it took us like two years to put it all together you know I think part of it too is just having to rely on other people me and Zaire could only do so much you know we’re not actually putting the vocals on the songs it was a lot of follow-through and just trying to make things happen.
Keelay: We’re doing as many shows as we can with our band The Park which is one of the most amazing bands out of the Bay area. We’re definitely trying to get on the road at some point.
What was it like to work with Phonte?
Zaire: Professional man I think that whole ordeal went down maybe two or three days. We holla’d at Phonte we sent him the track to give him a preview of what it would be like I think I sent the track to him that night Thursday morning he sent his vocals back Friday night.
Keelay: He’s like really really professional he came out for the video we shot the video in LA so that was just like a blessing we were real thankful that he came out to do the video with us. It was a really good experience with Phonte.
Have you already thought about the next project after this?
Keelay: We have a few things in the works the main focus is to try to promote this album I want to push it to the limit if we can. We’re doing a project with our homie Bamboo out of LA right now we got a bunch of stuff going on. We will get to the next Keelay and Zaire project I hope it takes less than two years this time.
Any wishlists of people you want to work with?
Keelay: It used to be Keyshia Cole but she’s been dissing us lately.
Zaire: She don’t like to return text messages and stuff if I send thirty text messages I expect to get at least one back. (laughs)