What happens when you’ve already established yourself as a Grammy Award-winning super producer at the very forefront of the hip-hop circuit? You release an album - and not just any album, but one that is full of the game’s hottest; a who’s who of A-list talent that includes 2 Chainz, Gucci Mane, and Future, to name just a few. That’s exactly what Atlanta-based producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Zaytoven has accomplished. The May unveiling of his debut full-length album, Trap Holizay, is set to be one of the spring's standout albums, complete with a massive tour (his first) in support of the release.
Having worked with the likes of Drake, Travis Scott, and Rick Ross (plus a rolodex of other heavy-hitters) and crafting the beat behind such indelible hits as Migos' "Versace" and Nicki Minaj's "Want Some More", Zaytoven continues to operate as an inimitable force in today's hip-hop landscape. We caught up with the multi-hyphenate talent at the peak of SXSW to discuss his debut, his forthcoming film Birds of a Feather 2, what he’s learned about himself from partnering with the industry's best, and how to maintain relevance in an ever-evolving music scene.
Getting into your album, 'Trap Holizay', you have a ton of exciting artists featured. I know you’ve collaborated with Rick Ross and most of the other artists before. What’s different with your creative approach to creating this album versus a mixtape or single?
My approach on the album versus a mixtape is that I chose to put guys together that I felt like never did songs together before. A mixtape is totally different - if you listen to the music I’ve produced, a lot of the stuff I make sounds like mixtape music. People love mixtapes more than they like albums now.
Yeah, I’m starting to find that to be the case.
This being my first album, I definitely wanted to have a real album feel. So I took a little bit more time [and] took a little bit more effort to do the songs that I did – just orchestrating the music based on how I was going to use different artists on the different tracks. I’d say that’s the difference between an album and a mixtape.
Are you happy with the outcome?
Very, very, very happy. I feel like it’s a classic. I feel like it’s a must-have album if you listen to hip-hop.
I can see that. You have everybody who’s “it” right now in hip-hop on the album. With your latest single, “What You Think”, how did the collaboration with Jeremih and Ty Dolla $ign come about?
Well I started working with Ty Dolla $ign on his album. I did a song called “R&B” and we had a relationship going. I’d send him beats all of the time and he’d send me songs back. One song he sent me back in particular I was like, ‘Hey man, I want to use this for my album.’ Now, it has a slower beat to it - with the slower beat on there, I put Jeremih on it, but then I was like, ‘I want this for my album, but I really want it to be a single.’ So, I went in, changed the beat up, made it more up-tempo and made it more bouncy. Then I said, ‘Now what can I do to just make this different than any other song that’s out?’ I went back and grabbed my buddy OJ Da Juiceman - because people know me with working with Gucci Mane and OJ Da Juiceman. I wanted to put somebody on there that people knew me for working with.
You’ve worked with so many artists that you’ve built relationships with - as far as the artists that you’ve collaborated with, what have you learned about yourself in the process?
I would say that different artists have given me a different confidence in a certain way. I learned that these different artists respect my opinion so much that any way I want to do something or any idea I have, I can tell them and they’re going to go for it. If I say, ‘Man, I want you to sing this whole song falsetto.’ They’re like, 'We believe in Zay and your creativity that much that that’s what we gon’ do.'
So no fight back?
No, no fight back. I learned that these people really respect my opinion.
You have this album coming out along with a tour in support of it. Tell me about what else you have planned for the year.
This is my first time on a tour. I’ve never done a tour or been gone for this long.
Are you nervous?
Well, I’m a family man. I got a wife and two kids, so I’m not really used to being gone a whole lot. It’s definitely going to be something different for me, but I’m prepared to do it. In the midst of doing the tour, I’m shooting the show The Rap Game again and two other shows I got to shoot. I also have a movie coming out with the album. I know I have to do a lot of movie premieres and things of that nature, so I’m not really nervous. I’m just excited for what the future holds.
That is really exciting! Debut album and a tour – it’s all coming together. So, 'Birds of a Feather 2' is coming out as well. Can you tell me about the movie and what’s it all about this time around?
Birds of a Feather 1 was just about me being a producer making it in the game and the things that I had to go through to get in the game. Now, part two is about staying in the game and really realizing, ‘Do I really still want to be in the game? Is it a bigger purpose than me just wanting to do music?’ It’s a lot of struggles and different things that I go through where you know how the game is; a new producer might come in and be the new hot guy, now you’re not talked about anymore or as much anymore and things like that. You might lose your passion, or you might feel like your time might be up or over with. So it’s those different struggles of somebody – a producer – that’s been in the game and been successful and the things you got to go through while you’re still trying to be relevant.
You’ve maintained relevance for years at this point, what would you say attributes to that relevance?
There’s new people, new artists and even new producers. New people give me new inspiration. That’s why I always continue to work with these new artists that come out because they give me a different passion and a different inspiration; and I’m competitive. I’m one of the guys I feel like I can’t go out like that, you know? I don’t want to be a producer that’s like 'Zay was hot back in 2012.' I can’t go out like that. I’ve never been a producer that’s been the top producer in the game. So what that has done for me is give me longevity. It means I can sustain for longer. A lot of times when you peak you'll be the hottest thing in the world, then after a year or so people get tired of that and want something else. I’ve been a guy that’s been able to stay afloat this whole time.
You’ve been more behind-the-scenes than anything and now you’re coming to the forefront.
Yeah, I’m breaking out!
What do you admire about the artists that you’ve worked with so far?
What I admire about every artist that I really work closely with is their work ethic. The guys like Gucci and Future and Migos – the guys that I’m really close to, they do show after show and they record song after song day after day just to get the right song to put out to the public. I respect that so much, and it made me work the same way. So now I have to make a million beats a month because they want to make a million songs a month. In this game nowadays, you got to have a lot of work. It’s not set up for somebody that has ten songs. You can’t live off of that. You got to have music that keeps coming and coming.
I feel like that would be kind of frustrating as an artist, no?
Well, when music is what you love to do, and recording is what you love to do, it’s really fun. You know what I mean? You get to be creative over and over again.
Catch Zaytoven on his first-ever tour on one of the dates below:
4/20 Denver, CO 4/24 Spokane, WA 4/25 Castlegar, BC, Canada 4/26 Calgary, Canada 4/27 Vancouver, Canada 4/28 Seattle, WA 4/29 Portland, OR 5/2 Sacramento, CA 5/3 Reno, NV 5/4 Berkeley, CA 5/5 Santa Cruz, CA 5/6 Los Angeles, CA 5/25 Savannah, GA
For more of our interviews, read our chat with the wickedly talented Bishop Nehru right here.