By: Stevie Beloved
Meet Todd Zack Jr., A 25-year old R&B/Neo-Soul Singer/Songwriter, who also is a member of the U.S. Air Force. Not only does Todd write and sing his own music, but he also records it himself too, right in his own bedroom. Now some of you might be thinking, “well how good can his music really be then?” Trust me, once you hear some of his music like “Flourish.” for an example you will be singing the hook all day, kind of like I was when I first stumbled upon his YouTube channel. Todd was born and raised in Elyria, Ohio, a small city 25 miles west of Cleveland, OH. He comes from a middle-class family, in which his upbringing was definitely gritty. In 1998, his father was a police officer, wrongfully convicted of a crime he didn’t commit. This led to his mother working 3 jobs at one point, and his grandparents having to step up to take care of him and his younger brother. Where he comes from music isn’t taken seriously. As a matter of fact, it’s usually looked at as farfetched. But that’s what makes Todd so dope -- he’s living proof that all it takes is passion and belief in yourself to accomplish what people don’t believe you are capable of.
SKYN: A large amount of people can relate to your lyrics, especially with songs like “Flourish.”, what’s the influence behind your words?
TZJ: I didn’t come up in this terrible lifestyle you know what I mean? It was definitely tough with my Dad gone for 10 and a half years, and my Mom working so much. I lived with my Grandparents, and they stepped in as the role of Mom and Dad for my brother and I, so I guess that has a lot to do with it. Going through so much at that time, it made me have a lot to write about. I’ve always been good when it comes to expressing myself, so within the music I’m very raw. I don’t feel the need to write shit I feel people want to hear, it’s more so I’m writing what I feel like people need to hear. With this joint in particular, I was just inspired off the daily struggles / negative energy from people telling me what I can’t do, can’t achieve, etc.
SKYN: I feel it man, that’s dope! So at what point did you decide music is something you wanted to do?
TZJ: I would say that I knew I had a love for music when I was in grade school, so probably like 4th or 5th grade. I didn’t really start taking it serious until I was in high school. It was then that I was in a group with 3 of my closest homies. I was very timid, meaning I was cool with just putting the harmonies together and being the main writer, so at that time that was enough for me. We broke up in 2008 when I graduated; we all kinda went our separate ways but I wanted to keep doing music. At that time, I was kinda playing around with it….I really loved music but I didn’t really have the confidence back then. But in 2012, my granddad passed away. The last conversation we had was about my music. So yeah….April 2012 is when I was like “Ok, let’s get it.”
SKYN: That’s what’s up! Alright, so me being a photographer, I like to play music with good vibes during the shoot for the model(s) to get comfortable. I have to say, the 3 songs that people have gone crazy over is of course “flourish.”, “FYR. (Freak You Right)”, and “playershit.”.
TZJ: Yeah those get a lot of love!
SKYN: Yeah man! So how long did it take you to write and record those songs?
TZJ: It didn’t take me very long at all. With Flourish, I had this one beat I came across on YouTube and I wanted to buy it, but somebody had bought the rights to it already. I was like fuck, I gotta find another beat. So my homie Blair Norf in Las Vegas was posting beats on his SoundCloud, and I heard that beat. I was like “Bro...this beat is one of the craziest beats I’ve heard!” It’s so different, and it hits crazy. I always like shit that just hits in the car, and where the sonics aren’t typical. When I frist started writing music way back, I didn’t start out having R&B beats. I would try to write over Rap beats I would download off LimeWire and Bearshare and shit. So when I heard it, it caught my ear immediately which led to me hitting him up about it and getting the approval to step to it. So I sat on it for a minute, and before I started working on my project, I really wanted to get this song out. So it didn’t take me too long to write it. I wrote that one in bits and pieces over the span of 10 days, and it took 90 minutes in total to pen it all.
SKYN: What about “FYR.” and “playershit.”?
TZJ: “playershit.” was also fairly quick. I got the beat from my boy CMPLX outta Las Vegas. He’s most known for his production on “Drama” by Roy Woods featuring Drake. I came across the beat on his Bandcamp page, bought it, and I stepped to it right away. I just played off the name “Player Shit”, but styled it how i style all my titles (all lowercase letters, ending with a period) because that’s the name he had already titled the beat. I wrote the first verse in like 20 minutes, and then I left the song alone because I originally had a feature on it. I took the feature off because a lot of people wanted a full version of that one with just me on it, plus the song had large potential. So I went back and wrote a second verse in about 30 minutes, and finished it up. I did “FYR.” with one of my favorite artists to work with, Paige Wells, in her living room in an hour! My boy Sevn Thomas did that beat. He’s probably the biggest producer I’ve worked with to date. He did “10 Bands” for Drake, “Mula” for Game featuring Kanye West, and co-produced “Real Friends” for Kanye West feat. Ty Dolla Sign. But yeah, we did that joint in an hour. It’s crazy because that song has over 100k plays on YouTube, and over 60k on SoundCloud.
SKYN: That’s definitely the song the females I’ve shot for like the most. That’s the thing about your music, it seems very balanced.
TZJ: It’s because being 25, I’m not going to be that dude that just caters to one demographic. I’m into dope fashion, I talk about everything from food, to day to day shit. From shit with females to shit with the homies. I just feel like in R&B, Nobody really does that. I’m a huge fan of Dom Kennedy. I fuck with Dom because he raps about a lot of normal day to day shit, always bringing listeners into a day in of the life of Dom. One day, I was like “Nobody in R&B is doing this shit….just being true to them. It’s always them serenading or being hurt.” I just started to do it, bringing people into a real day in the life type of shit when it comes to me. Prime example, like how I fuck with wings and tacos and all this crazy shit.
TZJ: It’s honestly normal shit, and people relate to what’s real, as well as what they experience. That’s my thing, I want people to hear my music and be like “He’s talking REAL!” you know what I’m saying? Not just for the females, and not just for the males. I make music for everybody. I don’t really limit myself, and I don’t feel like I should.
SKYN: You shouldn’t, and that’s the thing I noticed right away. I mentioned before that you have something for everyone. There are some artists out that cater to a certain audience, like how Trey Songz is majority about love/sex songs catered to women, which is most common within R&B.
TZJ: I’m a huge fan of Trey!
SKYN: I feel you! His music is primarily for the ladies though. I mean, he does have tracks dudes can get down to, but come on now how likely is it that you going to pull up next to a dude blasting Trey Songz? Your music on the other hand, it really is balanced. Nobody is doing what you’re doing lyrically which makes you stand out even more in my opinion.
TZJ: Appreciate that! I pride myself on my lyrical ability. I study so much music, from the old, the new, and to the music from artists that the masses aren’t hip to. You’re probably not going to stump me when it comes to R&B/Soul music. I study the genres heavily.
SKYN: See! Right there, that’s what separates you from everyone else. Some songs of yours might sounds similar to what’s popular right now but it’s your lyrics that really hit home. There’s been a few times when you have had me like “Damn, people really don’t want to see me flourish.” A lot of people don’t want to see you do good, as well as see you make it. They would rather see you fail than be successful.
TZJ: That’s exactly why I wrote it man. Let me tell you, over the last 2 years, I’ve had so many great music opportunities that I couldn’t take advantage of due to the demads of the military when it comes to the mission at hand / manning. I grind so hard to maintain a balance between my job and my artistry, but it sucks when I gotta turn down opportunities that I’ve worked hard for. There are definitely people at work that really don’t want to see me flourish, especially when you mention to some of those people that your passion is being an artist, creating music people love. I’m a firm believer that anybody can do anything they grind for.
SKYN: Yeah man! So when I first discovered you, I went online right away to try and buy your music. All your music is free. Why is that?
TZJ: My thing is, I don’t want people to buy my music right now. I’m all about getting in as many ears as possible, and people aren’t really trying to buy music right now. A lot of people want to show love and make a purchase, which is much appreciated. The fact that you tried to buy it shows you appreciate the music like I do, and you would support an artist by buying it. That’s dope to me. Not everyone is like that, which is when you have to make your music as accessible as possible. If it’s dope and free, people are gonna catch on to it. So right now, I’m just trying to catch as many plays as possible to create a buzz. When the time comes to put it on a platform where a larger amount of people want to pay, I want to be at a point where people feel it’s genuinely worth it. Not to say it’s not worth it right now, but I just know how perception is. A lot of people tend to say things like “Who is this? He’s not even known enough for me to pay for this.” I just want the general consensus of fans of the style of music I make to rock with me first. Right now, it’s all about being heard, and that’s priority to me.
SKYN: That’s how you can tell you’re a true artist. I believe it’s just a matter of time before you get your shot. Your music is going to cross that desk of someone that’s looking for someone just like you. You are going to make it,I know it. Your music is too good to be slept on. As long as you stay humble and hungry, your shot is going to come.
TZJ: That’s love man, thank you!
SKYN: So what’s next for you?
TZJ: On April 16th, I’m releasing a new project titled “betterwithtime.” It’s a project fuull of that style of R&B/Neo-soul that a lot of fans of the genres was raised on, with a mix of what’s dope right now. My main goal was to bridge the gap, meaning creating music shit that the older crowd is like “yo, we haven’t heard something like this in awhile.” I also have the music for the younger/my age bracket to be like “Damn, that’s dope.” They can get influenced off of what I came up on, because currently they’re aren’t too many people like me, going back to 90’s albums because they weren’t raised on that. So I just wanted to take my influences from back then and also from right now and mesh both, a middle ground that’s true to me and I feel like I did it.
SKYN: That’s what’s up. So for the people that are going to be reading this.. Who are you? Like what do you want people to know about Todd Zack Jr.?
TZJ: I would say I pride myself on keeping shit organic. That’s like my motto. I keep shit organic and create dope sounds. When I say organic, I mean real. Like the shit I preach to people I need to live out and I’m getting better at that day to day. I don’t want to make a bunch of music that isn’t true to the person I am you know? That’s organic to me. I’m not worried about the wave of today or tomorrow. I don’t care about that shit. I care about staying in my pocket and getting this shit to people who really love true, quality music. I feel like that defines me an artist and as a person. I’m very easy going and humble. I just try to keep shit positive, even when the bullshit hits. That’s how I’m able to write songs like “flourish.” I’m definitely not “Hollywood” as some would say. I’m very appreciative, and want people to know how thankful I am for my talents.
SKYN: What do you hope to accomplish with your music, like what are your goals?
TZJ: Honestly, I just want to be that creator where when my name comes up, people respect what i do and musically respected. I would love to get writing placements for other artists. I feel like if I could be an artist’s writer, I could help bring that timeless sound back to today’s R&B/Soul music. The-Dream was great at that. He wrote for so many artists, and you heard his music through the voices of so many as well. Also, the top accomplishment for any artist accolade wise is a Grammy. I need a couple of those!
SKYN: If not music, what would you say you would be doing?
TZJ: I would say it would either be in the realm of fashion, or public speaking. Fashion because I am very big on presentation, like the way outfits are put together for men and women. I do a lot of public speaking already within my job in the military, and I also feel like I got a have story to tell people who would love to know it. Going to schools to speak, or being a keynote speaker at events would be legit.
SKYN: Nice man, well thank you for taking the time to chat with me! You have real talent man, and I wish the best for you!
TZJ: That’s dope man, Thank you! I really appreciate it.
SKYN: It’s all love man.
TODD ZACK JR.
Stevie Beloved | @BelovedStevie | www.steviebeloved.com
Chris Goody | @chrisgoody23
Michael T. Garrett | @MGPhotog.com
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