February 13, 2011

Big Zach (Kanser / More Than Lights)

Big Zach (Kanser / More Than Lights)
If you have kept an eye on the Minnesota hip hop scene at all in the last fifteen years, you have likely heard of the Kanser crew and the energetic and nostalgic sound they have consistently created for a decade and a half. Their music is possibly the best way to experience a sunny south side afternoon without actually being in Minneapolis, and the music of the live-band group More Than Lights, with the same MCs as Kanser as well as some highly talented musicians, has the same effect. Kanser and More Than Lights frontman Big Zach recently finished up a new solo album, as well as a new More Than Lights EP, in addition to the multitude of shows they play in the Twin Cities. Last weekend Big Zach came out despite a case of strep throat to give the word on what else he’s been up to lately as well as some history behind the group.

First off, introduce yourself and your crew for anyone who might not be up.

My name is Zach, and I’m a rapper in the group More Than Lights, and the rap group Kanser from Minneapolis.

What’s the history behind Kanser; how did you all hook up and start making music?

In my junior and senior year of high school, all the kids that rapped in South (High) basically got together and formed a group called Kanser, we used to call it the Kanser Troupe. Then after high school we kinda built a name for ourselves just running around downtown and at the mall freestyling and doing our first little shows. Me and Unicus and Mesh who was the third member of Kanser, we just kept it banging, cause most of the rappers after high school stopped rapping.

Your music has such a nostalgic feel, what is it about where you came up that caused that?

Probably the era of hip hop that we came up in, the early nineties, the sound that a lot of people like to be romantic about and call it the best time in hip hop. Since we never stopped and we never took a long break, I think our formula was just updated enough to stay current, where I don’t think we have a brand new sound like a Doomtree or something, who has a sound that wasn’t around fifteen years ago, we have a sound that was around, just the updated version of it. That’s what I like to think, I can’t hear it through someone else’s ears.

You’ve collaborated with some of the best of the Twin Cities; who has been the most instrumental in your coming up?

Even though I took a lot from different people, making music wise I learned the most from Ant (of Atmosphere). Even though it wasn’t until his later years where he got into dissecting actual lyrics, he taught me just the basics of how to record, and he showed me some basic things that put me ahead when I was younger. Twinkie Jiggles, the bass player of Heiruspecs, has taught me the most about how to try to move like a machine. I’m not the most business smart dude when it comes to this rap thing, but Twinkie has showed me things like how the band has to move, everyone has to do their job and everyone has to be on time. I learned a lot from Twinkie and I learned a lot from Ant.

Who is the best to collaborate with nowadays?

Big Jess from Unknown Prophets, he drives a school bus, and he has breaks from like nine thirty to eleven every day between the bus routes, and me and him have such a good formula that I’ll get to his house around nine forty-five and I’ll record two songs like boom boom done everything’s a wrap by eleven and I’ll be out. He’s the easiest for me to work with; we just have the best chemistry. I’m not saying we necessarily make the best music, but we get creative fast.

Who do you think is making good music out there right now, both locally and nationally?

The group that I like the most locally is Duenday, the new group that I’ve been managing. They have a fresh sound that reminds me of what I feel like I would be doing if I was their age in 2011, so it makes me feel good. Of course who’s producing music at a rapid rate who moves like a machine; of course Atmosphere, and Doomtree, like I admire what they do and how efficiently they move. There’s a lot of good rappers here, a lot of good musicians that push us all forward.

Besides Duenday, who do you think is the next up?

Wide Eyes. I know it feels like I’m name droppin both of those groups because they both opened our release and I consider those people friends of mine, but to tell you the truth, I’ve been lucky to make so many friends in the Twin Cities hip hop scene, and everyone is friends of mine so that I wouldn’t put anybody over anybody for a personal reason. I think Sean Anonymous from Wide Eyes could be the best rapper in the Twin Cities soon. I’m not saying he is now, but he has the talent and he has the heart and he has the skill, he has something kinda different — he can rap about things. He’s really good, and he’s being slept on right now but I think he could be the best rapper in the Twin Cities.

Who are some of your musical inspirations?

There’s a rapper out of California that I’ve been listening to, for the past three years he’s been my favorite rapper is Blu, he’s pretty dope. There’s this DJ called Pretty Lights that I really like. I don’t know if I take anything from Pretty Lights to apply to my own shit, but the music makes me feel good about life

You’ve been around for over fifteen years, how have you managed not to sell out or fade into the background?

I never had the opportunity; you know I would’ve sold out a long time ago if I’d had the chance. I’m just kidding. The fade out is just like staying consistent, just staying around. I feel like me and Unicus have watched several, probably a hundred rappers that were our age or a little older feel like they could take a break for a couple years and then come back, and that’s almost impossible. You gotta stay- me and Unicus go out of our way, like young rappers hit us up all the time to come to their shows. And you know, being our age going to like a show where everyone’s a teenager is just out of our way, but if it makes these rappers feel good that we came to check ‘em out and it makes them come back and support us, it’s really not that big of a deal. I ain’t got shit else to do anyways. It’s fun to go watch young rappers and see how the new style is developing. I also feel really blessed that I get asked to host young rapper’s CD release parties all the time, Kanser gets booked to perform at a lot of ‘em. Sometimes the fans might not know who we are, or their friends might not know who we are, but they’ll come out of pocket just so we’ll play their event or be a part of their event, and that’s fun, that’s how we get to know them and befriend them, it’s a fun cycle.

How did More Than Lights come to be, from Kanser?

More Than Lights came to be in 2004, I was doing back-up vocals for Heiruspecs, cause Muad’dib was in the hospital, and we were doing a sound check and Matt and Corey from More Than Lights, the drummer and the guitar player, were at the sound check. They were in a high school band that was breaking up, and they asked if they could start backing Kanser, and I was like yeah for sure. They started backing Kanser, and for a while it was Kanser with More Than Lights, and then we just started getting a little bigger than we could contain it like that, so we just separated Kanser as with the DJ and More Than Lights as a separate entity that includes me and Unicus. And so far, man that’s been a really fun trip.

More Than Lights just released a new EP, correct?

It’s just six songs, it was meant to be seven songs but there an artist named Jamie Lidell who we’re into, and we did a hip hop remix of one of his songs, and we tried to contact him. Even though we’re real underground level, we thought we should get permission to do it, but they never got back at us so we just leaked the Jamie Lidell song and just put out six songs on the EP. And it’s 2011, I’m thinking I just wanna drop EP’s, cause the music game is changing so fast I can’t keep up with it, so I just wanna keep spurting music out there as fast as I can.

You recently completed a new solo album called New Crayons, can you tell us about that?

Yeah, it’s all produced by Big Jess, he hit me maybe like November first, and he was like let’s make a new Big Zach album, and we had it done by new years. So we did it in less than two months. I won’t say it’s the best work I’ve ever done, but it’s definitely me right now. Cause I made it in two months, so all the songs reflect what I’m thinking about right now. When I say it’s not the best music I’ve ever done, I don’t mean to degrade it, I’m just saying like I feel good about it, this is how I feel right now, let’s get that out and see what people think.

How is this gonna be different than some of your older work?

The last solo release I had, the album White Jesus, I took like twenty years of experiences and tried to put ‘em out into one album, and I’m still very proud of that album. The New Crayons album that’ll be coming out with Big Jess is more like what I was feeling like in the last two months, if that makes sense.

Back to Kanser, where did you get the name?

We’ve been answering that question for the last fifteen and a half years. It’s this kid named Simpson, I don’t even remember his last name, but he grew up about two blocks from over here and he was an original member of Kanser. He came up with the name, and he was one of the first kids to leave the group, so where he got it from, I don’t know. I’ve been giving that same answer for over fifteen years.

Are there any tours lined up for either of the new albums?

More Than Lights has a tour going out, we’re doing a circle of shows in the Midwest and shooting out to like Montana Wyoming and Idaho, we’re gonna call it the Funs On Our Team Tour. Actually all morning I’ve been trying to figure it out, we’ve been getting offered a lot of bar gigs and ski resort towns and stuff, and we’re debating if we spend our whole month just doing a circle around Montana and Wyoming or get out to Portland. We got an offer on the table in Portland the same day we got a little better offer as some of those ski resort towns, so I’m trying to figure out what we’re gonna do. It basically starts next weekend, next weekend we’re in Madison, Wisconsin and Crystal Lake, Illinois, and the next weekend we’re in St. Cloud and back here, and after that we should be out for a month.

What’s worse, a cop car or a tow truck?

That depends what’s in the car. A cop car gets behind you when you ain’t got nothin bad in the car, there’s nothing to worry about. A tow truck gets behind your car, you’re probably getting towed.

Any last thoughts or shout-outs?

I appreciate you putting us number one as the most slept-on rap group in Minnesota. I was getting hit up by Carnage and Prof and stuff like that, you know like, what do they mean, we’re not in the top ten or we’re not slept on? I was like I think they think you’re not slept on, you know what I’m sayin. Even though we’d rather not be slept on, it’s kinda cool to be number one.


One Response