Ojay Morgan aka Zebra Katz's break out hit "Ima Read" has been remixed around 1978695457 times and I'm still not bored of it. A powerfully hypnotic sound and extra dark persona has kept both the club crowd and fashionistas, through to hip-hop aficionados interested. It's an approach that reeks of staying power.
So, I caught up with the Katz to talk gimp masks, how on Earth he managed to make a phrase like "W8WTF" poetic, dual personalities and his tour buddy, Azealia Banks.
Noisey: HEY! What’s happening? How are you finding the UK?
Zebra Katz: Hey! Today, I am going to go to my agency and start getting tracks organized for my mixtape. We just finished the tour of the north, so I got to see the north of the UK, and London’s great.
How’s it been getting "Ima Read" out on the road given that it’s been five years since you made it?
It's really exciting to go out there and play a lot of the older tracks that people aren’t familiar with off the Champagne mixtape and to see the people that know all the lyrics, y’know. There are a lot of die-hard Zebra Katz fans up there in the north that we wouldn’t have known about, so it was great to see their reactions. We try to change it up a bit so it’s not going to be the same listening experience, because of the visual aspects of it, but it’s definitely moving and flowing and bringing to life all those tracks off the mixtape.
Do you think it’s going to be quite hard to get rid of the "fucking" between Zebra and Katz now?
No, I mean, at least they’re talking about Zebra FUCKING Katz! Haha, not any other fucking, so I’m OK with that!
Do you get that shouted at you quite a lot?
No, not really. A lot of people just call me Zebra Katz, but if they do say ZFK, I’m cool with that.
It seems almost more common on Twitter than just Zebra Katz... maybe people just swear more on Twitter.
Yeah, it’s so tribal because it’s the tag that comes along with a lot of the tracks, so I think when people hear that it kinda excites them.
It is catchy. So, what sort of stuff did you grow up listening to?
I grew up listening to a lot of music and then I was into the arts and academia, so I have a well-rounded background. Also, I lived in south Florida and there was a huge Miami bass influence in a lot of the tracks. Growing up and going to the skating rink, that was all you would hear, so that’s definitely a strong influence of mine.
So, where you were was pretty important, then?
Yeah, south Florida, but then when I moved to New York I kinda just stayed there and that was definitely an influence. And working in nightlife, y’know, I got to listen to a lot of music, a lot of possibilities, a lot of underground stuff—I definitely got my fair share!
Pretty sweet musical roadmap. Do you think it’s fair to say theatrics come into your music quite a lot?
Definitely, I’m trying to bring back the element of performance to the live stage. A lot of these sets are dark and minimal so I think the theatrics help to add to the experience. As someone who’s studied performance art, I think it’s necessary in helping make the music you would hear on your iPod, into what you’re seeing on a stage. I want there to be that added element of surprise, something different. Like the gimp mask—that was taken from the "W8WTF
" video, so that was lending my fans and my audience another peek into the world of Zebra Katz. It’s very much a part of the track.
Do you think things like that—the theatrics—have helped you to tie into the fashion world?
I think that people like the idea of spectacle, but it’s just depends on how you do it. In this case the gimp mask is a prop for ‘W8WTF’, which is very easy to translate to the stage. Masks are a big part of the early trajectory of Zebra Katz, they're in the "Ima Read" video too. So, each element is going to continue throughout the videos and the visuals, so it’s just something I can string along through the live performances, which are only going to get a lot more theatric and, y’know, larger, hopefully.
Yeah, you’re pretty open about Zebra Katz as a character rather than just a moniker... how much of yourself do you think translates into him?
Obviously I'm not going to be like, "Oh, Ojay has nothing to do with Zebra Katz". I think we all know that, but when I hit the stage it’s a different kind of energy than, say, having this conversation with you. As time goes on and people see a lot more of Zebra Katz it’ll be easier to make a distinction.
Do you think people are getting it?
Yeah. It’s kind of like an unveiling when I hit the stage, but it’s also just something I know I’m capable of tapping in and tapping out of, getting into character. It’s different because this is a job to a certain extent...as opposed to you sitting down and having a champagne with Zebra Katz!
Thanks for the invite! So you don’t think there’s a risk of Ojay and Zebra merging like Joseph Pistone and Donnie Brasco?
I think there’s no need for them to separate. But I definitely see that there’s a time to go on stage and be Zebra Katz, and there’s a time to speak eloquently about my art as I’m doing as Ojay Morgan, so I think that’s more the distinction. I don’t see it being a case of me telling you about Zebra Katz and being like, "Ooooh yeah, Zebra Katz only comes out at NIGHT!"
Wouldn’t that be Zebra Batz?
Haha! You know, I think there are definitely moments where I do something that’s very opulent or extravagant or, y’know, wear something that’s very Zebra Katz-esque, but it’s definitely just a part of me that’s exemplified on stage.
So how’s it been touring with Azealia Banks?
It’s great. I don’t really get to see that much of her on the tour—only backstage and when we’re getting ready to perform— but she’s a sweetheart. This is our first tour of the UK so, we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and how we perform and work for different audiences. She has a very large demographic of fans from 12 year olds to 40 year olds, so it’s really interesting to see that, and opening for her is just something else.
Supporting her, we really just wanted to give it our all and do the best that we can for her, like what we’d want someone to do for us. It happened a lot quicker than I’d imagined it would.
Can you see yourself working with her in future?
Definitely. I’d love to go on a track with her. I’m about to release the "Ima Read" remix, the track that’s featured on the Fantasea mixtape, so it’ll be Tricky, Gangsta Boo and Azealia all on one track, which is just like a dream come true for me. Being that it’s my debut single and it’s gone this far, you know.
Finally, if you weren’t working with her... do you reckon you could take her in a battle?
Haha, I mean, we could battle someone together easily. I don’t really see myself battling or having beef with anyone as Zebra Katz in the industry, because I think Zebra Katz is just above it altogether, he’d rather just silently read someone than have a 15 minute battle.
He’s not the battle type, unless he's pushed into a corner...