Zebra Katz Interview
Introducing Zebra Katz
"Zeeeeeeeeeebra Fuckingggggggggg Katzzzzzzzzzzz" croons the vocoder at the start of ‘IMA READ’, right before the pulsing bassline and deliciously menacing vocals kick in on this year’s most addictive underground rap release. It’s a track that has earned co-signs from the likes of Questlove and Pharrell Williams, rocked the dancefloors of New York and the catwalks of Paris, and taken its creator Ojay Morgan from catering manager to fashion industry darling in just a few short months. But who exactly is Zebra Katz? POST NEW met him in London to find out.
Phoebe Lovatt: Where are you from?
Ojay Morgan: Originally I’m from South Florida but I moved to New York several years ago to pursue my creative dreams. I went to the New School and studied at Eugene Lang. Initially I’d wanted to go to the fashion school Parsons but it’s very competitive and I didn’t get in, which actually ended up being a blessing in disguise. While I was [at Eugene Lang] I had the opportunity to develop my own work and I created a solo performance piece called ‘Moral Contradictions’, which is what the persona of Zebra Katz grew out of. I actually made ‘IMA READ’ at that time, around five years ago. It’s great to have something that’s been online for five years finally get picked up.
PL: You made the track five years ago?!
OM: Yeah, I made it when I was studying. At that time I was always making music in my spare time. It was DJ Teenwolf who eventually told me to release it. He sent it to Diplo and soon after [Diplo] was like ‘yeah, we want to release this track’. So we shot a video in December 2011, released it in January of this year, and a few weeks later Rick Owen contacted us about using it in his runway show. On March 1st it was used in the show and the same day I quit my job! I was working as a catering manager but this was sign that I should be doing what I’m passionate about - and it was opportunity even more so. So I decided to take it and I ran with it and now I’m here in London, doing an interview in this room with you.
PL: ‘IMA READ’ has had a crazy response...
OM: Yeah, It was named the song of Paris Fashion Week and then got mentioned in the New York Times so that got me a lot of attention. It was astonishing - all this stuff happening as a result of something I did such a long time ago.
PL: Lots of people are saying the track signals the revival of ball culture. What do you make of that?
OM: The track got a lot of press because it was out around the same time that [Jennie Livington’s 1990 ball culture documentary] ‘Paris is Burning’ was released to NetFlix. A lot of people had never seen that documentary, but I had watched it the first week that I moved to New York. I had a big sense of knowledge of [the ballroom] scene because I’m a performer and dancer but it wasn’t what I was doing and I made sure to clarify that. There were all these ‘Paris is Burning’ references and all these journalists were talking about a ‘new scene’ of queer rap, but I don’t think queer rap is a genre.
PL: So how do you feel about being labelled a ‘queer rapper’?
OM: Honestly, it’s just lazy journalists trying to tie all these people together who don’t necessarily have any links. We all make completely different music and I find the [queer rap label] more pigeon-holing that it is progressive. But I think it will change - people who listen to my music will understand why I don’t need to be put in a box. I present my work in a way which is experience-based, I want people to have a fresh experience when they see me perform and watch my videos. When people first watched ‘IMA READ’ they had no idea who Zebra Katz was and no idea who (featured artist) Njena Reddd Foxxx was, but they soon found out.
PL: And for those who are still confused - who is Zebra Katz?
OM: The persona of Zebra Katz is about creating powerful images and new images. But he’s not a macho, bling-wearing rapper. He’s a character and he needs to evolve. I need to learn more about him. It started as a hobby but now that I’m performing to sold-out crowds, it needs to change. I don’t want to just to recite the lyrics to the audience and hype them up; I need to let them to live in the realm of Zebra Katz. That’s what’s so fun about when I bring in the artistic elements and the sculpture pieces and the dance elements. I’m not gonna bring in the Beyonce right now because I don’t think people are ready to see that but -
PL: Could you bring in the Beyonce if you wanted to?
OM: I could! I’m a trained dancer. But you know, it’s all about the slow reveal!
PL: So what’s next for Zebra Katz?
OM: I just shot the second visual and I was very aware of what people wanted to see and where Zebra Katz is living now. He’s very much in the the fashion world, he’s in the luxury world, he’s mingling with the New York literari. He’s finding his way. So I’m putting more thought into where I want it to go.
PL: One last thing - why Zebra?
OM: I love the animal as a power animal because of the binary of the black and white. The stripes, the flow. Zebras are so unique because no two zebras have the same stripes, similar to our finger prints. The way they defend themselves is to huddle in a mass and spin around to disorient the predator. I think that’s what Zebra Katz’s defense is; he’s really ambiguous. He’s warning people that’s he’s gonna read them. He hasn’t read you yet, but he can.