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Budding Ottawa rapper big ZEE releases the Pretty Ugly EP
big ZEE (Photo: Supplied)

Interview: Q&A

Ottawa’s big ZEE releases the Pretty Ugly EP; video for “Crazy I Must Be”

While largely spending his time between Ottawa and Tampa/Miami—and after growing up in Dallas⁠—recording artist big ZEE continues to carve out a unique sound and identity on both the Canadian and Florida music scenes.

Having recently returned from Miami where he let off a new heavy hitting single featuring local R&B artist Jhoni the Voice, and another new gem with his Ottawa-based partner in rhyme, Gorgy Swoah, big ZEE has finally unleashed his sophomore solo EP, Pretty Ugly, featuring five original songs supported by three guest features (with Gorgy being one of them).

Budding Ottawa rapper big ZEE releases the Pretty Ugly EP

big ZEE (Photo: Supplied)

Pretty Ugly follows ZEE’s impressive 2018 solo EP debut, Méchant, which dropped last November and featured guest appearances by Gorgy, Cashtro Crosby, Bromar, and Pter P. Pretty Ugly features Gorgy, New York-based rapper Aaron Cohen, and Ottawa’s own SIXONETREY.

Not that it needed any work, but the EP solidifies ZEE’s reputation in his hometown as a talented artist who values quality over quantity, and as a workhorse artist who stays busy pushing his craft forward—and trying new things. In fact, my favourite song on the EP is a testament to ZEE’s willingness to step outside the box and try something different. The new Dayna Stallberg and 666 Media-powered video for “Crazy I Must Be” dropped today along with the EP. Check it out below.

There’s no question Pretty Ugly will earn ZEE a gang of new listeners, along with greater anticipation/demand for a full-length studio debut which may or may not be in the works. For now, as ZEE put it, “I need to take a little hiatus and shift towards promoting this current project.”

Luckily for us, promoting the project involves doing interviews with outlets like HipHopCanada, and we’ve been looking forward to featuring ZEE on a larger scale for a minute.

In our exclusive new Q&A we touch on the story behind how he got into music, we talk about the concept behind Pretty Ugly, along with his daughter’s connection to the release, and a ton more.

“I drew four big squares on a blank piece of paper and asked her to draw whatever came to her mind when she thought about my music. Sure enough, her second drawing was the one!” – big ZEE

The new EP is available now on Apple Music, Spotify, and various digital streaming platforms. Stream the album below and check out our exclusive interview with big ZEE about Pretty Ugly.

Budding Ottawa rapper big ZEE releases the Pretty Ugly EP

Q&A: big ZEE

HipHopCanada: big ZEE! Congrats on the new release and welcome to the HipHopCanada hot seat. You’ve been making music for a minute but recently took your craft to new heights. What’s your earliest memory of hip-hop and when did you decide you wanted to become a recording artist?

big ZEE: It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment, song or time, but growing up in Dallas and being constantly exposed to rap and R&B on the radio definitely helped plant that seed. I was a big fan of Pac, Biggie, Lost Boyz, Ice Cube and other artists from that era, and as I discovered more music I knew I had a special connection with the culture and sound.

I used to just freestyle at parties and never really took it seriously until I started living in Tampa for a bit and met this chick (of course…) Naturally, the relationship went to shit cause I was constantly travelling for work and always back and forth between the US and Canada to see my daughter so things eventually unraveled. Now… truth is this chick was a baddie and at that time she was working bottle service at one of the most poppin’ clubs in Tampa. So she’s meeting Major League baseball players, celebrities and NFL footballers and shit. So in my juvenile mind I’m thinking how in the fuck am I supposed to compete, especially when I’m only in town half the time. So I asked myself, what can I do to impress this chick and so I did what I arguably do best and made her a song. In hindsight all this shit sounds wild corny but it was because of THAT situation that I made my first professionally recorded, written and structured record. I think that first record is still on my SoundCloud (Laughs) But, long story short… to impress a chick. Imma hate myself for divulging this info but whatever… tis what it tis.

HipHopCanada: I’ve asked this next question to several artists over the years and it always makes people stop and think. If you were being introduced to a new listener and could only pick one from your catalogue to make them a fan, which song would it be? Why?

big ZEE: Fuck… that’s a tough one. My music is all over the place cause it’s always just a reflection of whatever I’m going thru in life. My personal favourite song is probably “Imma Dog” but U.C.Y. and the last two records I did with Gorgy most definitely rank among my favs.

HipHopCanada: Where did the concept for the Pretty Ugly EP come from? I really like the family connection to the artwork and I think your fans will appreciate your decision to involve your daughter.

big ZEE: My daughter is a goddamn legend! She gave me the title of my last project and for this one I was totally blanking on what to call it. I drew four big squares on a blank piece of paper and asked her to draw whatever came to her mind when she thought about my music. Sure enough, her second drawing was the one! Once I had the image, the EP practically named itself. I love involving her in whatever I can just so she also feels like she’s part of this thing I’m doing aside from just inspiring me to be great. We are actually currently locked in a heated contract negotiation for what percentage she’s gonna get when I start selling merch with her design on it. She’s not budging an inch. (Laughs)

Budding Ottawa rapper big ZEE releases the Pretty Ugly EP

big ZEE (Photo: Supplied)

HipHopCanada: Gorgy Swoah slides in perfectly on your “Pure” single, and you guys also dropped another tune recently that doesn’t appear on Pretty Ugly. How did you originally connect with Gorgy and do you guys have plans to release a collaborative project down the road?

big ZEE: I met Gorgy (pronounced Georgy for anyone saying it wrong) thru Khamali Jordan who is one of my main producers. I remember Khamali pullin’ up to the studio one day and sayin’, “yo, you gotta hear this kid I made a record with.” He played me a video for one of Gorgy’s records called “Neva had Shit” (search that on YouTube immediately!) and I vividly remember thinkin’ gatttt damn…. this kid is a whole ass problem with his flow, word play and gusto. So, he brought Gorgy to the studio one day and we hit it off right away. The rest is history. I put this on EVERYTHING… That kid is gonna be big.

HipHopCanada: Aaron Cohen dropped a really dope verse for the project and I think it complements the rest of the EP perfectly. How did that collaboration come to be?

big ZEE: Aaron is another supremely talented dude from Queens, NY. Aside just from being a super humble dude this guy is one of the most clever MCs I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He had a show here in Ottawa and my homie Lil Thrilla who put the show on pulled up to the studio with him after the show. We showed each other our music and then I showed him a few records with an open verse he could jump on. Aaron jumped in the booth and BODIED his verse within 20 minutes, adlibs and all. I was shook at how fast he worked and could immediately tell that this guy was a master of his craft. Do yourself a favour and go check out his music.

HipHopCanada: The last feature on Pretty Ugly is SIXONETREY. How did you originally connect with him and how did the song come together?

big ZEE: SIXONETREY is brothers with another close and long time friend of mine who is also a crazy dope producer/rapper/artist from my city named Gutta King Chris. So we met through mutual friends. I’m a fan of his music, and him and I have made a bunch of records together but this one was special. He hit a pocket with his flow and delivery on his verse which inspired the whole record to just naturally come together the way it did. Go check out SIXONETREY and Gutta King Chris on Spotify etc. These guys have really been puttin’ on for our city from time.

HipHopCanada: One of my favourite songs on the project is “Crazy I Must Be.” You took a bit of a different approach for the video—compared to the others you’ve dropped at least—but it’s such a perfect fit for the vibe of the song. What was the inspiration for the record?

big ZEE: (Laughs) This record started as just a parody. The style of beat was so so different and initially I was just fucking around with it as a joke. I never anticipated that it would make the EP. The style is so outta pocket compared to what I’m used to and have been doing. I legitimately approached the video with the same energy. I was just havin’ fun with it. I had already blown my whole video budget for the EP so this was shot by my homegirl Dayna with an iPhone. I won’t lie, I was pretty wasted when we filmed it which becomes evident pretty quickly. (Laughs) It’s supposed to be a sad song but I was cracking up the whole time we were shooting it because the whole record is ridiculous. I debated whether or not to even put out the visual but eventually I said fuck it…

HipHopCanada: The videos you’ve already released have been perfect compliments for their respective songs and the EP as a whole. Can you talk about your relationship with 3FiftyCo?

big ZEE: 3FiftyCo approached me asking if I needed any visuals for my music… My brudda YNR Davinci had just dropped a video with them and I saw the quality of production so I met up with them to discuss. I quickly realized that these guys were young and hungry to make a name for themselves on the scene. They’ve since shot both videos for this project and I can comfortably say that they may very well be the best shooters in our city right now. Their attention to detail and aesthetic awareness is on another level. This project would not be the same without their contribution.

HipHopCanada: Will the other tracks on the EP receive visual support?

big ZEE: Well, currently three out of five of the records do. It’ll probably be unlikely to shoot one for the Aaron Cohen record cause that dude is just endlessly touring the earth but the record with SIXONETREY just might. He has his own video production company and he’s nasty with the visuals but I think we’re gonna see how well received the record is and go from there.

HipHopCanada: Do you have any plans to tour in the near future?

big ZEE: Damn, I hope so! I gotta have a fanbase first. I feel like it might still be a little pre-mature but hopefully soon.

HipHopCanada: What else do you have planned for the remainder of 2019? 2020?

big ZEE: I have a bunch of other records that are already finished but I plan to drop them as singles. Look for upcoming singles with Swisha T, Young Emotion and OTG in the very near future! For the immediate, I need to take a little hiatus and shift towards promoting this current project.

Budding Ottawa rapper big ZEE releases the Pretty Ugly EP

big ZEE (Photo: Supplied)

You can follow @ZeelonMusk on Instagram.

Jesse founded in 1999 and is currently the organization's Co-President & Editor-in-Chief.

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