by: Ali Shana
On October 24th, I attended one of the first Freespace sponsored events, held at the Borg Ward. I was able to catch a set and share a few words with the event’s featured artist, Zed Kenzo. She brought energy and precision to the stage that night, sporting her classic style of sportswear and bright colors.
Zechariah Ruffin, known by her stage name of Zed Kenzo, and I escaped the crowded venue for a conversation in a friend’s car.
Violently Ill came out two years ago via Bandcamp. Since then, you have released a number of songs through Soundcloud. Are they going to appear on an album? Is there a plan for another album in the future?
There’s a plan. The song I have with Dank God (‘OD Woadie’) and ‘Linda Blair’ are going to be on the next project I release.
‘OD Woadie’ and ‘Linda Blair’ were both produced by you, but I noticed almost all other songs were produced by Nedarb Nagrom. Are you actively producing instrumentals, or is the lyricism grind and producing grind very separate?
It’s separate. I just make a beat and start writing to it, now. ‘Linda Blair’ was really random. Nedarb showed me how to do it, and I just wrote to it and was like, cool.
What motivates you to make music? Have you or would you ever produce instrumentals for a different artist?
It’s just something I have connected with ever since I was little. I grew up in the church choir and always loved expressing myself through writing. I used to pretend I was in a band when I was in fifth grade. It was just an escape for me at the time. And to answer your second question, I plan on producing for other people. A lot of people have asked me to produce for them and I have never gotten to it, it’s usually random people on the internet.
How does the newer material compare to Violently Ill? Is it the same vision or have there been some style changes?
It’s different. Violently Ill was all produced by Nedarb and it was like an experiment, I didn’t know what I was doing. That’s why it’s taking so long because I do want to try to structure it and have it all cohesive. I want to really pin my sound down and not throw together a bunch of random sounds, but I am eclectic, and so it’ll probably end up like that anyway. There will be some turn up songs, obviously, and some weird dark songs.
How would you describe your style? You go from really heavily driven hip-hop songs to very spacey songs.
Very spacey, alien-ey, baby voice weirdo. That’s what the genre is. I don’t know what I’d compare it to. People say I remind them of Coco Rose if they rapped. I don’t know if that’s just my voice or my sound.
You went to school in Madison to dance, right?
Basically, yeah. I danced but I didn’t major in dance because I would have had to be there for like, 8 years.
Is dance a part of the creating process? Are you dancing in the studio when you are making music?
No. They are very separate, but I want to bring them together. I want to start choreographing stuff with my friends. I haven’t had the chance to dance lately because there aren’t many studios here.
You were in L.A. for a little bit, and you went to school in Madison, how would you compare those music scenes to the Milwaukee scene?
People are very supportive in Milwaukee, in music and art, they bring people together. Madison is a university-college town, that’s really all it is. But they have their own DIY scene like we do here with punk and hardcore music, but hip-hop is still on its way there. L.A. is just the internet, and from what I was exposed to, I didn’t get to go to many creative spaces. They are all completely different.
You have laryngitis?
Yes I do. *AHHH* That was me trying to sing a high note.
And a sprained ankle?
Well, I sprained my ankle a bunch of times when I was dancing and I kept dancing on it, so it was already problematic for me. I was sitting on my friend’s long board and my stupid friend Josh started pushing me really fast and it was dark and the sidewalk was messed up. I was like, ‘can you stop dude?’ and he didn’t stop, and so I tried to stop myself with my foot and… I knew I messed up real bad.
How big are you with features? How do you go about features?
I haven’t really gone about it yet. I haven’t asked anyone really. People ask me but it’s not anybody major. If someone asked and I like the song I’ll definitely do it. I’m not against doing that.
At what point were you no longer ‘Zedd the Incredible’?
*laughter* I just don't like that name.
Anything else to add?
Just look out for my project. I want to have it out, realistically, by January. I’m getting in the studio with Mammyth next month and I just want to knock it out. I have stuff just sitting around. And, I love you.
We went back inside and Zed lost her mind in the performance. She confidently grabbed the mic. By the time the song hit the chorus, the lowkey swift movements of Ruffin were replaced by the in-your-face intensity that is Zed Kenzo. By the end of the set, Ruffin moved herself into the crowd, turning up with the audience, performers, and fans alike.
As long as Zed Kenzo keeps expressing herself to the fullest extent, she will have my attention.