by Troy Landrum Jr.
Rapper, hip-hop artist, and Emmy Award-winning songwriter Draze released his highly anticipated single “Mazvita” on March 10, along with a sensational music video that showcases the depth and layers that have been permeating in his mind over the last four years.
“Mazvita,” which means “thank you” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe, is the single that introduces the world to his upcoming album, African American. Continuing the evolution of Draze’s trademark sound of “ancestral art,” “Mazvita” blends the beauty of Africa with the American-born dynamic sound of hip-hop.
It has been awhile since fans have heard a complete studio album from Draze, but that just means he has been shaking the industry up in different ways, from being one of the most sought-out songwriters in Hollywood, writing over 6,500 song placements on popular shows, like All American, Love & Hip Hop, Empire, The Last O.G., Black Ink Crew, and The Voice, to launching a movement that supports Black wealth, Black entrepreneurship, and Black ownership, to creating his production company The Chosen Few. His work both nationally and internationally is creating a movement that reveals a greater message for all Black people who are a part of the Diaspora. Those identities that we have consistently wrestled with: African and American.
The message was manifested in full African garb in the opening scene of the music video, as Draze looked at himself in the mirror and was surprised to see his American clothing replaced in his reflection by traditional African attire. However, only he could see this change. To the outside world, he remained in his everyday American fashion. What I saw through the transition of his clothing was a connection to royalty, and his vision of shifting culture by way of his clothes led me to consider how I should be seeing myself. The instruments in “Mazvita” transported me to the motherland through the sound of the marimba, a traditional Zimbabwean instrument that is played by Draze throughout the video. The scratching of the record and the raw fusion of hip-hop deeply connected me to the depth of his storytelling by highlighting the duality of his African and American culture.
Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to Draze. In this interview, Draze talks about his creative adventure with “Mazvita,” his production company The Chosen Few, and the movement he is creating around his art.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Troy Landrum Jr: What do you want the people to know about the song and music video you just released?
Draze: Yeah. Well, the first thing is “Mazvita” is a Shona word that means “thank you.” And for me, this was a thank you. A big thank you to my ancestors and my grandparents. My mom, my sister, my family. There’s so much happening. I have my mother and my sister singing on the record. It was a joy for me to get them in the studio. It’s the beginning of a new sound that I call “ancestral art,” where we’re taking traditional instrumentation, blending it with modern day, and creating something that, as I said in the song, the way forward is back. Like, where are we trying to go? Even when you look at our culture and our society, we’re like a people without direction right now. We know we want a better place, but we don’t know how to get there. To me, that answer is not always found in moving forward, sometimes it’s found in looking back. So, I’m trying to get people to do that. The basic premise of the music video itself is basically asking a question of the people of African descent that says, when you look in the mirror, what do you see? And if that answer is not an African, then you need to be digging deeper. You’re not digging deep enough if you don’t look in the mirror, and the furthest back, you can’t see an African. Keep digging. Keep digging until you get there, because that’s who you are. I’ve always lived this life where I’ve been an African in America. I have a different paradox. I grew up around brothers who I watched struggle with identity. And all these things I didn’t quite have. And I didn’t understand, because I wasn’t a descendant of a slave. I knew who I was, I lived in Zimbabwe, I lived at my grandmother’s house and ate the food that we picked. Like, I lived it. I knew who I was, I looked around, and I’ve lived in a city in Zimbabwe.
And so, yeah, to me, with this record, I want to create something that blends things. I want somebody in a village and somebody in a hood to start to feel connected. This music and this sound that I call ancestral art is a bridge.
Troy Landrum Jr: What was the journey like?
Draze: I feel like this is about a four-year journey. It started before COVID. I did a song about building Black wealth right before COVID, and that was supposed to be the rollout to the album. And then COVID hit. And my dad passed away. My daughter was in college, and I packed her up, brought her home, and then just kind of put the music away for a minute. So this project has taken me a little over four years to get done. So it’s pretty dense.
Troy Landrum Jr: So, what went into the meticulous detail of the visuals?
Draze: I’m really passionate about my visuals. I typically put a lot of time and energy into them. My hope holistically years ago was that someone would go search and find me and then they will see one visual and see another, and after years of that, they see, like, a barrage of excellence. They’re gonna be like, “Yo, I don’t even know this dude, but I’m rockin wit’ em.” I think we’ve done that with “The Hood Ain’t the Same,” we did that with “Irony on 23rd,” we did that with “Seattle Sweeties” and “Building Black Wealth.” Like, all of those. I love the visuals and the stories that we’re telling. With this one, we wanted to keep up that level of excellence. But then the other part was, how do we put a message within the message?
How do I still give it that community aspect? How do I create something that connects with the guy in Zimbabwe, but also connects with the person here? And the only way I could do that was by just adding that multiplicity of connection points. Again, the basic premise of the video was, what do you see when you look in the mirror? So that question, I think, is important, and I hope we delivered on that. The ways we did that were subtle. For example, we’re at Fat’s Chicken and Waffles and you see the woman walking down, she’s carrying chicken and waffles. But when I look in the mirror, I see the food the girls were actually eating was sukuma greens. So it’s just always trying to think of creative ways to show you that what you’re doing here on the ones and twos is the exact same thing that they’re doing back there. Whether it’s a conga, talking drum, or jembe, right? It’s all the same. So I searched for a lot of those points.
Troy Landrum Jr: Let’s talk about your production company, The Chosen Few.
Draze: Okay. So with this company, I just wanted to create an artistic renaissance. So, Through the Eyes of Art, which is our Black History Month program in partnership with MoPOP, we wanted to create some type of renaissance. It’s different when you get there. It’s vibrant, it’s new, it’s fresh. All of the great artists that I grew up with, many of them are retired or they’re becoming billionaires. So, they can’t find the passion to create music. That’s why I love Nas, because this man is worth $500 million, still putting out crazy music at 49 years old. I’m into that. And so that love and that passion and that art, that’s the human connection. And I never want to let money get in the way of that. So, The Chosen Few, the production company, is all about creating great art. We’re working with poets, we’re working with songwriters, we’ll work with hip-hop artists and singers. But you gotta be on something different. Like, we’re not looking for nobody who’s doing pop. Let me take that back. Pop is good music. But you gotta have some spin on it. I want to be different, I have no desire to fit in and do what everybody’s doing.
Troy Landrum Jr: Let’s pivot a little bit more. What does Black business represent to you? What’s your imprint on it right now? And what’s your vision moving forward?
Draze: First of all, my goal is all around consciousness. It starts there. If I can get your mind, in time, I can get your action. But I can’t ask you to do something when you’re just not mentally there. Marcus Green [the founder of the South Seattle Emerald] was the one who came up with the idea and called it a trilogy. I did “The Hood Ain’t The Same” and it deals with gentrification. “The Irony on 23rd” dials in and shows you the impacts of gentrification. When you have these two cultures forced into a community, now you have this cultural issue. Where someone’s putting a weed shop next to a church. And if it was our community, it just wouldn’t happen. We just wouldn’t allow it, not because we don’t like business. We love money, too. But we just have codes. And then “Building Black Wealth” represented the question, what do we do about gentrification? I had been on a journey for a couple of years trying to get my life to be a 50% Black home [50% of products in the home are produced by Black companies]. I started living that life and searching for things online. I started moving in that direction. The video got over 2 million views online, and things started bubbling. So then the pandemic hit. Remember, I was gonna roll out the album, then the pandemic hits. I was literally like two weeks from putting out the album. And thank God I didn’t, because it would have flopped in the middle of the pandemic. So, then I had this idea that I wanted to start going live and showing people the products I was using. I would do that online. So I called up my homegirl, Laila Ali [women’s boxing world champion, entrepreneur, and daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali]. We just sold products for Black businesses everywhere. And then that led to me creating a show called Building Black Wealth online. So all you have to do is change your mindset and start to buy from your own. And you can do it. So, that’s holistically how it started. And then at home, I’m just always trying to think, how do I invest in us? So, if I had to encapsulate what that means for me and Seattle? It’s Africatown.
Troy Landrum Jr: These answers have inspired me, what you’re doing and the impact that you’re making that not a lot of people see. Leading to this album, African American, what else do you want us to know? What do you want us to be left with?
Draze: Some of this is coming out in the marketing campaigns. It’s gonna be a lot of stuff. But I mean, there’s cameos on the album. There’s some pretty big artists on the album. Everybody in the album is African. So it’s gonna be a crazy thing there. I guess I could just say I would want people to know number one that I’m coming and I’m coming and I’m coming and I’m not gonna stop coming. That’s number one. The second thing is, if you like the music, I need you. Pull up. Because it’s not me, it’s we. I can’t push this forward. I need someone to tell a friend. I’m only as good as you calling somebody, like, “You heard this joint?” That’s what makes this thing organic, grassroots.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Troy Landrum Jr. was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and is currently a program producer for KUOW’s “Radioactive” program. He has spent the past few years as a bookseller at Third Place Books in Seward Park and recently graduated with a master’s in fine arts at the University of Washington, Bothell. Follow Troy on Twitter at @TroyLandrumJr.
📸 Featured image courtesy of Draze.
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