Zebra Katz was working catering jobs when his disturbing paean to higher education “Ima Read” went viral, and he’s been going non-stop since. He tells Wonderland how he’s taking that bitch to college.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in south Florida, then I went to New York to be on stage and perform… and to go to college to get some knowledge! I went to Eugene Lang, where I did performance studies, and I did a solo performance piece – where I created Zebra Katz.
Why the name Zebra Katz?
I love zebras because of their uniqueness and the way they defend themselves in a pack. They disorientate their predators. I want to disorientate the demons that are trying to fuck me up.
So how did Mad Decent get involved with Zebra Katz?
“Ima Read” had been online for five years before it was released on Mad Decent. DJ Teen Wolf was helping me mix my mixtape and he sent “Ima Read” to Diplo. A few days later we got a call saying he wanted to release it. It’s been a whirlwind ever since.
You’ve even found a fan in Rick Owens, who used Ima Read in his runway show.
I quit my job once Rick Owens played the song – I knew something was going to change so I ran with it. It’s been a complete 180 since I quit. I went from managing a catering company to managing the artist that is Zebra Katz.
Why do you think people love that song?
It’s an anthem. It lifts people up. I think women in particular find something empowering in it as it’s taking the word “bitch” and empowering it, like what Missy did in “She’s A Bitch’ with Lil Kim.
Some people aren’t big fans of the way you guys used the word ‘bitch’, though.
I think adding Njena Reddd Foxxx to the track should have shed light on the fact that I wasn’t trying to be a misogynist. It’s looked at as degrading and it really wasn’t. I call myself a bitch, we call ourselves bitches. We want to elevate the word and take it somewhere else.
If you wrote “Ima Read” so long ago, aren’t you sick of it?
I think because it’s liked by so many people, it makes performing it just 100 times better. “Ima Read” probably will never be played on the radio in the States, but you know, maybe it will inspire a movie or a great designer.
How do you feel about being kind of pushed into this “queer rap” scene with rappers like Mykki Blanco?
It’s bigger than a scene. We’re all different acts that don’t necessarily belong in the same place whatsoever. I think just because of our sexual identity and skin colour, it’s what makes lazy journalists clump us all together. It’s difficult because yeah, it’s press, but we’ve always been making music and making different types of music. I want to present work and not have it be packaged like its “queer” or “black”. There is no such thing as “queer rap”. It’s music. That’s my number one problem with it.
Isn’t that because being gay in hip-hop is still seen as being a risky career proposition?
You don’t compare ‘best new white rapper’, there just happens to be people who are not black who rap. But a different sexuality? Why is that something that needs to be highlighted? There are so many people in this industry who are masking their sexuality for that reason.
Who influences you?
I love strong performers like Grace Jones and Bobby Brown who’d get on stage and really give you a show. I loved Britney Spears in high school because she did so much as an artist. She changed music; she brought this hip hop and sci-fi sound to it.
What are you working on right now?
Njena Reddd Foxxx has a mixtape, so I may be featured on that. I want to do a follow up to “Ima Read” and then I have a few remixes coming up, and then I’m going get back to the studio and producing my album.