Last week Marisa, Drewski, and myself launched That NJ Ish on LifeIsTremendez.com. The four-part series will put a spotlight on a different artist from New Jersey every month, and feature new music from them, exclusive interviews, freestyles and more. When Marisa and I decided to create That NJ Ish, she mentioned featuring Mike Zombie and it was almost a no-brainier. Many know him as “Zombie On The Track,” the mastermind behind instrumentals such as Drake‘s “Started From The Bottom,” DJ Khaled‘s “They Don’t Love You No More,” and more. Although he’s signed to Drake‘s OVO imprint as a producer, many fail to realize that Mike is also an unsigned rapper and he can actually rap. The Willingboro, New Jersey native released his first mixtape, The End Of The Beginning, in 2013 and Rebel Without A Cause in 2015. Since then, Zombie had liberated some heat including “Hella Crack 2″ with Mir Trillz, “Autograph,” “You A Dub,” and more.
Mike Zombie is one of those guys that commands attention unknowingly. It’s not his height or his bright red hair that draws people in, it’s his aura. He’s not necessarily a “funny guy,” he’s not loud, or the type that necessarily wants to be center of attention but he is. Although this was my first time meeting Mike, it feels almost as if I’m catching up with an old friend. As we stand in Suvas in Jersey City, I asked him some questions about rapping verses producing, his dream collaborations, what it’s like growing up in South Jersey, his standing with OVO and more.
Interview by: Julie Aly
I know Michael is your middle name but where does “Zombie” come from?
Zombie comes from, I got ADHD. When I was in school I used to take pills like Ritalin and Strattera, I used to have patches like Daytrana. I used to go to school but, I’m turnt like 24/7, that’s what ADHD does. When I started going to school and taking the medicine people would know and be like “yo Mike, what’s wrong? You’re acting like a zombie.” That’s where that came from.
When did you start rapping?
I started rapping at age 16.
Since you rap and produce, is it hard for you to part with certain beats?
It used to be. I used to have difficulty rapping to my own stuff but, now I’m finessing everything. I can hop on anything. I got the idea because I’ve been in the studio with Sevyn Streeter and seeing how they work and I don’t write no more so, I’ve been watching their creative process and that’s just how I’ve been cooking now.
Do you have to pull inspiration from two different places rapping or producing or do you get inspiration from the same place? Do you go in different zones?
I get inspiration from everywhere. I just sampled a funny ass movie named Black Dynamite. I get my inspiration from watching cartoons, watching movies. I actually sampled two of my friends playing the numbers game. Whatever I see, there’s sound to it and I feel like I can do something with it, I’m going to do something with it.
When you head to the studio, do you go thinking “I’m going to rap today” or “I’m going to produce today?” Or whatever comes to you, comes to you?
Whatever comes to me, comes to me. Some days I might sit down and might make five beats in a row and some days I might just lay five hooks and send them off for somebody else. Somethings might not always be for me.
If you could pick either to be a rapper or a producer for the rest of your career, which would it be?
*After hesitating for a few minutes in thought* I’m going to say producer. If God forbid tomorrow I walk outside and get hit by a car, I can still use my fingers to make music.
The video for “The Jig” was so crazy. How much influence did you have on the video’s concept?
Oh man, I had all creative process for that. See what’s crazy about that video is, I did it based on a movie that I hadn’t even seen yet. If you watch “The Jig” video and go back and watch Eyes Wide Shut with Nicole Kidman, I watched that movie and it reverse got me the inspiration for it. The video is about me when I used to scare myself by watching Illuminati videos. The people in the forest are supposed to be the like Illuminati. By the end of the video, I’m controlling them. It’s kind of like conquering your fears.
Rebel Without A Cause just turned a year old. Do you have a new project that you’re working on, musically?
Yes! Humble Genius, and it is done. You can expect it before summer.
Name three Jersey artists, dead or alive, that you haven’t worked with but want to.
Tdot [iLL dude], Frank Sinatra, and Redman.
Outside of Jersey which three artists, dead or alive, haven’t you worked with as a rapper or producer but want to?
Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West.
If you could put together your dream collaboration, who would be featured and who would produce it?
I hope Boi-1da sees this! My favorite rap song period is “Forever” by Drake because that’s all four of my favorite rappers. I don’t have a top five, I have a top four: Eminem, Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kanye West. So they would be on the collab. Produced by me, guest feature by me!
How has growing up in South Jersey influenced your rap style?
Growing up in South Jersey is hard because, I’m not going to say it hard like how it’s hard for an Albee Al or a Tsu Surf living the street life. It’s hard because when you say you’re from South Jersey like people the other day were on Twitter saying if you’re from south Jersey, you’re from Philly. *editor’s note: I’m absolutely guilty of saying this and told Mike that it’s likely my tweets about it that he saw but following this interview I see the error of my ways.* Just like how people do up here, they’ll say Albee Al is from New York. No, Albee Al is from North Jersey.
If you weren’t rapping or producing, what would you be doing?
I would be doing digital art design. I actually designed my 609 chains. I’d be a designer, that’s what I’d be doing.
What is your current standing with OVO? Are you working on anything new with them?
Yea, yea, we’re working on Views! Everything is Views right now. I’ve been putting together a lot of ideas vocally and production wise. We are looking for that next anthem. It’s Views From The 6, we working! We were actually just cooking up for that in Drake’s house in LA a few months ago.
Perhaps during his trip to L.A., Mike Zombie and Drake cooked up something even bigger than “Started From The Bottom!”