Cel­eb­rat­ing the release of Zubz’s latest single “Power” from the “Last Letta to Nina Simone” pro­ject, we delve into its inspir­a­tion and sig­ni­fic­ance with­in the nar­rat­ive. Rooted in Nina Simone’s leg­acy, “Power” is a reflec­tion on strength and empower­ment in today’s con­text. Zubz, along­side col­lab­or­at­ors Mizi and Nyam­bz, com­bines Nin­a’s “Sin­ner­man” with con­tem­por­ary themes of polit­ic­al tur­moil and resi­li­ence. In this inter­view, Zubz shares insights into his diverse upbring­ing and its influ­ence on his lyr­ic­al depth. He dis­cusses bal­an­cing intric­ate rhymes with mean­ing­ful mes­sages and his role in the evolving Afric­an hip-hop scene. With a back­ground in Inform­a­tion Sys­tems and Eco­nom­ics, Zubz brings a unique per­spect­ive to music, bridging tech­no­logy and storytelling. Look­ing ahead, he prom­ises more enga­ging pro­jects and col­lab­or­a­tions, invit­ing listen­ers to join him on a trans­form­at­ive jour­ney through music.

Listen Here To ‘Power’

Con­grat­u­la­tions on the release of your new single “Power” from the “Last Letta to Nina Simone” pas­sion pro­ject! Could you tell us about the inspir­a­tion behind the song and how it fits into the broad­er nar­rat­ive of the pro­ject?

Thank you! We’re excited that the song is out, it’s the per­fect way to intro­duce the pro­ject to listen­ers. “Power”, like the entire col­lec­tion of songs on The Last Letta to Nina, is inspired by the life, music and work of Nina. She put her human­ity first, so we also centered the human exper­i­ence in our storytelling. Mizi, Nyam­bz and I believe in that power of storytelling; its abil­ity to heal, not just inform or enter­tain. So we har­ness that and use Nina Simone as the ful­crum around which these con­ver­sa­tions are had. We explore vari­ous sub­ject mat­ter through the music first, then extend the con­ver­sa­tions across dif­fer­ent plat­forms and mod­al­it­ies includ­ing live events, pod­casts, video, art­work and more.
“Power” draws inspir­a­tion from Nina Simone’s “Sin­ner­man.” How did you approach inter­pret­ing such an icon­ic piece of music, and what mes­sage did you aim to con­vey through your inter­pol­a­tion?

I see Sin­ner­man as a beau­ti­ful ode to strength, an urgent appeal to the highest power for that strength. It’s a pray­er­ful search, an affirm­a­tion and com­mit­ment all at once. When I heard Miz­i’s son­ic take, I loved the sparse, bass-heavy beat, with the pacey hi-hats! It informed my flow but also the dir­ec­tion of the writ­ing.

Mizi placed Nin­a’s words, “How I love you, Lord” into the beat, Nyam­bz and I both heard “Power” in the sample. That became our core theme. From there, the words channeled through, as I touched on polit­ic­al, phys­ic­al, and spir­itu­al empower­ment. I feel like in the cur­rent cli­mate, these themes are par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant giv­en that it’s a huge elec­tion year. It’s also a time when a lot of folks feel alone and help­less. We even have people sit­ting in lit­er­al dark­ness for hours on end without power to their homes. “Power” becomes a song that high­lights some of these struggles, attempt­ing to offer empathy and maybe even a solu­tion: to go with­in. I believe only deep, inner empower­ment is truly indelible.

Col­lab­or­at­ing with Mizi and Nyam­bz on the pro­duc­tion of “Power” must have been an enrich­ing exper­i­ence. Can you share with us how the col­lab­or­a­tion came about and what each mem­ber brought to the cre­at­ive pro­cess?

I’ve worked with Nyam­bz and Mizi before as my core pro­du­cers on my second album, Head­phone Music In A Par­al­lel World, which many believe is my most layered body of work. Work­ing with them again years later, was more enrich­ing for me because both of them have grown so much. They have a stronger desire to impact their com­munity with their efforts. I fed off that growth and desire. It was Nyam­bz and Mizi who con­cep­tu­al­ized the entire col­lab­or­a­tion, cham­pi­on­ing it through the years and nev­er let­ting up when the pro­cess weighed us down. A pro­ject can do that some­times; be a slow, labored birth, but its beauty at the end jus­ti­fies all the effort put in, as this one does.

Super pro­du­cers in their own right, Mizi bounces ideas off Nyam­bz who then builds off of them. It also hap­pens in reverse too, with Nyam­bz often spark­ing an idea. Nyam­bz is great at craft­ing that idea fur­ther, bring­ing in instru­ment­al­ists and vocal­ists. This usu­ally hap­pens after I’ve fleshed out a track lyr­ic­ally. All three of us then go through a peri­od of adding or remov­ing ele­ments in an iter­at­ive way, as dir­ec­ted by the spir­it of the song. Nyam­bz will then bring it to life and Mizi will give it the rub­ber stamp. In this instance, Nyam­bz reached out to Rizz­lah Rejazz to bring the concept to life – under­stand­ing the vis­ion and brief, he mas­ter­fully took the song to the next level.

While they both con­trib­ute son­ic­ally to the music and its arrange­ment, it’s actu­ally the ener­gies they bring that I value the most. Both are groun­ded, sol­id guys who anchor the cre­at­ive pro­cess. I trust them com­pletely. They are open to go where the music leads without reser­va­tion. Both are hon­est, both are brave too. They will ima­gine wildly, then execute dili­gently — I appre­ci­ate that a lot

Your career spans mul­tiple coun­tries and has seen you evolve as an artist. How has your upbring­ing in Zam­bia and Zim­b­ab­we influ­enced your music­al style and lyr­ic­al con­tent, espe­cially in “Power”?

Grow­ing up against such a diverse back­drop has really been an eye-open­er for me. With most of my fam­ily in Zam­bia, that will always be my rooted home, yet I have so far spent the least amount of time there!
Exper­i­en­cing my form­at­ive years in the 80s and 90s in Zim built my found­a­tion­al view of what urb­an South­ern Africa prom­ised, it was also where I fell in love with US Hip Hop.

And finally, becom­ing a man in South Africa and build­ing my own leg­acy here has infused me with pur­pose. The greatest gift from such a back­ground, I think is the firsthand exper­i­ence of our sim­il­ar­it­ies as people. We are so much more alike than you can ima­gine. That insight is what I bring into my writ­ing and storytelling, not just in “Power”, but the whole pro­ject. It’s why I encour­age people to travel more, or broaden their dat­ing hori­zons or work across indus­tries. The depth of insight that comes from a wider spec­trum of lived exper­i­ences is invalu­able, not just for cre­at­ives, but for every­one really.

An example is the prom­ise of the flag I men­tion in “Power”. Those col­ours are shared across the coun­tries I call home, as is the mean­ing they have and their prom­ise.

As someone known for their metic­u­lous atten­tion to lyr­ic­al detail, how do you bal­ance craft­ing intric­ate rhymes with con­vey­ing mean­ing­ful mes­sages, par­tic­u­larly in a song like “Power”?

That’s a tricky ques­tion to answer because that nuanced bal­ance comes as second nature after you’ve done this for as long as I have. I don’t even think about it as I write any­more. For me, it works a bit like this inter­view; I don’t plan for it. I don’t pre-empt any­thing. In the moment, I allow whatever is true to come out.

For example, in “Power” I did­n’t think about writ­ing on the prom­ise of the flag, lead­ing into edu­ca­tion then into link­ing that to writ­ing hooks in songs. I did­n’t plan the rhyme-struc­ture either. It all just emerges as I allow it to, that’s why I call this part of the pro­cess chan­nel­ing more than writ­ing. Now, of course, after the entire verse is writ­ten (usu­ally in a single sit­ting) I will revis­it it and double-check facts, maybe edit a word or two as I record, for example, if they don’t roll-off the tongue eas­ily. Prac­tice gets the writ­ing bet­ter, chan­nel­ing takes care of the mes­saging. The bal­ance truly is an emer­gent prop­erty of the pro­cess.

“Power” is just one piece of your extens­ive music­al leg­acy. How does it com­pare to your pre­vi­ous work, and what do you hope listen­ers take away from it?

I hope listen­ers can identi­fy with the spir­it of Nina in “Power”. This song falls right in line with most of my music­al cata­log; socially aware, heav­ily lyr­ic­al, dense, and layered in the mes­saging. It’s import­ant to me that all the col­lab­or­at­ors, Miza, Nyam­bz, the musi­cians and fea­tured artists, every­one, all col­our this pro­ject in a unique way that none of us have before. This, thanks to the Nina influ­ence. I’m hop­ing listen­ers find their own piece of Nina in these songs and own it. A piece that res­on­ates with their story. One that can also move them as it did us.

In addi­tion to your music, you’ve also ven­tured into tele­vi­sion host­ing and voice act­ing. How do these exper­i­ences inform your approach to music cre­ation and present­a­tion?

I have been quite lucky with all these multi-plat­form exper­i­ences. I would have nev­er ima­gined I’d be per­form­ing on a stage in front of thou­sands, much less host­ing a tele­vi­sion show screened to mil­lions or even voicing works reach­ing even more people than that. But that is the magic of cre­ation. You really have no idea what the many pit-stops along the jour­ney will be. You show up as the most authen­t­ic ver­sion of your­self and allow the exper­i­ence to unfold.
Work­ing both behind and in front of cam­era has broadened my skill­set as a writer in unex­pec­ted ways, much like voice­work has too. The most pro­found way is in the set­ting aside of ego, because in those spaces, you are not the star of the show. You are a fun­gible com­pon­ent in a machine with hun­dreds of com­pon­ents, all vital to get­ting us to the desired out­come. There is heavy, at times bru­tal cri­tique in that space, none of it per­son­al, even when it seems that way. As a cre­at­or learn­ing to tame the ego in this way is extremely dif­fi­cult to do, but once you acquire this abil­ity you stretch bey­ond what you thought were your lim­its. I’m grate­ful for that. I also got to add some incred­ible people to my net­work of dope cre­at­ives, too.

With the Afric­an hip-hop land­scape con­stantly evolving, how do you see your role as an artist with­in this dynam­ic envir­on­ment, espe­cially with pro­jects like “Last Letta to Nina Simone”?

Hip-Hop, as always, is ever evolving. This con­stant refresh reflects the changes in the cul­ture and its key play­ers. Changes in the moments we live col­lect­ively and as indi­vidu­als. Afric­an hip-hop is not exempt from this evol­u­tion. I believe my role is evolving along with that, into one that serves to bridge eras, tell mod­ern stor­ies through a more exper­i­enced lens. “The Last Letta to Nina Simone”, is a per­fect example of this; time­less music, always rel­ev­ant even when it isn’t trendy.

Africa has a lot to teach us, I will con­tin­ue to learn from those les­sons. The evol­u­tion of tech­no­logy will hit Afric­an cre­at­ives in a unique way going for­ward. I’m eager to play my part in that wave too. I’m excited about the future of Afric­an Hip Hop: new storytellers with fresh nar­rat­ives delivered in innov­at­ive ways.

Your aca­dem­ic back­ground in Inform­a­tion Sys­tems and Eco­nom­ics is quite unique in the world of hip-hop. How, if at all, does this aca­dem­ic expert­ise influ­ence your music and cre­at­ive pro­cess?

My aca­dem­ic slant reflects my love for tech. I’ve always been fas­cin­ated by how we integ­rate tools into our soci­ety to make it bet­ter. Our use of tools is one of the things that sets us apart from all cre­ation. That and our abil­ity to tell stor­ies. In our tool­box we use mech­an­ic­al tools, hard­ware, soft­ware, I like to add music, art and storytelling into that box as well. This is where the over­lap hap­pens. I have come to call that inter­sec­tion in this Venn dia­gram my home. I nev­er real­ised this when I was young­er, of course. I just went to school and loved to rap! With time I have come to see all this come togeth­er in a beau­ti­ful way.

Earli­er you asked about the line between metic­u­lous writ­ing and mes­saging, I feel like my obses­sion with sys­tems think­ing might also be respons­ible for me walk­ing that writing/messaging line. To be fair, though, most artists I known bring mul­tiple facets of them­selves to the cre­ation table. This is more so with Emcees. I know qual­i­fied, prac­ti­cing archi­tects, doc­tors, law­yers and even a brain sur­geon who are all avid rap­pers and writers.

Look­ing ahead, what can fans expect from Zubz The Last Letta in terms of future pro­jects and col­lab­or­a­tions, and how do you envi­sion your artist­ic jour­ney unfold­ing from here?

It’s hard to ask people to pre­pare for some­thing you can­’t pre­dict. I’d say, stay con­nec­ted where you can and stay open. I’m 20+ years deep in this game and still learn­ing, dis­cov­er­ing knew things. Even as I go back, as we’re doing with Nina, I dis­cov­er excit­ing ways to move for­ward. Let’s do that togeth­er.

We have a ton more music to put out, but we would like the engage­ment around our songs to be more con­ver­sa­tion­al; two-way and where we can, in-per­son. And we can’t wait!

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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.