Zuby is an anomaly in hip-hop. He was born in England, grew up in Saudi Arabia (where he attended an American school) and is a graduate of Oxford University.
Through years of hard work and dedication, he has become one of the UK’s most accomplished independent rappers, selling over 25,000 albums without a record deal.
Zuby has performed over 100 gigs in 8 different countries – including the UK, USA, Germany, Czech Republic, Estonia, Serbia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
He has opened for several well-known artists such as Tech N9ne, The Pharcyde, Akala and The Coup.
1) You were born in England but grew up in Saudi Arabia – can you talk about how your unique childhood impacted on your music influences?
Sure, but it’s a difficult thing to articulate because my life is just my life. I don’t have another first-hand reference point to compare it to.
That said, I know that being exposed to several truly diverse countries, cultures, religions and laws of the land throughout my life has given me a global perspective and nuanced insight into many aspects of life that I feel is quite rare.
That certainly influences how I see and perceive the world and its people and that is reflected in my music. My childhood also blessed me with a unique accent, meaning that I don’t sound like any other British artist, whether rapping or talking.
2) Do you remember the moment you wanted to be a hip-hop artist?
It was during my first live performance. I remember being nervous on stage, but seeing the positive response to my music in real-time and feeling the impact of my lyrics – I immediately recognised how much I enjoyed it and the potential power of what I was doing.
3) How do you feel about hip-hop today?
Hip-hop is doing fine. I think it’s natural to prefer whatever music you grew up with and that’s certainly the case for me too. I prefer late 90s – early 00s hip-hop overall, but there are still tons of great artists making tons of great music.
As long as the balance remains and it doesn’t all become lyrically and morally bankrupt, then I don’t mind there being some nonsense out there. I don’t listen to it, just like I don’t eat McDonald’s food – but I recognise that there is a market for it. I don’t like everything but I don’t need to. There is plenty that I do like.
4) What artists in the game today do you look at for inspiration?
Tech N9ne has been my biggest inspiration for many years. Both as a rapper and businessman. I think he and Strange Music have really shown what is possible to achieve independently – without trend-hopping or heavily diluting the music and message.
5) As an artist who has performed over 100 gigs in 8 different countries, what do you think are the most important elements to a successful live show?
Connecting with each person in the audience and having fun on stage. I generally find that the more I’m enjoying performing, the more the audience enjoys the performance. I make sure to get the audience involved and always communicate my sincere gratitude and appreciation for them both during and after the show.
6) What tips do you have for up-and-coming rappers on booking live shows and touring?
Honestly, booking live shows and working out logistics and details is my least favourite aspect of being an independent musician. My tip would be to outsource it if you can – this is something I’m really aiming to do sooner rather than later.
With that said, it’s good to do it yourself to understand the process and know what to look out for. In terms of very practical advice, start small and start locally. Don’t be afraid to put on your own event and don’t be afraid to promote the heck out of it. Exist in real-life, not just online.
7) What are your thoughts on staying independent or signing to a major label?
It’s funny, I’ve honestly not even considered the prospect of signing to a major label in the past decade. It’s not something I think about so I don’t have any thoughts on it. I don’t think it’s the right path for 99% of musicians of any genre.
8) As an independent artist grinding it out, what do you need to do to stand out from the rest of the pack?
Identify what makes you unique. Really think about it. And BE YOURSELF. That sounds like a cliche but so few people genuinely do it. It can take many years to learn how to truly be yourself – both inside and outside of music.
The people who like and appreciate your personality, music and message will naturally gravitate towards you as a result. Authenticity is rare, especially in something like hip-hop which is very trend-driven and prone to copycat records and rappers.