Detroit’s Zo! releases new R&B album, prepares for homecoming show
By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Detroit’s own Zo!, a soulful R&B music composer and master hip hop producer, has released a new album and is getting ready for a triumphant return to his hometown with a live performance June 29 at 8 p.m.
Critics and fans are celebrating his newest release, making this show a highly anticipated summer performance.
The show will be at the Elizabeth Theater at The Park Bar, located at 2040 Park Ave. in downtown Detroit.
“ManMade” is Zo!’s latest full-length album, released May 21, following his 2010 release “SunStorm.”
He shot a video for the song “Count to Five” featuring guests Gwen Bunn and Phonte, and the exposure has helped the album reach the Billboard New Artist and R&B sales charts for three weeks, marking the first time he’s been on the charts.
“The response has been great. I’m really, really happy with how things are starting to shape up,” says Zo! “I guess my thing now is I’m curious where the album and where the music is going to take me to. It’s going to be fun.”
“ManMade” is filled with the lush, soulful sounds that are a signature of the Motown experience. Tight bass and drum rhythms create a strong foundation for the keys and vocal melodies, a classic funk sound from an authentic Detroit musician, who now resides in Maryland.
For the past several years, Zo! has also worked with the songwriting collective known as Foreign Exchange. This group was founded by producer Nicolay from The Netherlands and Phonte of the North Carolina hip hop group Little Brother. Their critical acclaim has given Zo! a global reach with his music.
“Foreign Exchange has a huge following on the road,” he says. “It’s given me more visibility, being able to utilize the channels that they have. Distribution wise, it gets my music to more ears.
“On the flip, I also benefit them as well, being the music director of the live show and also being able to come through on the instrumentals on Foreign Exchange as well as co-production.”
Zo! has carried his Detroit roots throughout his travels and says he is continuously inspired by the legacy of musicians from his home city.
“We have so much pride, especially when we leave,” says Zo! “I think that that helps me with my music, because I make music with a chip on my shoulder. A lot of it parallels with some of our attitude, carrying that pride around with us. It definitely influences you that way. You kind of feel like you’re carrying the torch for your home city, your home state.”
Through his travels, he has witnessed firsthand the importance of Detroit music culture on global audiences and understands that representing his city positively is a responsibility.
“When people talk about it, the first thing they want to do is drop you some negative stuff,” he says. “Touring with Foreign Exchange and going overseas, you want to wear that hat. It’s something that people can look on as being positive, something good that’s coming out of that city as a whole, so it’s definitely something that I wear with pride and when I talk about where I come from. I think it’s important.”
Over the years, he has maintained a signature soul music style, blending influences from his international collaborations. But the vibration from his Detroit peers remains special to him.
“I was talking with one of my homeboys last week,” he says, “when you’re outside the city, how you can kind of tell when somebody is from Detroit within the first five minutes or so in talking with them. It’s almost like a rhythm that we have. It is soulful, it moves along a beat and you can easily pick it up with other people.”
Like most modern hip hop and R&B artists in Detroit, Zo! was influenced by the late J Dilla. The day he moved away to Maryland in 2006 was the same day that Dilla had passed.
“One of my boys called, and he was in tears,” says Zo! “I met him once. I never knew Dilla, but just the way you connect with someone’s music, I feel like I knew him. When he passed, I had never felt like that type of devastation for somebody that I didn’t actually know.”
But after Dilla’s loss, Zo! and the other talented artists in the city became next in line to craft the future of Motown’s musical legacy.
“One of my boys put me at ease, like ‘nah man, I feel like it’s a changing of the guard, almost like a passing of the torch.’ That’s kind of how I felt, with his music being such an inspiration to my music and my wanting to create music, that’s how I took it like grabbing a torch and running with it.”
Zo! says he looks forward to his trip home to Detroit and the hometown audience being there to support him.
“We come together when need be, that’s for sure,” says Zo! “I’m just looking forward to coming home.”