How did you get started? Tell us your story!
My name is Alan Z and I am a hip-hop / R&B artist based in Atlanta, Georgia. I was born in China, but I moved around a lot as a kid, from England to Singapore to finally America when I was 6 years old. I started rapping when I was 12 and singing when I was 15, but I decided to pursue music seriously when I went to Emory University. Although my journey has been an emotional rollercoaster dealing with racism, naysayers, and false promises, my victories have made it all worth it. I’ve collaborated with industry veterans like Raphael Saadiq, Full Force, King Los, and Shanice Wilson. And my music has been featured on Netflix (“Wu Assassins”), The CW (“iZombie), Fuse, Fox Sports 1, and more. I have also performed at shows, festivals, and events across the country, and I even had the opportunity to perform at a festival on TV in China two years ago. But the best is yet to come.
What is your experience in the music industry? Do you have any formal training or schooling? If not, are you self-taught and how did you learn your craft? What is your learning style? What are your favorite educational resources (ex. college, YouTube, etc.)?
As far as singing, I’ve had classical and contemporary vocal training. As far as hip-hop, I studied the greats: Eminem, Rakim, Big Pun, 2Pac, Royce da 5’9”, Ras Kass, Chino XL, Pharoahe Monch. My life experiences and university classes definitely shaped my world views. And having been in the music industry for so many years helped me understand the game more as a business rather than a place to foster talent. I’ve went through various management teams, but for the most part, I’ve been able to achieve my own success by myself after the people around me failed to deliver the results or did not understand my vision. I understand that the most important thing in this industry is leverage. Every artist should not only strive to get better at their craft, but also accomplish as much as they can to show what they can bring to the table before outside interests come in the picture.
What are some credits and achievements that you have? Who have you worked with? Who have you collaborated with?
I have worked with artists like Raphael Saadiq, Full Force, King Los, and Shanice Wilson. My music has also been featured on Netflix ("Wu Assassins"), The CW (“iZombie), Fuse, Fox Sports 1, and more. My songs have also been played on major radio stations such as V-103, Majic 107.5, and CHUO 89.1 FM (Canada).
Who are your biggest influences growing up and why? Who do you like to listen to now and why? Who’s on your playlist right now?
My biggest influences growing up were Eminem, 2Pac, Rakim, and Michael Jackson. I’ve always been into lyricism and wordplay as far as hip-hop goes, so that’s who I’ll always be checking for. As far as R&B, I love music from the 90’s and mid-2000’s. I honestly keep artists that I’ve always listened to on rotation. Artists like Em, Royce da 5’9”, Chris Brown, Trey Songz, The Weekend, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole. I’ll listen to the new stuff from this era for the sake of keeping a pulse on what’s going on, but most of it doesn’t hit me the way music used to.
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered or faced in this industry?
As far as obstacles, almost every roadblock has been race-related. Producers have hesitated to push me because I was Asian. People have told me to hide my face, scoffed and said that I would never be a famous rapper because Jin failed, and suggested that I go back to China to be successful. Despite all the hardships, I have remained determined to make it and inspire the world. Which I will, just to prove them wrong.
How would you describe your sound and style?
I would describe my sound the way Bruce Lee describes his fighting style: like water. The best style is no style, because that's when you are not pigeonholed into creating only one type of sound or vibe. Because I sing and rap, my music is a mixture of hip-hop, R&B, and pop. Although my songs vary in genre and sound, my tone and top-tier lyricism is consistent, so you know it's Alan Z every time.
What are some of your goals this year?
Well, since the world has been descending into madness due to this pandemic, my plans have changed drastically. But my goals have remained the same: grow bigger as a brand, make more important connections within the industry, do more (virtual) events, and set up plays for when it's safe to go out again and take on the world.
Who are the top 3 artists, producers, engineers, videographers, or others you would want to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
2. The Weeknd
What is your creative process like?
For songs, I usually start with a concept and hook, and then once that is established, I work on the verses. If it's just writing verses, I just build off multi-syllabic rhyme patterns and let the pen dictate what I want to say to the beat. And even though I can freestyle, I'm still a traditional writer in the sense of crafting songs with a pen and pad. But when it comes to R&B/pop songs, I like to freestyle the melodies first before I jot any words down.
What’s your favorite go-to order?
Chicken katsu ramen with pork broth.