Have You Met.. Zen Zin & Pawcut

Sudanese MC/Singer Zen-Zin and German producer Pawcut are not your average rap group. Zen-Zin lives and works in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, while Pawcut is producing his beats in a small German town called Minden. Nevertheless, the mix of Zen-Zin’s melodious flow and Pawcut’s skillfully layed beats make a perfect fit. “Next Flight Ontario” is the follow-up album to their debut “Butterfly Effect” on Jakarta Records. The pair took time to join our ‘Have you Met‘ Q&A serirs

Where did you grow up? How did you get into creating music?

Zen-Zin: Well, I was born in Sudan but then my whole family moved to Malaysia for a few years and then we came back, but I wasn’t into music back then. To be honest, it had never even crossed my mind, but one day my cousin had burnt two CD’s for my brother, one was filled with audio tracks and the other had music videos on it. The first song on the CD with the videos was Xzibit’s song “Multiply” which was beyond dope, but it didn’t change me or reel me in like that. The second song was Bow Wow’s “Basketball” featuring Fabolous which was also dope but again – it didn’t change me. The third song was the song that ruined my life and changed everything, the song was Bone Thugs & Harmony’s song called “Crossroads”. Now originally the song had come out in the 1990s but I was too young to understand anything and to be honest rap wasn’t in my world like that, so I was really late to the party. When I heard that song around 2005, they had already released three more albums, but that was a game-changer for me. Sometimes I wish I had never heard that song, maybe then I’d be happy and content with how things are, but everything happens for a reason – so it is what it is.

Pawcut: I grew up in a rather small city called Minden in Germany. Music has always been very present and important to me. The first thing that brought me in touch with actually getting creative in doing something myself was trying to do Ska/Punk in a band in the 80s (yes I’m old) and doing the standard rec/pause/rec Grandmaster Flash impersonations on a tape deck. About 20 years ago, after ways of life lead me to different paths, I started cutting records with two turntables and later samples into a Korg ESX 1 sampler and Fruity Loops. For the last ten years, music has been my main focus and passion.

What’s the music culture like in the city you grew up in?

Zen-Zin: To be honest, I don’t really pay attention to the scene in the city anymore. I used to but not anymore. We have a lot of talented artists here, but I can’t focus on what they’re doing and continue to better myself at the same time, so I just mind my own business and worry about what I’m doing. I wish everybody the best you know, I’m sure what they’re doing is dope, but it’s just not for me, you know.

Pawcut: As I said, it’s small, about 80k people, but we have a nice Jazz club and a Hip-Hop scene that has been more active in the past, but it’s still there.

What’s your relationship with Pawcut/Zen-Zin and how did you meet?

Zen-Zin: I had heard about Pawcut from a friend, but I didn’t know who he was and I’m 100% sure he didn’t know about me at all. I don’t even think he knows about me now lol, but we connected through emails, Facebook texts and everything just kinda fell into place and it just felt right. We had done like two tracks and then decided to keep it going and I won’t lie, I loved his production, it felt mature to me and it was definitely the first time for me to work with a bigger artist who knew what he was doing. There have definitely been a lot of teaching moments along the way and I won’t lie I was kinda intimidated… You have to understand that I wasn’t born into this nor do I know anyone who does this on a professional level. My closest friends aren’t artist, so all of this is new to me. I’m learning on the job every day, so obviously I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but with every new project, I hear and feel the progress.

Pawcut: We met about eight years ago and we’ve worked on music with little interruptions since. Zen-Zin is and has always been a very fast, clean and visionary vocalist to me. Meanwhile, we’ve been through some highs and lows as artists, but also on the ways of life side of things and becoming friends even though we never met in person. And that’s a lot in my world.

How have you tried to bring your Sudanese culture into your music? 

Zen-Zin: I reference some people sometimes in my music and maybe an incident that happened or a quick mention here or there, but I try to not mesh the two together because honestly, I don’t think that that’s what it’s about. I know some artist thrived off that like J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar, but that’s why I gravitated towards Drake more cause I just like good music. 

It doesn’t always have to have a hidden message or be about something, you know. Sometimes just being creative is enough. I don’t like to overthink it, I feel that’s where the art dies, but then again that’s how I feel. Maybe other artists like to whiteboard it and calculate every bar or hook or concept, but I just like it to be organic, it gives the music a longer shelf life in my opinion.

What is your relationship like with Melting Pot, and how has it impacted your music career?

Zen-Zin: MPM has definitely been a big help, I mean without them we wouldn’t be doing this interview here lol, I gotta show ’em respect and tip my hat to them for taking a leap of faith with us, cause this is a business at the end of the day so it’s a numbers game… But the fact that they took this risk with us, lets me know that they also care about the creative aspect of it and that’s rare in today’s world. I hope we don’t disappoint them, but you never know with music, cause you might release a project today and not get the results you want, but then again that same project might blow and start to do numbers four years from now out of nowhere so it’s a tough thing to gauge you know. I just want to personally thank Oliver and the whole team for the support and for believing in me and Pawcut and in “Next Flight Ontario”.

Pawcut: What Zen-Zin said… Also, you got to really give MPM props for rolling with us through the options to promote us beyond “sound” were rather slim. The album just released so time will tell about the impact.

If you weren’t making music, what do you think you would be doing?

Zen-Zin: If I wasn’t making music, I’d probably be a farmer or a getaway driver, you know… lol. I don’t really know, maybe a screenwriter cause I write a lot but that industry’s ten times harder so I don’t really focus on it too much, but if I wasn’t rapping I’d like to think I was being useful, whether to society or the world or even to the neighbourhood.

Pawcut: I don’t know, I assume I’d spend even more time with the stuff I do besides music which is long walking with the dogs, spending time with my wife I love to death and smoke lots of weed whilst watching brainless stuff on my tv.

Do you play any instruments, if not, which would you love to learn first?

Zen-Zin: I don’t play any instruments nor do I make any beats. I leave that to the professionals. I’m more of a “let me stay in my own zone and don’t touch anything kind of guy”, if I could learn to play an instrument I’d have to go with the piano, I like the sounds it makes especially when you know what you’re doing with it.

Pawcut: Nor do I. My parents tried to get me into piano lessons when I was five or six but I was way too unfocused – and they were not strict enough. 

Which other artists would you love to collaborate with most?

Zen-Zin: I used to want to collaborate with a lot of people but I don’t anymore. Maybe in the future, but right now I like how I and Paw do what we do. I like the fact that it’s just us, you know. There aren’t any ghostwriters or ghost-producers. It’s just the two of us doing what we want, how we want when we want. It’s actually similar to a “blade & whistler” situation for the marvel fans out there.

Pawcut: I think that’s a more complex thing to me than drop big names here now. For me even if I don’t meet someone in person, I need to have a feeling of chemistry that’s beyond a big name or band or even high-quality work. That’s a thing that comes with time and work you put in, not through “hiring” a vocalist or having a “plan”. I want to have an influence on my work that sees the light as well. That’s why I don’t sell my beats or put single beats of mine on multiple random projects or compilations. 

I have people like Zen-Zin, Pseudo Slang, Ella Mae Sueref, N-O, Dre Skuffs and others like my German regulars Katharsis and Headrick, where everything grew organically over the years. So I don’t really long for the big names or coups except it became an opportunity that felt right without forcing it.

How would you describe your rapping/singing style in three words?

Zen-Zin: Organic, conversational, and untethered.

Q&A: Have You Met… Mr Käfer

Photographed by David Henselder

Austrian born and raised music producer, and composer Mr Kafer steps up to join our Q&A series so we can learn a bit more about him beyond his music,. Having earlier this month released his latest LP, ‘Orientations‘ through German label, Melting Pot.

Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Salzburg, Austria – a small and quiet town which has a beautiful nature & surroundings. I always appreciated the fact to have so many possibilities to just go out into the nature to find some rest. I think in general it’s a town which offers good circumstances to develop as an artist cause you don’t have a lot of distractions there.

Describe the kind of creative culture within the city you were raised in?

The creative culture has many farcettes there but in general it is best known for Mozart and classical music. Most people go there to consume it („Festspiele“) or to study classical music. But also acting & dancing is a big part of it. Because classical music is such a big focus there, sometimes it seems that everything else is a bit stagnating from time to time – it doesn’t seem really easy to build a constant alternative scene there from my experience. The Hip Hop there is kind of a small scene with stuff going on but not too much happening collectively from my experience so everyone is more like „cooking up his own soup“.

What made you get into music, who were the people around you who influenced you?

That’s hard to tell. One of the first things I was listening to at a very young age was a tape from Cheb Khaled, a singer from Oran in Algeria. I’ve played that over and over again. Later when I was about 10/11 years old I got into Hip Hop and from there on was in love with this music. I also visited a music school at that time where I was in the choir and had classes in music theory. I guess things just took their course and I kind of always had a surrounding & people to share this music with. I remember a good friend of mine and me making mixtapes with our favorite rap songs all the time back in the days and exchanging them from time to time. I think first stuff I was listening to was artists like „The Roots“, „The Pharcyde“, „Pete Rock & CL Smooth“, „Eminem“, „Mobb Deep“.

How has your Algerian heritage in music effected your style? From the instruments you choose and how you structure your tracks?

To be honest, I don’t know in which way or if it has affected my own style concretely. I just always could identify with the music from there and liked listening to it. I think maybe I just naturally developed a certain fondness for certain sounds, rhythms & instruments. Besides that it is hard to tell – I think a lot of influences in that sense are more unconscious and subtle.

How does Austrian and Algerian musical styles differ?

When I think about the music culture, my experience is that growing up in Austria doesn’t necessarily mean to be in contact with the traditional music a lot, except you grow up on the countryside. In Algeria I personally always had the feeling that (regional) music somehow is lived out more actively by the people (no matter if they live on the countryside or in the city) and it also feels like it has a different social value somehow. But that’s only my point of view. And of course the obvious such as the use of instruments, music scales, rhythms, style of singing etc. is a big difference.

Are there any producers/artists you work with really well, what makes your relationship work?

Yeah there are a lot of artists I love to work with. Collaborating is always fun. To name a few – Flitz &S uppe, DDob (the 3 of us also made an album called „Sandals“ last year), Devaloop who is also from Salzburg, Gavin Lord and of course the instrumentalists from the current release „Orientation“, Christian Höll, Makkako and Ruff I. It’s always interesting to collaborate cause everyone hears things differently and brings different skills. I think what makes it work well is just that you get along very well on a personal level. So a friendship is kind of the basis and everything happens quite naturally – you spend some good times together and the music is more like an outcome of it.

What were early experiences in music, did you start with playing instruments or go straight in to making beats?

As I said I visited a music school for four years where I was singing in the choir and had some music theory classes. Music was always around but I never learned playing an instrument during my childhood – always liked to play percussions with friends and just jam. But yeah, I went straight into making beats somewhere around 2012 I think.

Are there any other musicians, and DJs we should be paying attention to?

There are so many great musicians out there and so much nice music is released almost every day. I’d probably be sitting here half a day just writing down names

If you mean the Austrian music scene I can name just a few that come to my mind here:

Mono: Massive Brenk Sinatra Flip Devaloop Moby Stick Raptoar & Windshadow and many more!

Orientations LP Released May 8th

What equipment did you use for your recent produce your forthcoming album?

(Pictures of your set up would be great to include) I used my laptop, keyboard, Mpd to make the beats and we used different mics to record the instruments. Big part of this project was the live recorded instruments saxophone, guitar and double bass which were played by Christian Höll, Makkako and Ruff I.

How did you relationship come about with Melting Pot because you’ve released music with them before this?

I studied audio design in Salzburg. There you have to do an internship in the fourth semester. I did that at MPM in Cologne from September 2018 till December 2018. They searched for interns at that time which was a nice coincidence. During that time I also finished and released a project called „Lost Reflections“, which I made togehter with Gavin Lord who is a saxophone player. „Lost Reflections“ was then released on tape on their sub-label KO-OP and is now part of the split LP „Lost Reflections/Orientation“ which came out May 8th this year.

How have you changed your approach from your previous album, to your recent album, Orientations in June ?

My idea was to incorporate oriental sounds and rhythms into jazz, which always has been a great influence & inspiration for my beats. A new approach was to make a record that sounds more organic. I didn’t really have the ambition to make a beattape in the „conventional sense“. To achieve that, I worked with Christian Höll, who co-produced the EP with me and played saxophone on the project & Makkako and Ruff I who played guitar and bass. Shoutouts to the guys! So I guess what really has changed from my approach was to try to create a project that sounds more organic and to work more concept orientated than I did before.

What was your favourite track to produce on the album and why?

I think „Dawn at the Souk“ just because it felt most different from the songs I’ve made till then. It was fun creating something a bit more uptempo with new rhythms. And I just personally like the mood of the song.

Check out his recently released EP below, and let us know what you think and give him your support: