Thought of as one of the most consistent and multi-talented producers in the scene, I catch up with Z-Dot on everything from Nelly Furtado to falling out with the family. After first dropping in on him with Sketchman to help film some footage for a grime forum link last summer, he's been busy to say the least:
"I've been doing loads man! Looking back over the last 6 months, I've probably spent the majority of my time with Wiley - we spent about 6 weeks in the studio over October/November time and we recorded 'Joombi', 'Came Back Home' and 'Bright Lights' with Giggs, which I really enjoyed. I'd also brought out the 'Fire Power EP' at the end of August with the 'Dirty Date' instrumental on it which got a lot of good feedback. People have been saying it was one of the biggest beats of the year alongside Spartan so I was quite happy with that. I brought out 'Work Rate Pro Vol 1' on December 12th too. I see the Work Rate series as a chance for fans to choose what they want me to release, especially because I'm always getting asked if I can make certain beats available for download. As long as the demand is there from the fans, I'd be happy to release 20 Work Rate Pros! The second installment is due for release on February 20th actually which has got Wiley's 'Mastered the Craft' and 'Joombi' instrumentals on there as well as some fresh new sick grime beats, so make sure you keep your eye out! Ah and not forgetting the 'New Wave' mixtape I released - i did that purely to help get some talented up and coming emcees some exposure really. I wanted to make sure it was UK-wide too so I made sure I brought in guys like Shifty and Wariko - I didn't want it to be strictly a London ting at all. I was surprised at the positive reaction to be honest, it got almost 6;000 downloads in its first month on ITunes and obviously guys like Rival in particular have gone on to reach new heights since it dropped which is all really positive."
It's perhaps no wonder that he's forged a reputation for having such a high work rate, which is all the more impressive considering the quality of his production. Having said that, there must be some disadvantages to working so conscientiously?
"The social life really suffers but I get used to it. My family sometimes get annoyed at me too because I'm not always around to attend family gatherings and things like that but I'm doing what I wanna do at the end of the day. It's hard to explain because people don't always understand how driven I am and how much I want to be as successful as I possibly can be which does sound a bit selfish in a way. I often find myself arguing with the people closest to me about where I'm headed and how much work I'm doing but I know that it'll all pay off. I make sure to surround myself with positivity too, negativity is just case aside to be honest."
Over recent months, you may have also noticed references to 'The Elite', a production team consisting of Z-Dot himself and Dan Dare, a close friend and talented rap producer in his own right:
"We've been making beats together for about 2 years now so it seemed like a natural thing to do. We came up with the Elite idea about 8-10 months ago, purely for professional reasons - we run it like a business more than anything else and it helps us focus on bringing our collective thoughts together. He does more rap stuff, like Fem Fel's 'Put it in the Bag' for example, and I tend to focus on grime but when we come together, we tend to make the best stuff! We've actually had a few big meetings with major labels over the last month so I think big things are gonna happen for us."
Whilst some artists choose to remain quite detached from the mixing down side of production, it was also interesting to get Z's take on his understanding of the advantages of studio work:
"Ah I love all the studio stuff! To be honest, I feel at home in a studio and feel like I can always do my best work. I'm quite hands on and I'm not scared to help with track re-arrangement and sometimes even helping to write choruses!"
Taking this on board, I felt it only fair to ask who he enjoyed working in the studio with:
"Lauren Mason is a really exciting singer and I really enjoy working with her. What's especially good about Lauren is her love for the proper dark grime beats. She actually bought my 'Fire Power' EP and was like 'Ah I love one track in particular' and it turned out to be 'Dirty Date' so I decided to make a VIP with a chorus just for her. She came back 5 days later with it vocalled and I was like 'Wow!' - its got the potential to be an absolute smash, it just sounds so sick! We've done a photo shoot together for the 'Dirty Money' single and that so fingers crossed we do well. As well as Lauren, I'd have to say I enjoy working with Wiley. Our work rates are both at a similar level so whenever we're together we just make stupid amounts of music! Going off on a bit of a tangent, the most unusual request I've had was to do a grime remix for a Nelly Furtado tune but her label chose to release a bait dance remix instead. Having said that, my version could still get put out there!"
With his work obviously being appreciated by labels and more established international artists alike, ambitions must be high for 2011:
"This year I'm releasing my first real project, 'A New Light', a pre-album due out in April which I hope will serve as a true reflection of me as an artist (half instrumental / half vocal). Its more varied than my usual sorta stuff - I've kept it grime but there are a few meaningful tunes on there that demonstrate what else I can do. I've got the big single 'Dirty Money' with Lauren Mason due out on the 6th March too so be sure to keep a look out. As well as that, I've got the 'Work Rate Pro Vol 2' EP coming out as on February 15th as I mentioned earlier and I generally wanna be releasing lots more music. I've got loads of beats just waiting to be heard or re-heard like the Devlin freestyle beat that I made about 3 years ago - I'm always getting hassled about that!"
As for others in the scene, its worth noting who Z sees having big parts to play this year:
"Looking back at 2010, I'd say Wiley had an amazing year with the 'Zip Files' release, 'Joombi' and of course, 'Radio Kid' - they demonstrate not only his work rate but just how good he still is. As for 2011, I think all the 'New Wave' stuff is really exciting - I reckon guys like Rival and Merky Ace will have big years; Rival's vocal of 'Dirty Date' was sick and furthermore, I think the whole 'New Wave' scene is doing everything right. They've put the ground work in; going to radio, getting on Rinse sets and even jumping on things like UrbanFMTV have all helped get them established. On a production level, Spooky put in mad work rate last year so I expect him to do the same again this year. Got a lot of love for Cameo and Target too - as more commercial DJs they've fully repped grime so biggup to them and Ras Kwane too, he used to do it with his 'Homegrown' series. Finally, I want to give a special mention to bloggers too - they'll have a big role to play. The quality of writing has really improved over the last 6 months and guys like JP (Joseph Patterson) have helped get the scene exposure!"
As for the future of grime:
"I think the most important thing that grime is still lacking is professionalism. Obviously you've now got guys like Chipmunk, Devlin, Tinie Tempah and Kano, you're proper established artists, who've taken that professionalism to new levels and I think that's what grime emcees, deejays and producers have all got to do - working together is key. If we all worked together then I could see a proper grime tune getting a top 20 one day and that's the dream. I think DJs need to be more professional too in the sense that they should play what's good for what's good sake - DJs have a lot of power and influence and I think they could use it more to benefit he scene. What has been good to see though is the energy - grime has it's energy back, a lot more so than in previous years so long may in continue!"
Not only was it a pleasure to interview Z-Dot but what was particularly apparent from speaking to him was not only a well-measured sense of self-appreciation but a genuine love for grime. Whilst himself and Dan Dare look set for bigger things in 2011, I get the sense that Z will always be a port of call for people looking for a break. As he says himself, "working together is key".
DIRTY DATE INSTRUMENTAL
LAUREN MASON - DIRTY MONEY (PRODUCED BY Z-DOT / OUT 06/03/11)