Kind of like the Mystery School throwback interview I published recently, here's one I did with Zest The Smoker 12 years ago back to the WCI days. I edited it and kept the interesting parts...
Zest is still one of the most underrated mc in my opinion, probably paying the price of being different and the opposite of your common catchy rapper. But treat yourself and go listen to / buy his last album to date (although it's 7 years old), Death... At 27, on his bandcamp... you won't regret.
(The non-italic stuff is what I added).
Hi Zest... Can you introduce yourself and tell us how did you get your name?
My uncle wuz a tagger back in the 80's before he started crippin'. I looked up to him like a big brother, he alwayz tagged "Zest!". He wuz known all over the walls at Andrew Hill High School, South Side San Jose. I started taggin' "Zest!!". When he started gangbangin', I took over the name, droppin the extra explanation mark that notched me as the second, to plane ol' Zest.
In 1993, I wrote a song about smokin' mc's (My Old Nasty Habit), that's how I picked up the Smoke alias. It's kind of a curse as well as a blessing, becuz everywhere I go people wanna Smoke me out rather I feel like smokin or not.
Can you tell us about your very beginnings in hip hop... what was the westcoast scene looking like back then and how did you met Peanut Butter Wolf?
To tell you the truth I wasn't a full fledge B-Boy in the begining. I didn't really care for rap that much, all I listen to wuz Prince. But summer 1988 changed everything. Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Eric B. & Rakim, Sir Mixalot all dropped at the same time. It wuz Kane that made me really get into battle rappin', he wasn't screaming like most mc's did at the time, he wuz calm, laid back, and you heard everything he said. His style wuz real witty, he clowned Mutha Fuckas through the whole track, just demolishing mc's. And Rakim... Wuz just plain hardcore, I loved it!
As far as the West Coast scene... There wasn't one (at least in San Jose, the desolate) unless you wuz Short, Mixalot, or Hammer, at that time they wuz at the top of they game, even Hammer wuz bustin kinda hard, I bumped that shit too.
I met Wolf at his house downtown San Jose (yeah Wolf iz from the Zae), my boy Dj Stephan (Tapemasta Steph) introduced me and Dave (Dub) to Wolf at the same time, back in 1994. I didn't know shit about the guy, we were just freestylin' and Wolf recorded the session, and liked us. I didn't know he wuz into the business, until later.
Can you point your discography and tell a word about each record you released?
Actually nothin' has been released officially, I released two "Junk" tapes which I really enjoyed, and "3 Face the Shape Shifta" on cd.
Not too much to say about em', the Junk tapes were a bunch of 4-track recordings, but the feeling wuz so raw I had to share it wit the world. "3 Face the Shape Shifta" wuz a little unoffficial cd release just to hold people off until I completed my full length. "Interruptions" wuz released without my consent on Stones Throw, my delivery didn't match up to what we did in preproduction. The prepro delivery wuz so slippery, and flowed with ease, besides a few mistakes and low quality, there is no comparison it wuz 100% better. "My Old Nasty Habit" didn't match the prepro either, but I still gave consent.
You're part of the Camp Crystal Lake collective. Can you introduce it and his members? Do you still have anything going on with it, any release? What about Isolated Wax?
Yeah, I create CCL back in 1996. It started with just me and Los the Jackal. I invited all of the homies, but everyone has their own idea off what thet wanna do. So there are only 3 official members left in the Camp, Me, Los, and Wolf Progress. We still gonna drop some shit, we actually have hella songs on file, but most wont see the light of day, becuz we're not all together like that anymore.
Isolated Wax are the homies that use to be from the Lake.
You're from San Jose. How is the local hip hop scene out there?
Talkin about the westcoast scene, what are you thinking about it right now? The Shapeshifters? Living Legends? Afterlife?..
Never heard their material, but I heard some stuff from Afterlife, they got some heat, but some of those cats need to tone it down, and stop goofin' off. But that's just my opinion. I don't really get out much, so I can't comment on the west coast scene. But I can tell you I love the west coast up and down. I'm from Northern Cali, so I tend to lean toward Northern Cali mc's, not trying to compare, it's just we communicate different (not just slang) and have a different perspective on this hustle called life, so it's easier for me to relate to that.
Now about your work... What are your inspirations? Influences? In your bio your flow is defined as a 'rapid eye movement'... can you explain that?
I get inspired from hardcore shit, I hate most emcee's cuz they suck. I prefer to write sober.
Rapid eye movement? Another way of explaining the subconcious effect my flow has on the listeners. People say shit like "Is he saying what I think he's saying"...Yep. I do shit you can zone out to, like being in a dream state, but it's actually the reality that lies beneath the lie.