Zaki: "El Salvador is the best place for hip-hop to function the way it was born"
Zaki was born and raised in the city of Mejicanos, department of San Salvador on May 23, 1992. He says that his life was not bitter, and although he was lonely, he thinks he had it easy. He describes his childhood as interesting and fun. He also says that he was never home. His interest in making music started in 2013 and he is now one of the most promising young rappers in the country. He recently released his album Amarga Vida. Revista Factum interviewed him about this production and his career.
How was your interest in hip-hop born?
In 2013, I met Michaelsen Serrano (also known as El Ghetto) who would always invite me to play reggae. I liked freestyling, but I did not know how to write songs, let alone the responsibility that comes with it. Afterwards, we decided to merge hip-hop and reggae, thus creating A.K.A Lion.
How was your experience with A.K.A Lion?
Motivational, homes. I learned everything about how to manage my solo career and found my identity and style as a rapper.
When did you decide to become a soloist?
When Michaelsen did not want to keep making music, I kept making tracks under the group’s name. But I felt like it wasn’t for me anymore, so I decided to create my own persona, completely change my sound, and dedicate myself fully to rap.
You have also worked with people like Kontra…
Kontra was the first person to notice my work. He opened the doors to an entirely new scene to me. I was very well-received. In fact, I’d say my music moves more people in Guatemala than in Sivar. Hahaha.
Rebeca Lane, Kontra, and the entire Ultima Dosis (Final Dosage) squad helped me a lot… Making music with Kontra has been something totally different than what I was used to as well. But I got the work done and now we are in the process of making a new group album called Pulmones Amplios (Full Lungs).
In regards to that, what is your opinion on Hip Hop in El Salvador? Referring to the present.
There are prime examples like Oneime y Omne, who is, in my opinion, one of the best that we have. There are also new people doing really well, like HIGH CLAN and Dakriz. Unfortunately, there is a lot of division between artists, but it does not diminish the quality of music found in the country.
Going back to your music, who would you call your influences?
Vico C, Lil Supa’, J Dill, and Bob Marley. Hehe.
I ask this because while hearing “Amarga Vida” it took me back to the early nineties productions of Vico C y Nas. Was this your intention?
As matter of fact, that’s what I listen to the most: nineties rap. Unfortunately, I’m not into trap. I’m more about boom bap and jazz samples.
In addition to this, what would be the driving line in “Amarga Vida”?
Getting rid of baggage, bro. The whole album is to relieve the baggage that I can’t keep carrying if I want my musical career to take the course I am looking for. I need peace, and well, I needed to get this out in order to get where I needed, to find balance between my essence and the musical self-sufficiency I’m looking for.
This line sticks out: “Sorry to say ‘bitch’, you know it’s not the same meaning.” Misogyny is common in rap, as you know. You rarely go that route and, in this case, you even explain it. Do you think it’s time for rappers to overcome misogyny in their raps? Specifically, when it comes from men.
On the real, I do it because Rebeca Lane is my girlfriend. One way or another, I learned a lot from her, like the fact that our language is sexist. That reference, however, is directed at rappers. It is not a justification, but a way of letting it go. Like I said, in this album I intend to let go of all of the things that wouldn’t work for me in the real world, outside of the competition I have with other rappers or other rappers have with me.
My respect goes to Rebeca for her ideals and all the things they have taught me. In fact, they made me change the way I pronounced it and take the word “Biach” as a Zaki-ism. Let’s call it that or a Oneime-ism, in which it does not refer to the Spanish definition, but an invented word referring to rappers I don’t vibe with, so to speak. Something similar to haters.
You also talk about religion and smoking marijuana. Do you believe that your generation has less restrictions expressing themselves about these sorts of topics?
In fact, hip-hop was made for that, homes. That is what makes this music so real; being able to say what you think without restrictions. Well, I have always tried to make my rap as personal as my opinions are about any topic, without fear of judgement. Frankly, if someone identifies with it, they should express it as freely as I write.
Finally, what plans do you have for your music for the rest of the year?
There are many projects to come. Towards the end of the year I have an album with Kontra, similar to Pulmones Amplios, and one with Alioto Lokos, from Guatemala, in collaboration with beatmakers from Central America and my brother Oneime. I am also in the process of writing something surprising with a band. However, I will tell you that later. Hahaha! All I’ll say for now is it will be a Zakeo.
A couple of weeks ago, the Salvadoran rapper Carlos Ariel Aparicio Pineda, better known as Zaki, published an album called Trez to represent his third work as a soloist. Initially released on YouTube - and now also available on other streaming platforms - the album now has over 17,000 views.
Zaki currently lives in Guatemala, but has not lost his connection to El Salvador. He recently toured Europe; he also talks happily about how he fills just as many shows in Guatemala as in El Salvador. He goes on to talk about a collaboration for his new album with Rapsusklei, a rapper dedicated to the Spanish hip-hop scene (and whom Zaki admires immensely).
In Trez, this MC delivered an exceptionally professional album, but always geared to the underground circuit. It has much more dynamic production than his two previous projects as a soloist: 999 and Amarga Vida. Zaki has grown, not only beat-wise, but also lyrically.
Revista Factum had the opportunity to interview Zaki about his new work.
A little over a year ago, we talked about your album Amarga Vida (2016). It is a more artisanal album than the one you are promoting at the moment. In terms of the production, do you think that this album is more professional than the one before?
It is definitely more professional.
From the audio editing to the lyrical content and visual exposition. It is the first album that I mastered and the first one that includes collaborations. It contains its own beats, the majority from Omne, some from Jeff Tucker.
In Amarga Vida you said that you wanted to get rid of all the baggage, like closing a chapter. Is Trez the beginning of a new period?
Trez was the beginning of a new cycle, of a more mature writer concerned about his production without leaving out its essence. Leaving the conformism behind and stepping towards the experimental...with a lot of effort… Hahaha.
What did you want to talk about on this album?
Well, the majority of the topics are personal; but unlike Amarga Vida, they do not seek to prove anything. On the contrary, they seek to rectify me, as I am a human being with virtues and errors - probably more errors than virtues - but as someone who has not lost the drive to better themselves.
In the song Equilibrio you say that rap does not pay your rent. Why insist on doing it then?
Because the one who pays the rent is me. Hahaha. That is, my job is what pays the bills. Many people believe that making music (rap) consists of sitting, making a beat and that’s it. That is, in fact, only 10 percent of the job. There is so much behind musical success that goes hand in hand with financial support. That’s the reason for the phrase: “El rap no me paga la renta” (“Rap does not pay for my rent”). What I didn’t write was: “My sleeplessness, passion, and work pay it”.
Why did you look for Omne again for the majority of the beats?
Well, it being my first album with completely original production, I couldn’t think of anyone besides the best Salvadoran beatmaker, in my opinion. Apart from being one of my best friends and people who most believe in my career… Canelo (Omne) knows who Zaki is, knows what he dreams of and what audience he is directed to.
You included a track with your partner, Rebeca Lane. Much to my surprise, it had nothing to do with romance. In fact, it’s pretty damn lyrical. Why did you decide to work with her and what was your experience?
I decided to work with her for that exact reason: because the song is so heavy. It is the song with the most social commentary and, having a sociologist in my life so familiar with the subject matter, I don’t think I could have chosen any better. It was a little difficult for me because it was the first time we worked together and I was nervous. However, the song helped ease the process because it’s her favorite track on the album. Although I don’t know if I would call it a song because she only did the chorus. In the future, when I am ready, I hope to do something more developed with her.
You also went on tour with her to Europe. What did this mean for you two?
It helped us get to know each other, to better understand our ways of working. And well, my work grew from it a lot. I met several people who were interested in my projects and also learned a lot from different artists.
In Trez there is also a collaboration with the Spanish rapper Rapsusklei. How did you meet? How did you decide to work on a song together?
We met in Barcelona. He went to a concert that we had there and, well, I think that we had a good vibe from the beginning because of how much respect I have for him. My admiration is as great as his humility. So, we had lunch before leaving Barcelona and I gave him my albums. Luckily, he liked my work and we started kicking around the idea of working on something for the new album.
The song with Rapsusklei, Camino a la Paz, addresses the violence in El Salvador. This violence has also touched the hip-hop culture with some regrettable deaths. Do you think that hip-hop can be used to initiate a change in these situations? How do you see the Salvadoran scene in the face of these tragedies?
In a chaotic way, it united us a lot—it was as bad as it was good. Losing loved ones is never pleasant, but it served as a reset for us to ask ourselves if we are doing the right thing. I improved my relationships with many colleagues in the wake of these unfortunate events. I cannot think of a more suitable place for hip-hop to keep operating like the way it was born El Salvador. This is because the ninety percent of youngsters who are connected to gangs could definitely find new and different opportunities to express themselves in all that hip-hop offers.
Let’s address your favorite controversy: Trap. The song “FUCK TRAP” is a trap. What are your intentions? Do you really have a problem with trap or are you just having fun?
Do you know the story of The Trojan Horse? Hahaha. Well, that’s my strategy.
What artists or bands from El Salvador are you currently following? Would you like to work with one in particular
Well, I have had the opportunity to review several different proposals from artists here in Guatemala that are from El Salvador, as well as folks from here that are fascinating to me. From El Salvador, I have Voltar in mind, whose work is bit sublime. Then, as always, at some point, I would like to make something with Adhesivo. I am a ska lover. In Guatemala I have many proposals and I think I want to accept all of them… hahaha. Among all of them there is De la Rut, Hot Sugar Mama, The Killer Tomato, and a new group that I highly recommend: Dinosaur 88, which is something different, but incredible.
Finally, what do you aim for with this album?
Well, what I've always wanted since my first song is that El Salvador be recognized not only for its social problems, but as an exporter of talent. This is the mission of every verse, not just in this album. Although my idea is to end an era of rap with instrumentals—that is why I decided to make the production as professional as possible—to lay the foundation for something greater instrumentally. I can only tell you guys to prepare for the Zakeo.
Originally published in Revista Factum
Interview conducted by Revista Factum
Translated by Willy Palomo and stacy soto