Brooklyn's Rising MC Took Us To College on Sissy Bounce, Queer Identity, and Librarians who Love Him
Hard looks, sinister beats, and ample use of the “b” word can be deceiving, and it’s what makes Brooklyn MC Zebra Katz, or Ojay Morgan, a sheep in wolf’s clothing. When his single “Ima Read” dropped upon the earth via the Mad Decent imprint Jeffree’s, the general impression was that of bravado, a wee bit of misogyny, and ironic fun shrouded in throbbing, evil kickdrum.
While the track has earned him ridiculous props and an upcoming EP with remixes by the likes of Tricky, Gangsta Boo, and Azealia Banks, he’s been misunderstood in a thousand ways. First off, Ojay is a Shakespeare and gender studies major. He is also a queer MC who has grappled with offensive semantics his whole life. Dropping the “bitch” bomb is, in short, stirring the linguistic pot, while “Ima Read” really is a commentary on literacy and wordplay — not a new way to belittle women.
Zebra Katz just dropped the eerie new video for the single “W8WTF,” and is about to release the Ima Read remix EP on September 16. While he steadily rises into the hip-hop pantheon, we had a frank chat with Zebra about identity, the media, and the real Ojay behind the gimp mask.
Can you walk me through the W8WTF video? There’s lots of shit going on. It kinda scares me.
[laughs] Yeah, it’s that moment of realization where you look at what you’ve done, and where you’re going and you’re like, wait, what the fuck. The track itself is kind of reflective of a moment in time that I had. So the video is kind of disorienting. The gimp mask represents a darker side to it, he doesn’t know how he got there but he’s slowly working his way through it, working his way through different rooms, he has flashbacks. I made it in a day with my friend Ursula. I was handcuffed for a majority of the video, it was challenging.
What moment is it representing?
It was a time when the EP was released, and when everything was starting to happen for Zebra Katz in March 25th, so it was just off of the Jeffree’s release and right before we went to SSXW, so it was a moment after I returned from Helsinki, and so it was my way of saying what happened? What the fuck?
So it must be pretty disorienting to be working with all these huge producers on your new EP.
It’s pretty incredible. I feel lucky to work with so many great producers and work with my friends on videos.
Have you interacted with the artists remixing “Ima Read”?
I did speak with Azealia the second time I came to London. With Tricky we got connected through my lawyer and found out he heard the track and liked it and was willing to do a verse on it, and found out that Gangsta Boo was going to do a verse…I felt like I’d just struck gold, I was working with two musical legends, so to have them be a part of it. It’s not the last feature that will be on there hopefully, another hip-hop artist might be releasing it on their album this fall, it’s in talks. I’m interested to see how the change in the audience will be. I love how right now it’s queer it’s straight it’s dance, it’s librarians, schoolteachers…
Wait, you really got feedback for “Ima Read” from a librarian?
Yes! A librarian told me she can’t get the song out of her head! She catalogues to it, she writes her thesis to it. I mean, everyone, the jocks, people I would never imagine. It’s great.
When Ima read came out it was all about Mad Decent and star-studded remixes and all that. There wasn’t a whole lot of emphasis on your queer identity. And usually — I mean, look at me — it’s something that the media jumps on. For you, how much do you want the identity and the pride aspect and the career to intersect?
I think that individuals are going to take from my music what they take from my music, and I am hoping that they’re listening to the music first before their standards on sexuality, and who I may be sleeping with, because it’s not that necessary right now in my music. I think it’s interesting what’s going on in the industry right now, it’s something that journalists like to know about. It’s not that you can’t be a prideful artist. You can be prideful, it’s just that my music comes first.
I’m not saying the focus SHOULD be on sexuality, but it does feel like some changes had to have occurred in the last few years in hip-hop so that it’s not the focus. Do you agree and do you feel like the industry is changing?
I feel like the industry is definitely changing. It’s hard for me to see where I am, being the artist, and how it’s affecting me and the choices I make. I’m not letting the press get to me or how I create and work as Zebra Katz. A lot of artists change because of that. I’m just going to keep doing me no matter what A or B thinks about me and my sexuality. I can’t help who I am, and if people wanna draw attention to that, I can’t really stop them. The music industry is definitely changing. A lot of great artists are out and proud and they’re making great music, and artists who aren’t necessarily out and proud and still making great music in the industry but they don’t have their sexuality at the forefront. I think that as time continues I think we’re going to see a lot more of this come out and I just hope this doesn’t become, oh every month there’s a new queer artist or a new black artist and all these little pockets.
I know it’s been around for a bit but, how do you feel about sissy bounce? At least from my perspective it definitely feels like the most palpable, proud gay scene recently to get any attention, that’s not drag of course.
I remember when sissy bounce started, because of Sissy Nobby coining that term after his name. But you know there are tons of people who are queer and making bounce music that don’t necessarily fit under the term ‘sissy bounce.’ it’s basically bounce music. And there’s no straight bounce!
In many ways sissy bounce is based on some older genres and traditions, it doesn’t necessarily feel entirely new, yet we’re living in a world where these things are getting media attention. How do you feel about the media handling queer artists and “scenes”?
Um, it’s a super tough question because I think it relies on the journalist and what they’re trying to convey. Are they speaking to an audience that has no idea what bounce is? Are they clueless? I think the play of audiences matters when trying to discuss this.
Literacy is a big cause of yours, you’ve done some philanthropy and of course “Ima Read” is somewhat literal. What inspired you to tackle that?
I think so many people aren’t listening to the message in the song, and they’re caught up in the scene. It was me referencing literature, black literature and how to play with the double entendre, to school someone, to learn someone. I feel like literacy is really important, nationally. I think America is the 2nd most illiterate nation? What i did with the word bitch, I wanted to gain ownership with that, gain ownership with that, and explore themes like is it less offensive if it’s coming from a male? A female? A queer? We were trying to play with those notions. It was interesting seeing Kanye’s comments on Twitter about the word bitch, there all these conversations coming up about its use. It’s really important in general, how we survive in society, from queer to faggot, I think they’re going to assimilate in different ways.
Who are your heroes?
I love Lauryn Hill, I think she is a musical genius, Nina Simone is a hero of mine. I love Andre 3000 and how he’s so eloquent and awesome as an artist. My mom is definitely a hero.