Seeing the dramatic shift in the hip-hop landscape in 2015 and 2016 was truly something to behold. The XXL Freshmen list over those two years set the internet alight and drew a clear line in the sand, with the old heads on one side and the mumble rappers on the other.
With a heavy percentage of the artists in question hailing from Florida, it makes sense that seeing someone from your state gaining recognition would inspire you to go harder, as is the case with PlayThatBoiZay. Being from the same neighbourhood as Rick Ross, Denzel Curry, and—arguably the greatest musician of all time—Flo Rida, PlayThatBoiZay has quite a lot to live up to.
With his latest body of work, Nocturnal, Zay creates a gritty, booming soundscape across seven tracks, evoking the dark energy of staying up all hours of the night. Over the phone between Australia and Florida and with 15 minutes on the clock, we got to chatting.
Ay, what up?
What’s good bro, how are you?
I’m doing good man, just chilling.
What have you been doing today?
Nothing much, I just ate, am waiting for my girlfriend to get off work. Now talking to you.
Have you got anything planned for the holiday season?
As far as holidays go, I’m not too much of a traditional person. So when Christmas comes we gonna exchange gifts, not going all out with the Christmas trees and whatnot. Then for New Year’s, we might go out, smoke and chill with the homies, you feel me?
Word man. Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for 2020?
Nah. [Laughs] Like I said in a tweet, in 2020 the only thing that’s going to change about me is my clothes, I’m the same person.
How would you describe how 2019 was for you?
The last year man, has just been crazy. I’ve just been taking this music stuff to the next level, you feel me? Trying to gain and maintain, by stepping out my comfort zone a lot.
At the tail end of the year you put out your project Nocturnal, which just surpassed a million plays, how does that feel for you?
I don’t even know man, just feels sort of unreal, I always wanted this and now that it’s happened it’s like, what’s next?
Is there a particular aesthetic you were aiming for by naming the tape Nocturnal?
What I wanted to do was [create] a dark tape because that’s how I was feeling at the time and I wanted to say it in a way people understood, without it being too direct. So I chose the word nocturnal because you think about creatures that sleep during the day and are active at night, you know? That whole dark feel.
So would you say that music is an outlet for you?
Definitely. If you listen to my discography over the last two years, it’s like a diary and what I been going through in my life.
What did you use as an outlet before music?
It was definitely the gym. I played football in 11th grade and used to be very skinny, I had like Kermit the frog puppet arms. It was crazy, so I was determined to gain weight/work out a lot and would listen to high energy music because it gave me that extra push that I needed. Those songs that get your heart pumping, you feel me? So it was definitely that and I wanted to have that same effect, like when you listen to my music you feel the energy.
Was there anything in particular that pushed you to transition from consuming music to creating your own?
I literally started making music through Snapchat, because I used to post freestyles just for fun like making jokes. Then my friend saw it and said, “Yo bro this actually hard let’s go to the stu” and at first we was TRASH, but we stayed committed and it got better. Once I got comfortable with being on the mic and stuff, that is when I started to put my life into it. So now I can listen to those songs and know exactly what I was feeling, and if I do that, I hope someone else can too.
I think the intro to the tape is funny, what is that audio from?
The intro is from when we were on tour and there’s this band called Trash Talk and they were performing/warming up the stage. One of my producers, Lucy, was making fun of what everyone would say at metal concerts to get the crowd pumped, so it was one of those things we were just laughing about. Then Denzel likes to record everything, so by luck [he] recorded it and when Nocturnal was coming out, we thought it’d be dope to have it as part of the tape.
In the recording, he mentions doing a “Swanton Bomb” off the roof, which is a WWE move. Were you ever into wrestling?
Uh, yeah, everybody was at one point. Between 2005 and 2010, I believe everybody was involved in wrestling.
That was definitely a peak time for our generation, did you have a favourite wrestler?
Rey Mysterio, I only liked the crazy tricks. I was so hurt when I found out it wasn’t real, my dawg showed me a video where Rey Mysterio killed a guy on live television. I think he was trying to do the “619” and I guess the kick actually connected so he broke his neck or something and he died later that day. That’s wild, but Rey Mysterio definitely is a G.O.A.T.
You mentioned Denzel Curry before, how did you guys get close?
The first time we met was originally at the mall I used to work at, Aventura in Florida. I was a host at Cheesecake Factory and I randomly saw him, then we just started talking. At the time I didn’t even make music, but he found out probably a year or two later when I went serious with it, through his best friend—that was Lucy, the one off the intro. He is the one that found my music.
Was he already established at the time?
That was 2016 when I just graduated out of high school. So around that time, he got the cover for XXL.
What did it mean for you, to see him, Raider Klan, X, and that whole movement, come out of Florida get mainstream recognition?
After I had talked to him and realised that we used the same lingo and it was nothing different, I felt completely comfortable talking to him. He used to stay literally down the street from me, we from the same hood and seeing him do it made me think, Damn, I could really do this as well. It was sort of a wake-up call and was inspirational, seeing somebody from your hood go on to do something. I always loved music, so meeting him and seeing him do it, I was like, “Wow, I guess I could do the same.” You feel me?
It all came together when you featured on the closing track of ZUU, ‘P.A.T’. How did that come together?
Denzel just randomly hit me up and was like, “Yo, I got this song for the album, I want you to be a part of it.” I heard the song and was like, “Yo this shit hard”, the studio session was booked probably an hour later, I freestyled it and that’s how we got that.
You supported him on the ZUU tour earlier this year, how was that for you performance-wise?
It was a big change because I was underground, doing shows in Miami, you know? It wasn’t as big, but with Denzel shows, the crowds were at least 1000 to 2000 people every night, so it was a very big change for me and I had to adjust. But it was dope, that was my first time leaving Florida so it was completely different, out of this world.
What were the most important lessons you learnt?
Stage presence, learning how to control my breath and when you’re performing on a big stage, the stage feels like the centre of the mosh pit, it’s very hot. So you gotta learn how to breathe and sometimes the air be thick you know? Because everybody breathing, hot, moist air at you. So it’s one of those where you have to get used to that because at first, I thought, Maybe I’m gonna throw up. We make it look easy, but it’s not as easy as it may look. It’s not just going up on stage and jumping around.
If someone had never heard your music before, what would be the first song you’d play them?
I’d say you gotta hear ‘Swarm’.
Do you believe you control your own destiny?
I believe it’s a combination of both like you definitely have an influence on it, but what’s meant to be, at the end of the day, will be. It’s one of those things though, where you’ll always have that second option. You could do one thing and try to avoid that possibility, but whatever is meant for you, you’re eventually going to end up there. But it may not be as fast, because of the decisions you make. If you get what I’m saying?
When it comes to music, do you think the subject matter controls itself?
As far as my music goes, yes because it’s all like mood based. I can’t make a mosh pit song if I’m not in that vibe and if I’m feeling on some melodic shit, like my energy is low, then I’ll make a melodic song out of it.
Lastly, what’s your favourite Black Mirror episode?
I think my favourite would be the Miley Cyrus one because I feel like it was like trying to highlight what happens in the music industry and how labels try to exploit artists.
Mad bro, well that’s all I got for now.
Thanks man, it was nice talking to you, later.
For more PlayThatBoiZay, follow him here and check his new video for ‘Sway’ below.