This past Friday, rapper Andrew George, known as ShabaZZ, opened for the Cranium 01 Concert at the Intersection, where he performed alongside other artists such as Waldo, Uno the Activist, the Seventh, and more. He started out rapping for fun with his friends, but after his father passed away at age 16, he became more involved in music under the persona ShabaZZ—the name his dad wanted to give him at birth. He talked to us about trying establish a rap career through the heavy metal scene in Grand Rapids, having the opportunity to perform at a venue after years of basement shows, and what it takes to be more than a ‘Check out my mixtape, fam’ rapper, as he likes to call it.
How did you find your sound? This generation’s music sounds sort of wavy and revolves around drugs, whereas your music has an organic sound with influence from what the origin of hip hop started out as.
When I first started doing music I was into more boom-bap, old school vibes. That’s where the influence of how I dress, my fade haircut, and overall 90’s vibe comes from. But as far as what I rap about, I try to keep it more along the lines of what I’ve already been through and hopefully someone can relate. But I do try to be versatile. I’ll make a song with a catchy hook to a good beat or something that’s drug related: anything that’s relatable. That’s kind of how I found my sound I guess. And my producers have also really helped me as far as my sound and what I want to aim for directional-wise.
For anyone trying to do anything successful out of Grand Rapids, mostly directed toward those in the creative field, what’s that like since it has such a low impact in the culture of music? I feel like even Detroit is underrated to an extent.
Yeah, I definitely think Grand Rapids has an underrated hip hop scene. Nowadays there’s so much young, raw talent but I feel like we as a city don’t know our face. We don’t have a direction of what we’re trying to accomplish. I feel like everyone is on their own wave. Michigan does go overlooked because there’s a lot of talented people here and they may not have big names, but they’ve done a lot of touring and going overseas. Although we are underrated, being the underdog shows that we have a lot to prove, and so we just try and go from there I guess. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, but that’s what I’m trying to do at least.
What do you think your music contributes to the influence our generation?
As far as influence, I’ve been looking at my new songs and their lyric content. I’ve been trying not to cuss and say the N-word as much because I want to positively influence a younger generation of my age and younger. I want to have music that’s hip that you can vibe to, but have it not be so vulgar and drug content related. I’ve been trying to switch it up my music and make it cleaner to make people feel it without having to be geared toward drugs or the violence. Everyday life experience is something that’s relatable.
The other day I was going through your Instagram feed and the caption on one of your photos said, “This is my first legit show.” That was a post made just last November of 2015. But I know recently you just did some shows where performances by Post Malone, Rosewood 2055, and Slum Village were made. What’s it like to be coming up like that?
It’s a humbling experience because I feel like I still have a lot to learn, but it is exciting. When I wrote “first legit show,” that was basically saying my first show as far as me being at a prestigious venue. Everyone knows what the Intersection is and I’ve been doing music for a while, but nearly all of my shows had been basement shows up until that point. My friends who I rap with didn’t come up through the hip hop scene because it’s hard to come up through that scene in Grand Rapids. We actually came up through heavy metal shows. So our group would perform at heavy metal shows and we’d be the only rappers at the heavy metal show. We would be like, ‘How are we gonna make music to get them hype?’ We started going to the studio every week and eventually we finally got a song that popped. It was called Paranoia and from that point, every show we got was in the basement in the hood somewhere. We would go just to get the exposure. That was how we got started. But my first legit show was at the Intersection which made me feel like things were about to make a good change if I continue with what I’ve been doing.
Did you go to college?
I went to community college for a little bit but I did drop out.
How did you know you needed space and time to focus on music, outside of school?
I thought I wanted to stay home and go to school but I didn’t have the patience or feel like I was mentally ready because high school didn’t prepare me for college. So I just fell back on that and I continued music outside of school because that’s something you can always come back to. That’s why I left and started doing music. I wanted to go to Grand Valley State University but my grades were terrible. So that probably won’t happen.
What type of mindset do you think it requires to be successful in the creative field, and more specifically to you, in the music industry?
To be successful requires you to be business-oriented because rap isn’t just about the lyrics. You have to have the promotional and marketing skills, and the right management. It’s deeper than just a song with a catchy beat and a catchy hook. You have to put money behind your music as well. It’s just really business related. I can drop mixtapes all day but if I have no plugs or management or marketing, I’ll end up being another, ‘Check out my mixtape, fam’ rapper—that’s what I like to call them.
What was it about your experience that made you learn that?
Observing other rappers who were bigger than me, like the Sevnth, WALDO, and Savon. Savon is like my brother, and watching him grow from making music in my living room to doing shows out of state like in Chicago motivated me. I don’t have a manager so it was a case where I needed to find people to connect with myself instead of having people do it for me. That’s when my mindset transitioned into understanding that making music is more than just rapping.
Do you prefer doing everything yourself?
At this given time, yes. If there’s a point where I get a manager who is moving me up in the music industry and making moves bigger than I could, then I feel like I would want a manager. It’s not even that I don’t want one, but it’s that it’s the best business move for me considering I‘m still local. I’m making noise, but I’m not making enough noise. I don’t think I’m ready to have a manager until I’m more well-known, in which I would need to be more dependent on a manager. The fact that I know what I know would help my manager because then they would have an artists who is aware of what’s going on, not just an artist who needs their manager to do everything for them. They would know that I know: that I’m as business oriented as they are. But I’m waiting on that day.
And for my last question, how would you describe the concept of art and how has it impacted your life?
There’s not too many times where I’ll sit down and talk about what I’ve been through, but when I hear a song I feel like I can perpetuate however I felt or whatever I’m going through, through the song. That way when the song is released, you can say, ‘I feel that.’ I feel like art is something that’s within yourself. When you’re deeply involved in music you have to give it passion and really feel it. I don’t think art can be replicated. Anything you do through art is original, and as a result its final concept is organic. You receive an organic mindset of what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to visualize to get out and influence others. There’s a million ways to answer this question, but I feel like art is something you would want to be organic about. Naturally I just want to create something meaningful, versus copying something to make a quick scheme out of it. There’s no love in that.
Check out his Soundcloud GoldCharisma to keep up with his latest projects.