ZEPS is a hip hop artist from Brooklyn, NY that embodies the true meaning of an MC. He freestyles, he battles, he hosts shows, he makes songs, he practices his craft, and he does shows with no backtracks or lip-syncing. From Oslo to Jimmy Fallon, ZEPS has been making major moves and we caught up with him to chat about things like his inspiration, the scene overseas, and his humbleness.
I know you as Orlando, but many know you as ZEPS. How did you get that stage name?
It’s actually just my graffiti name that stuck when I was a teenager. I started writing “ZEP”, but there was already a ZEP in Queens so I added the “S”. I started off as MC ZEPS and took off the “MC” part thinking it was corny, but now I do lots of hosting as Master of Ceremonies, so I embrace the name MC ZEPS again. *laughs*
Between graffiti and music was the whole hip hop scene always in your life?
Since [I was] about 14 years old, I saw the older neighborhood guys wildin’ out to Cypress Hill and Wu-Tang in front of my building. I wanted to be a tough guy like them and the music grabbed me immediately.
As a Cypress Hill fan I would love to know who you look up to for inspiration?
I’m inspired by everyday life and experiences, plus all of my wacky friends that I associate with. Lots of my silly ideas and thoughts come from hanging out with the homies. I’ve been known to halt a conversation to say “stop! That’s dope, I need to write that down. I’m using that!”
There’s many people competing to get noticed, making it a challenge. What challenges did you face?
No one giving me a chance because I’m a nice guy. I’m not the image you see when you think “rapper”. Plus now you need to do so much to stay relevant, and no one except my DJ, DJ Brown 13 and engineer Count Bluntas has the same strong work ethic that I have.
I don’t rhyme for wealth, and these rappers cry for help // everything your record label does I do it by myselfZEPS
Speaking of Europe, I noticed you do a lot of work over in Norway. How did that start?
I got EXTREMELY lucky. Two close rapper friends of mine, J-Hon & Mike Swift, met some Norwegian dancers in NYC early 2007 and said “call us if you ever need dope rappers in Norway”. 3 weeks later they called them! Mike’s visa/passport was messed up so I ended up taking his place. April 2007 while I was in Norway I met Magdi from popular Norwegian group Karpe Diem and he told me that the tour we were doing happened because they were asked first, and they said no. Let’s just say I believe in fate now.
Being in a different place must be some experience. What’s the difference between the hip hop scene here and overseas?
Norway (and Europe in general) has a little more appreciation for underground hip hop. If you have skills then you are embraced, and you actually get paid well for your art which is awesome. Lots of legendary MCs do big tours all over Europe, but they can’t fill a 100 person venue in New York. Sad but true.
I saw you on Jimmy Fallon, what was that like?
Super fun. Underground OG, Poison Pen, hooked that up for me, he knew some producers from his Late Night show and recommended me. It happened so fast, but I’ve been waiting for moments like that since I started rhyming. It was just another freestyle for me – same shit, different toilet. The only difference was this toilet was on national TV.
On social media I see a lot of clips of you freestyling, is the art of freestyling something that’s important to you?
It’s very important for me and my career. It’s not a necessary skill for all MCs though, some can and some can’t. But in the hip hop world it’s our form of “improv”. It’s a great skill to have because things don’t always go as planned and freestyling lets you connect with crowds while on tour. I can perform the same songs a thousand times, but a freestyle is on the spot and exclusive to that crowd. If someone isn’t filming, that freestyle can be lost forever and will only exist in the memories of your fans.
I also notice you engage with fans on social media sites frequently, what’s the importance of engaging with fans?
I’ve seen too many egos in this rap game. Lots of NY & Norwegian rappers get some shine and think they are hot shit, not me. I’m just an average joe who happens to rhyme extremely well. So when a fan stops me to say “ZEPS?!?! Holy shit you’re awesome! I bought your album on Bandcamp last week”, I look at them and say “wow thanks, you helped me buy groceries and pay my cellphone bill. What are you guys up to? Let’s drink in the park and I’ll kick freestyles as a real thank you”.
I’m sure over time you gained valuable knowledge, is there anything you wish you knew starting out? What advice would you give aspiring artists?
HAVE FUN! My mind was clouded in the beginning with thoughts of fame and fortune – getting signed, having a deal, being on MTV, etc. I didn’t make the best decisions or have a good mindset. Once I hit Europe I just started having fun and things got waaaaay better.
On behalf of the ThinkDope team I want to thank you for doing this interview with us. I do have one more question. The fans want to know, what does ZEPS have planned next?
I just dropped a free download album on 4/20 called Carajo Land [editor’s note: we featured Carajo Land last week] with my rhyme partner Eturnal Suarez as our group THE SPIX. I’m touring Norway & Amsterdam June 12-23 and hosting a big dance festival in Oslo called Urban Moves. I also have 3 albums recorded and mixed/mastered with one producer, just waiting for the right time to release them; THE MOTTZ with Count Bluntas from Brooklyn, Disgruntled Rapper with Clear Blue from New Jersey, and Soundwave Blasters with Agonist from Norway. BOOM BAP ACROSS THE MAP!
Picture credit: Samantha Chan