L.A. rapper and producer ZAYALLCAPS’ BALLING OUT OF SPITE is one of my albums of the year, a compact set of delicate/triumphant jams built on Graduation-esque synth textures, and deeply felt rapping and singing. It is a student becoming the master type album, the sound of a major Kanye and Pi’erre Bourne fan finding his voice and doing his own thing.
Talking to him, I learned that BALLING OUT OF SPITE marked the start of a new era for ZAY, artistically and mentally. In 2019-2020 he experienced psychosis, three hospitalizations, and eventually went home to Sacramento for emotional dysregulation treatment. In 2021 he made the album, trying to re-enter life in L.A. Now I can hear the pressure of the period stamped into the songs. And it makes me respect the album all the more.
The following has been edited for content and clarity.
So you’ve been in the game 13 years and you’re from Sacramento.
Yes sir, a little 13 years and a little outside Sacramento. Lived in Natomas, South Sac, Davis. And I lived in Arizona for three years. How’s it going man?
Good I was just jamming your shit.
What’s sticking for you?
All of it, including the interludes. But I think ALL LUV and PRO CLUBZ are the hits.
Thank you, that’s so fire. MINE is my favorite but I think ALL LUV is the one people are gonna like the most.
I like WANNABE a lot.
Let’s talk about it. How would you describe the textures of this album, productionwise?
Here’s what it is. I made Kwamzay, which was me getting my skills up with my sample skills, and then this was me trying to do my weird synth shit. It kinda feels like Zapp & Roger, kinda feels like Pi’erre Bourne, like Graduation, warm but digital. It doesn’t feel cold. Pi’erre 5 came out that summer. I was bumping that and DISCO by MIKE all the time.
Are you a keyboard player?
I know theory, and I know enough to make good beats, but I need discipline and to practice more. I want to be able to get a chord sheet and easily practice with a band. I’ll learn piano shit to make better beats, then get distracted.
How are you able to do such good hooks? Is it because you can sing?
Whoa, that’s sick. I’m gonna accept that compliment. I felt like hooks were one of my weaknesses, so I try not to think of it as a hook. I’m already rapping, here’s a part in the verse that’s just gonna be a hook. I tried to make it feel as natural as possible.
What about singing? What’s your history with singing?
I was 16-17 and snapchatting my homegirl in high school, and I was being funny and sang a Chris Brown thing real quick, and she was like, Why can you kinda sing? And that gassed me up to try it. I made a few songs that were good ideas, but bad. I had a car in high school and practiced all the time in my car. I generally won’t show anyone a thing until I’m good at it, lowkey. I’m getting out of that now. I get the beauty of the process. But singing’s a vulnerable thing. I want to take singing lessons.
I love the singing on WANNABE.
That’s the second take of WANNABE, the first take wasn’t as breathy. I did a more breathy take.
Nice, breathy take.
Had to get that Britney Spears.
Also you say, “I aspire to Be like Common but I’m not trying to be like Common.” Love that.
That’s my dude Brandon, aka Kwame Adu, my best friend and bandmate in Kwamzay, he has an unreleased song and he said “I wanna Be like Common but I’m not trying to be like Common” and I was like Bro, I’m just gonna take that. It's a silly punchline, like how Common just wants to Be, like the album Be.
Does this album represent a certain time in your life?
Super. 100%. The emotions, the way I’m processing it, it’s all different now. But it’s a step forward. My prior EP was called I’m Slowly Getting Better, and there was a somewhat optimistic tone. And this one is like I’m more locked in, OK I’m just gonna go and do it, make this happen. But I don’t know how but I’ma do it. Anyway, things are different now. Like on PRO CLUBZ I’m talking about FL Studio, but I use Ableton now. And on the album I talk about grabba, but I don’t smoke anything anymore.
What will success with this album look like?
Well I did it, I finally made an album. And I wanted to do that since I was 16. Had a lot of great friends around me to make it happen. As far as releasing it, I think having a larger resume of what I do, hopefully get an opening slot on somebody’s tour. Even if it’s a leg of a California tour, a few shows. I want to separate myself from everyone, and that I care a lot, I care so much about every little detail. And people knowing that I’m legit.
"I would just love to get high, but I gotta keep that money in mind." On MULTIPLY. Love how honest that is.
I was in the midst of my biggest stoner phase, and it was getting weird. And I was wasting money, and not going outside, and staying inside smoking weed to get my money’s worth.
And then compare that with SPREE, where you’re swiping your credit card and getting likes on the Gram.
That was about having a manic episode. Where everything is euphoria. It’s a spree, but in a fucked up way. I don’t care, I don’t have any concept of impulse control.
A lot of the album sounds up, but the thematics are down. It’s a cool juxtaposition.
I’m glad it’s apparent. My favorite way to put it is I enjoy art that depicts life. Heavy, dark themes, in an otherwise chill piece of art. That’s more realistic and more fun to make. My favorite TV shows are King of the Hill and Curb Your Enthusiasm, where it’s life as life.
ALL LUV really went off live when I saw you last month at the Virgil, next to PRO CLUBZ it was your hardest jam. I love the chop on that beat on ALL LUV. And another great chorus. Such a yearning song. Could you talk about that song a little bit? And that’s totally self produced right?
ALL LUV is my ode to Pi’erre. Plus a sample in there. I heard “Late Night” by 454 and was like, Oh that’s a Brent Faiyaz sample, so I was like Bet, I’m gonna sample Bryson Tiller. And turn it up. On the lyric tip I wanted to say some real shit. Have a real song. The first lyric on the verse, “This year a n—a done changed up / that shit switched my brain up.” I’m not talking about a relationship, I’m talking about having a psychotic breakdown and was in the psych ward.
You do talk about mental health a lot. How’s your mental health these days?
It’s pretty good, and music plays a huge part. I don’t have to run from it. It’s a part of me, just something I have.
And ALL LUV goes into MINE, which is so lovey. Another great beat. Very sung, vocally. This is R&B.
That’s me on my PARTYNEXTDOOR shit. It’s a pre-breakup song, which is sadder than a breakup song.
It’s an inkling.
Yeah. I’m pleading with myself damn near. When I wrote it, I really believed it, and thought I could save the relationship. I couldn’t, but it’s fine.
And then of course there’s PRO CLUBZ which is a song about a shirt that isn’t really about a shirt. It’s about how your friends hate on you and it hurts.
Deadass. I ran out of concepts and was like, I’m gonna diary-entry this one. That period, I fell out with a few people. There ended up being a few more after that. It was a weird period. I had just come back from staying with my parents, experiencing psychosis, and moved back to LA and expected to have my same friend group and everything cool. But I was like alone all the time, and I’m getting older, shit is getting weird, people crossed some boundaries, and I felt bad about “letting” that happen, and I was so, so, so, so, sad making this album.
It’s like you used the music to will yourself out of it.
Yeah. Balling out of spite.
So that means, like balling out of spite for how much time you spent feeling bad?
Yes. It’s about fuck yall, Im flexing, but also yeah, pissed that Im’ a shell of myself. I was like, we’re gonna do this.
Any advice you have for people who are going to the hospital and feeling like they’re losing their mind?
Be patient with yourself, and count all the smallest victories. If you get enough of those, you’ll get some momentum going, and you won’t even notice you’re way better until you’re way better.
What else do you want to say about the project?
Every song on the album has a triple flow and 808s, it’s a rap-ass album even though it’s not.
It’s a rap album. Just very melodic.
Another fun tidbit: I’m making this, not even thinking I want to put myself out there, and the plan was to mix the vocals low, almost inaudible. I was inspired by MIKE and 454. Older MIKE you can’t really hear what he’s saying. 454, on some of the older shit I don’t know what he’s saying either. But Kwame and my pops were like, we need to hear that shit clearer, you’re barring out. Super important to note, my dad is partially deaf. So on a functional level he needed the vocals turned up. And anyway I took ownership of the importance of the stuff I was saying, and decided to be more present on the album.
Your parents are supportive?
Hugely. My dad used to rap when I was younger, him and my mom were both huge hip-hop heads. They’re both from L.A. but never had a “fuck the East Coast” thing. My dad always knew about production even though he didn’t produce. I thought that was cool. Going to buy records off Craigslist with my dad when I was 12. My mom’s born on Tupac’s birthday, loves Pac, Murs, Hieroglyphics…
On a closing note, I notice that you are loved by blogs. How do you feel about that?
It’s all I ever wanted, to be a blog darling. This blog post is my Grammy. This is it!