Grime artist Zeo Zeonardo tells us why Wolverhampton felt like the centre of the grime universe growing up and why he left his ‘crew’ for a shot at something more wholesome
Photography by @brandonphotoss (instagram.com/brandonphotoss)
We know the glorious people of Wolverhampton loathe being referred to as Brummie, but forgive us this once. Young, Gifted and from Wolverhampton doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Possibly the coolest tutor on the planet, grime artist Zeo Zeonardo teaches hip hop to youngsters by day introducing them to beats, lyrics, producing and marketing. Lucky pupils.
The rising talent recently supported US hip hop star and one of his heroes, Hopsin, on his Savageville UK tour. He has worked with established artists such as JME, DJ Q at BBC 1Xtra, Trilla and Bassboy and has been featured by UK tastemakers including SBTV, GRM Daily and RWD Magazine. Previous tracks My Face and Liars gained significant attention and now monumental single Wolverine 2 which has a stunning video shot in Cape Verde is about to be released. His early attempts at performing weren’t an instant hit mind you.
Zeo recalls: “My friends would write raps and get me to sing them. I couldn’t sing! Every time I tried to rap I stuttered. While I never wanted to be a rapper, I was so determined to get through a rap without stammering.” He managed it thankfully. A teacher at Zeo’s school introduced him to a studio setting aged 17 which put him on a path to performing and producing that he’s grateful for.
At local youth clubs Zeo went to in Wolverhampton, kids were all about grime and people would just grab a microphone and start performing. A youth club CD was put out which featured Zeo. He says: “I was rubbish, but people heard it and said it was good. Then I went into the barbershop and they told me people were taking the mick. I was so angry. I thought ‘I’m not gonna stop ‘til I’m the best in Wolves!’” He squirrelled himself away in his bedroom and fuelled by his anger the lyrics flowed. It still makes him angry now!
As part of a crew Zeo would perform in different studios and youth clubs growing up. “One week there’d be 15 people at the youth club, then we’d perform and there’d be 300 the following week. The people who ran the club were so confused!” When you’re part of crew, Zeo explains there’s always an undercurrent of violence because even if the crew you’re part of is not particularly violent – which his wasn’t – it only takes one member to upset someone they shouldn’t for the whole group to become embroiled in it. Zeo left the crew to concentrate on solo projects. “It was easy to leave as there was no intimidation among us. Some kids are scared to leave a crew because of the threat of violence. We weren’t like that.” Of Wolverhampton Zeo says: “I don’t live there now, but I wouldn’t change a thing about growing up. It felt like the centre of the grime universe! It was exciting.”
Zeo’s first solo project included making CDs and giving them out at carnivals. He enjoyed airtime on 1Xtra and BBC Asian Network. He says: “I thought ‘this is quite good I could make a bit of money’.” Then bassline music happened. Zeo’s friend became a DJ and it all kicked off. Zeo says: “I thought ‘actually I could make quite a lot of money!’ Then bassline died down.”
For the past year or two Zeo’s been make his own music and putting on his own shows. He explains: “GRM Daily can love one of your tracks one day and put it on their channel, but not rate the next single, so it can be hard.” Zeo’s taken control and decided not to release anything through other channels and he’s concentrating on building up his You Tube following and making sure each thing is bigger than the last. Committed to his kids in the classroom too from which he’s uncovered some talent, Mr Zeonardo says: “It’s an amazing job!”