In April 2017, Zacari left his first mark in the music industry when he appeared on Kendrick Lamar’s album, DAMN. He was one of three features on the Grammy Award-winning project, standing next to Rihanna and U2, but his work on “LOVE.” made it a standout song on the album. Prior to 2017, the songbird was known as Zacari Pacaldo, an aspiring singer from Bakersfield, Calif. who has always known what he was destined to be.
His path into the music business, and what eventually led him to Top Dawg Entertainment, started right at home. The 23-year-old was born into a musical family. His mother Ede Pacaldo, a former drummer for rock bands, taught Zacari how to play the guitar, and his father passed down his love of blues and jazz music, which eventually led to the young singer being in a jazz band in high school.
Before he made his way to Los Angeles and underneath the wing of his manager Moosa Tiffith, son of TDE’s Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, Zacari had a stint in Alaska where he worked for the summer after graduating high school. In The Last Frontier state, the musician spent his time in a lodge washing dishes, “but making good money,” and most importantly being surrounded by wolves, which he has a storied love for. The musician strolled into VIBE‘s offices, flanked by a tiny entourage and subtly dripped down with a dangling claw earring, a fire red jacket and his signature curly hair tied up, to talk about his brief time on The Voice, who Zacari the artist truly is, and what to expect from his musical offerings going forward.
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VIBE: Where did you get your inspiration for your EP Run Wild, Run Free?
Zacari: I lot of it came from real experiences up to this point. Even some lyrics are from high school and some other things. For this first EP, I wanted to make sure that you get to see my experiences and what’s left at this point, even going back that far to high school. Even my experiences in Alaska as well, where I worked after high school. It all comes from that, it comes from growing up in the church making music, my parents, and the type of music they listen to as well. My mom was a rockstar. She used to be in bands, she taught me guitar. My dad was big on blues and soul music. I was in a jazz band in high school, so it’s all those different elements and genres I was into. And of course hip-hop. My family and me, we’ve always had love for lots of different genres and different sounds, so it’s all my experiences and all the music that’s influenced me up until this point.
Did you always know you wanted to do music coming from this background?
Yeah, since I was a little kid. There’s old videos of me on the news as a little kid doing singing competitions and stuff like that. I even auditioned for The Voice like three times. I made it pretty far. I made it to the point where they review you and then they pick your interview—The singing part’s done, now we just want to know if you have a crazy backstory—and I guess my stories were never that exciting.
So your path could have been completely different had you gone The Voice route?
Yeah, I’m glad I didn’t go to The Voice, but just the fact that I was preparing for it and practicing and going out and seeing what I could do is a big influence. Even playing for my church, that started in the seventh grade where I was leading a band. Seventh grade all the way through high school.
Did attending church influence the type of music you make?
Yeah, definitely. I’m always conscious about what I’m saying and I always want to make sure that I can at least leave the project with a positive outlook on it. I’m always thinking about what my parents would think if they heard the song. My family or my church, it’s always kind of in the back of my mind when I’m writing music.
How long were you working on Run Wild, Run Free?
This EP we were working on for almost three years, probably. A lot of the songs are two years old and the lyrics go back even further than that. It took three years to find a sound I was confident in. You go back on my old stuff that I still have, I’ve grown a lot. I was blessed to be in a situation where I could just be in the studio and that’s it. I was sleeping on couches and stuff like that. My manager Moosa would help me pay my rent just so that I could stay in the studio, because when I first moved to L.A. I was on my own. I was working two jobs and going to the Musician’s Institute. Once I met my manager, he really helped me get in situations where it was like, “f**k everything else, just be in the studio.”
You mentioned your sound earlier. How would you describe the type of music you make? Or what kind of genre is it, if you wanted to categorize it?
It’s hard to categorize it because there’s so many different elements that I draw from. R&B is an easy one to go to because that’s the best way you could put it, but there’s more. There’s a lot of folk and indie elements as well. All the guitars in the album, I played. And there are folk parts coming from when I would cover old folk songs and John Mayer stuff. It’s more like an experimental or indie R&B. Some of the songs are straight up R&B but on the other side of the EP there’s a hip-hop sound like with “Midas Touch,” and then “You Can Do Anything” has the guitars and the folk-type style.
What do you hope your fans get from this EP? What do you hope they’re going to take in from you?
I really want it to be like a breath of fresh air. It’s a short EP, it’s only like 20 minutes long, so before work or after work or when they’re stressed, I want them to just play this. Press play, put their phone down and after that I want them to feel ready. I want them to feel refreshed. I want it to be a break, like a vacation almost.
And what should fans expect from Zacari in the future?
Definitely a full-length album. We held back on this EP for sure. We almost added stuff and changed things but I have a lot more music in the cut. And also I’m definitely going to start doing more shows. That’s one thing I’m focusing on, too. We just got a band so we’re transitioning the EP into live versions, so it’s fun to be working with a band again like I did back in church. It’s a whole other thing of doing live performances. I’m excited, I love performing.
For a full-length album, who would you be interested in collaborating with? Who do you feel fits your vibe?
I definitely want to get a verse with SZA. We’ve been bothering her forever and she’s always like “yeah, yeah, yeah.” Definitely SZA. I also want to work with [Lil] Uzi [Vert] or [Playboi] Carti. I want to get some sh*t from them. They’re leading this new sh*t to me right now. There’s a lot of that same genre, or people putting out the same sh*t, but to me it’s Uzi and Carti at the top of that. I’d rather listen to them over any of the other people, if that makes sense. If I’m going to be listening to that sh*t, I’m going to the top standard and that’s Carti and Uzi. Uzi’s crazy, his melodies and his energy is insane. And then Carti’s the same way. You can just press play on his sh*t and that sh*t hypes you up for the whole day. “Die Lit” is insane.
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all these TDE nominations 😭 so happy for everyone. BLACK PANTHER UP FOR ALBUM OF THE YEAR.
SZA’s your label mate. What was your journey into Top Dawg Entertainment?
It was mainly my manager. My manager Moosa is actually Top’s son. He found me and he was managing me for years before he brought me around anyone, which is crazy because I’m the first artist he’s actually discovered and brought into TDE. He worked with his dad, he managed [ScHoolboy] Q and he did all that but I was the first artist he started bringing around people. The first person I met was [Ab-]Soul. Me and Soul got along and that was before I met Top or anybody. So I was hanging out with Soul, I knew Zay [Isaiah Rashad] before then. Moosa hit up Q to use the studio while he was on Blank Face tour, so I was working in Q’s house a lot. And then when Moosa finally set up a session with Kendrick and Kendrick cut the “LOVE.” record that’s when his dad Top was like, “yeah bring him through. We’ve gotta talk.” It was a long process. It wasn’t like Moosa had found me and he took me to TDE. It was a long process. It was all organic, though. That was the best part of it. It was never forced. Everybody welcomed me, man. TDE is dope, TDE’s really a family. You see it from the outside and you don’t know what it is but on the inside all these people really grew up together, it’s really tight knit.
Have you learned anything being around other TDE talent like SZA, Kendrick, Soul?
Yeah, I’ve learned a lot and they’ll talk to me about anything. It doesn’t even have to be on some music sh*t. Q will talk to me about money. I’ll go and ask him all kinds of questions about money. It’s a crazy thing getting money from having nothing. This year I’m paying taxes for the first time—not the first time, I’ve had jobs before and paid taxes—but for like three or four years when I was in L.A. not making anything, I didn’t have to pay any taxes. That’s one thing I’m stressed about is my taxes. I’m happy I just put a lot of sh*t away. And then even talking to Kendrick about patience and stuff like that. That’s a big person I talk to about anything, he’s always kept it real with me. I can text him and call him and he’ll respond to me. And that’s the same with any member of TDE.
How’d you meet the right people to get in the music industry?
It goes back far but it’s really destiny, man. My roommate’s cousin when I first moved to L.A. is Originist, who’s a member of Soulelection. They went to J. Louis’ house with them and that’s where me and J. Louis made our first song, that first night I met him. And then me and J. Louis become like best friends so we’re making music all the time, we’re hanging out. He starts working with Bryson Tiller and I’m driving him to the studio and the house. So I’m chilling, and Bryson’s hella cool, he let us all hang out, make music. Then Bryson had left the house studio for a couple of weeks and I remember Isaiah Rashad had come into use the studio with my manager Moosa. And I was playing saxophone too for Zay. Zay was like, “oh yeah you play sax? Play some sh*t on there.” My manager Moosa took my phone number as a saxophone player. And I just kept tapping in with them. I played them the music I had with J and the Soulelection stuff and asked him to manage me. And that’s how that worked out.
I met Teddy Walton there, too, the other producer. J. Louis and Teddy Walton did most of this EP. We’re all really homies, we hang out we make music and I think that’s a really important part of the sound, too. We can do a lot of trial and error and build everything from scratch. I met all those dudes at this one house, it’s a studio house in the Hills that artists rent out if they’re coming to L.A. to stay. It has a house and a studio separate. I met so many people there: my manager, Teddy, photographers, clothing people that we literally all still talk from this house. Producers, Sevn Thomas, Syk Sense. Syk Sense is on my project, too. We literally all went to this house and it’s been going up since then.
Has the industry been what you expected it to be?
Yeah, kind of, but honestly I got really lucky with my team and my people. We see a lot of the industry sh*t but I don’t have to go through a lot of bullsh*t with my team. TDE and all my producers are all my friends so we’re a very tight knit group. We’re all honest with each other, you know what I mean? You really trust the people. Everybody that I work with I trust. They’re really my friends. It’s all about meeting the right people and earning trust and building relationships, so we kind of do our own thing. We don’t really go through none of the bullsh*t. I haven’t. So I’m lucky for that, ‘cause you see people that go through sh*t in the industry, but I’m confident in my sh*t. Everything that I’m doing is supposed to be happening, I’m going with it.
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You’re from Bakersfield., Do you feel that they’re proud of you?
Hell yeah, man. I love my city, man. I see them all over my social media and stuff. I’m actually trying to do a show out there.
When you go there, is the energy nice?
Yeah, ‘cause there’s a venue there called Jerry’s Pizza and it’s like one of the main venues in Bakersfield that I used to go to shows. Whenever I go back to the city a lot of people come up to me in my town and talk to me and it’s really dope, because in L.A. people recognize me but in L.A. people are less thirsty to come up to people there. In Bakersfield, it’s really dope to be able to talk to people and the fans out there.
You see a lot of artists and they tell you that they’re inspired now, so it’s the best thing. Because not a lot of music comes out of Bakersfield. Korn came from Bakersfield and some country. It’s dope to be one of the first new wave contemporary to come out of Bakersfield. It’s dope man, I really love Bakersfield.