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GET FAMILIAR: BIG ZUU

Posted by Anne van Lingen on

As an extension of our long standing Get Familiar blog series we’ve been speaking with some of our UK based family to see what they’ve been up to and what they’ve got planned.

We caught up with London based Grime artist Big Zuu to talk about influences, future plans and all things music. Find out what he had to say below:


Zuu, how did your relationship with music start?

My mum is African and she loves her music. When I was younger she’d always bang out music and sing. I’d be wrapped to her chest and she would just be dancing so I’ve always loved music. When I was younger I’d watch a lot of MTV Base and those kind of programmes. I remember when she bought me Get Rich or Die Tryin’ by 50 Cent & Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem. She probably shouldn’t have cos it’s 18+ but who cares? She got me those and then I fell in love with rap.

Some years later one of my boys asked me if I had heard of “Grime”.

I’m from West London, listening to radio and grime was big in the ends but it wasn’t a thing like that at the time. My friend was from North West London and a few years older than me, he showed me crews like SLK. I remember Chip & Ice Kid did a Westwood Freestyle and from then on I fell in love with grime.



Where did you grow up and how did that influence your life?

I grew up all over the place, my mum came here (London) from Sierra Leone and had no family here. We lived in Victoria and Battersea for a bit before going to a place called The Hotel which was a big mansion in Swiss Cottage for refugees.


Me and my mum had just one room with a shared kitchen and bathroom. I was young and so I didn’t see it as any different, I just saw it as where we lived. It was a vibe because all the kids in that building would watch TV together in one room. Growing up with people of so many different ethnicities really influenced me to be open-minded about life.


I then moved to Mozart, West London and lived there for 8 years. Growing up in West London for the main portion of my life, I grew up in an area where it was mad but music was always a thing there; everyone loved it. Mozart had artists, people rapping and people playing songs. I had carnival on my doorstep for 8 years!



Who were your main influences growing up?

As mentioned before definitely people like 50 Cent and Eminem when I first got their albums. But then Skepta and JME as well. I remember JME posting vlogs on his YouTube channel ManBetterKnow before vlogging was really a thing. He really showed me that there’s more to it. That you can be a musician, be real and spit about whatever you want. He had a song called “Food” do you remember that?


I have to mention my mum as well, being such a strong lady; she taught me how to be independent, how to embrace life and accept things. A lot of people don’t accept their circumstances and don’t appreciate that they could be worse.



How would you best describe your musical style?

Very grimy with rap tendencies. I’m like an old school rapper in the sense that I’m very meticulous, I care about bars and punchlines. I care about similies/metaphors and not rhyming the same words.


Are there any other artists that you listen to regularly?

Funnily enough we were just with Dave, I listen to a lot of Dave. I listen to a lot of Stormzy too. In America right now, probably J.Cole; I’d say he’s my biggest influence from the US. His last project KOD was so real as well as the transition he went through from trying to be the biggest thing to just accepting who he is.


Please take us through your creative process

It’s changed a lot along the years, before I was just searching beats online. My boy Wax who is an engineer used to have a studio in his hostel, so we’d go to his place and just try a ting. Now I’m working with a guy called Sean D that engineers for a lot of guys in the game that are killing it like M Huncho, Young Adz and Headie One. We’ve been making music for about 4 years now. Normally I make my music in the studio and then I link him to record it properly.


How would you describe your personal style?

I wear a lot of black! I’m not very colourful. I wear a lot of Nike, Patta and Trapstar; that’s me right now. You won’t catch me in anything else.



What motivates you on a daily basis?

My family! My mum, my brother and the fact that we’re here (in England), there is a lot of opportunity here. My mum is from Sierra Leone where they have no choice but to work their ass off in order to make money. We live in a place where we can do what makes us happy and make money. So I see it as if I don’t make the most of this opportunity then I am kind of letting down my mum and my family back home. I always try and use that as a bottom line for myself.




If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be and why?

First thing I’d do is make it so that it’s not based off who’s your friend. If the game was based on what everyone likes then it would be more about taste and opinion.


I respect that a lot of things are based on friendships but that may make it harder for those who aren’t social networking masters. If I’m not out at every party and not popping that bottle with that A&R or that label executive then maybe I won’t get the same love as someone who is familiar with them but not as good as me.


What is your dream project/goal?

Making a song with J.Cole.


How did the name Big Zuu come around?

My real name is Zuhair. I’m Lebanese and Sierra Leonean but that’s my Lebanese side; I’m named after my dad. People could never say my name, they would always say it wrong and so I told them to call me Zuu.

Before I got into music I wanted to have a name where nothing comes up when you search it. Big up to Dave, because when you used to search “Dave" on YouTube; a comedy channel would usually come up. When you search “Dave” now he’s the first thing that comes up so some people do break that barrier. I wanted something that no-one else had, so I put “Big” in front of “Zuu” and it worked.


Any other genres of music you are into?

Yes, definitely. I love R&B and also old school Blues like Otis Redding for example. I sing a lot in my songs, that comes from listening to singing all the time; growing up listening to people like Rihanna and Beyonce.

Even pop music, as much as everyone disses it. Some of the melodies and transitions in pop music are what I use in my music. I have a song that I made called “Blatant Truth” where the chorus is based off a pop chorus.


What’s your day to day like?

Recently it’s been very busy. Studio until the middle of the night, wake up, go to whatever meeting(s) I need to go to and get done whatever needs doing. I’ve been in the studio a lot every night lately. I didn’t used to be like that but now I’m kind of getting into that mode where I’m falling asleep in the studio.

What’s your most/least favourite part of being an artist?

I hate recording because those few minutes last forever so I’m really particular with how I record. I always want it to sound how it sounds in my head and it never does! If I put out a song and end up not saying a word properly I get stressed.


But on the other hand the best part about being an artist is performing live and seeing people sing your songs back. Knowing that the idea that you had in the studio at 03:00AM really worked when somebody is screaming it back at you.


Are you exploring other avenues besides making music?

Yes! I’m one of the masters of that. I had a radio show on BBC 1Xtra for about 3 years, I’ve just stopped my residency there. I was also on Radar Radio for 2 years where The Joints Show had the most lock-ins.

I recently started a TV programme called Big Zuu’s Big Eats which is due to air May 15th on the channel Dave. You’ll definitely see me wearing some Patta in a few of the episodes haha.

Tune in to Dave on Friday 15th May at 22:00 GMT to catch the debut episode of Big Zuu’s Big Eats live.