At midnight on a Tuesday in early October at Mi Casa, a bar on Sixth Street, there is a crowd of people packed in, all in anticipation for Austin-based rapper Zeale’s performance. As soon as he gets on stage, the entire audience goes into a frenzy of hip-hop induced bobbing. As Zeale lays down verse after verse of carefully crafted and articulate rhymes, it is perfectly clear why he has the reputation of always drawing a crowd and as one of Austin’s premier rappers.
In spite of this, fortune has not always favored the rapper. Zeale spent much of his early career on the rap battle scene, not receiving much notoriety or attention despite his numerous successes; including his qualification to the highly publicized World Rap Championships in New York where he competed collaboratively with fellow Austin rapper and friend Phranchyze. Despite garnering attention in the rap battle world, Zeale gained little attention as an artist elsewhere. Realizing this, in 2008 the emcee moved his efforts away from competition and towards the sentimental artistic aspect of his work.
“I’ve [battled] for so long, and it doesn’t really elevate you in terms of a music career,” he said.
That year, he put out his initial mixtape, the Legendary Microphone of Time, now a rarity to find without talking to Zeale himself, and soon after, Haterz and Robotz. The latter encompasses a broad range of topics and styles representative of his varying influences from the gritty street rap of Tupac to the playful yet substantive rhymes of Philadelphia new-comers Chiddy Bang.
Outside of his music, he maintains many passions and interests, including BMX, wakeboarding and business finesse, as well as studying advertising and geography at Texas State University.
Certainly a Renaissance man in 20th century terms, Zeale’s latest works have followed this paradigm. His April EP Robot Radio, served as an experimental foray into the realm of digitally meshed electronic hip-hop, a relatively original genre that few, including Zeale himself, had previously delved into. His most current mixtape, Disasterkrft, is perhaps his most distinct and assorted work.
The mixtape itself is very eclectic, incorporating elements from the entire rap spectrum; from mainstream gangster rap styles, to Kid Cudi-esque rap ballads, to ambient story-based rap sequences that reflect the current indie rap scene. What is also particularly intriguing about Disasterkrft is the political undertone previously unseen in former works, even further adding to the assortment of styles and meanings that flow through the mixtape.
“My whole thing is that I want to make something that starts out, takes you back in, heats up for a minute and then settles back down,” he said. “When I first put the songs on Disasterkrft together, I said I want to hit ‘em really hard with something that captures me. The next few songs are more commercial type, that anyone can get into whether or not they like rap. Then I finish it off with a track that samples a Mario [Bros.] beat.”
Despite his success and brilliance in the art aspects of his work, like any true multifaceted person, Zeale understands every nuance of his work. While selling out isn’t a something the rapper plans on doing, money definitely factors into the equation. As a result, Zeale has taken a more systematic approach to his music and its distribution than other local artists. He’s worked on building connections and making sure his music gets placed in the right hands and trading connections with artists from around the country to develop fan bases on a far more widespread scale, as opposed to haphazardly touring and randomly handing CDs out to people within the industry who are already inundated by the oversaturation of artists that exist within the market.
In this sense Zeale has started to make leaps and bounds, already on the lineup for Fun Fun Fun Fest and South By Southwest and opening and playing with artists like Lil Wayne, A-Trak, KRS-One and Jason Mraz.
Even amidst Zeale’s successes and his current opportunities, he realizes the adversity that comes with progression, maintaining your artistic identity in the face of it all.
“You wanna be a musician, this shit is not fucking easy,” he said. “You have to be able to take criticism like crazy and be able to take all that at the end of the day roll it up and accept some of it, disregard some of it, and still be you.”
WHERE: The Parish
WHEN: Tonight, doors at 8 p.m.
TICKETS: Purchase at frontgatetickets.com