Salt Lake City emcee Zac Ivie kicked off 2023 with a slot on Grieves’ Out Cold tour along with Dumb Luck and Mouse Powell. Ivie’s trek across the country coincided with a brand-new album called “All Together Now.” The project highlights Ivie’s thought-provoking rhymes over funky boom bap beats.
All Together Now comes courtesy of Get It Write Records and is produced entirely by Seth Steelo. The 8-track album features a guest appearance by the one and only Masta Ace.
Zac Ivie spoke to The Real Hip-Hop about working with producer Seth Steelo, the hardest part of being a Hip-Hop artist, and his new album, All Together Now.
TRHH: Why’d you call the new album All Together Now?
Zac Ivie: I really feel like just based off like the past two years with all of us being so separate at home, and isolated, and just not together, this was really my attempt to tap into what it feels like to be all together now, as far as just us as humans finally in a room maybe celebrating music or celebrating one of the many events that we get to celebrate together. It felt really weird over the past little bit because I was such a social creature and to see how even nowadays how hard it is to get back into the swing of just like being around people, being social, being personable. It’s gonna take us being all together to kind of get back and used to that. So, that’s why I named the project All Together Now.
TRHH: So, you struggled during COVID, well, it’s still going on, but early during the COVID pandemic?
Zac Ivie: Yeah. This is our job — bringing people together and being together in rooms, this is what helps feed our families, what helps feed our spirit, what helps make making music worth it. It’s a feeling of camaraderie and the feeling of bringing people together with lyrics and stuff. And with Hip-Hop music in general it’s such a fast-growing art with it being the 50th year it’s just crazy to think of how far the genre has gone and stretched. With us just being separate I got like the nice little taste of what that was like, and then they ripped it away from many of us artists who didn’t get to do shows during the pandemic, who didn’t get to go outside, who had to do everything virtual, and had to learn what that was like to be an online presence more than just an in person human being, to show up in person with people and to get that feeling.
When I say I struggled I was fortunate enough to where we had made an attempt to more or less do socially distant shows. We had a lot of shows outside in the cold with separate seats and all the venues really like helped make it feel safer while still allowing us to be in a in a room together. We were more fortunate where I had friends in California who didn’t get to throw a show for a full two years. Being from Salt Lake City, we kind of had a little bit more leniency towards that. It wasn’t as strict during the pandemic, but we still kind of felt it. Show capacities were at 10%. It was a struggle [laughs]. It was a struggle to say the least.
TRHH: What is it about Seth Steelo’s production that suits your style?
Zac Ivie: It reminds me a lot of growing up and listening to some of my favorite 9th Wonder beats or Pete Rock beats. Before I had producers ever send me anything those were kind of our foundations to learn our flow on. The PeteStrumentals CD’s and the 9th Wonder tapes and stuff we’re just like the canvas in which we could practice growing into our art. So, what I really like about Seth Steelo is I love his samples. I love the fact that he likes sampling records. He’s a digger — he finds the cuts that people don’t hear. There’s a song called “Willy P” on the record which samples a Thelma Houston sample. You can hardly find the track anywhere and those people who can find the track have never even heard of it. That just really reminds me of what I got started doing and how I got started. Listening to the Dilla samples and when I say 9th and stuff I really am a fan of the 9th Wonder flips and the Pete Rock flips and I know where they’re all kind of stemming from.
The influence down the chart kind of influences our generation, and when I say “our generation” the younger generation. It was so refreshing to hear somebody who just wasn’t making drill beats and trap beats. He’s from the Bay and I think that’s where he gets a lot of his funk from. That’s where I think that he gets a lot of that 808 from, which I love the 808s out of the Bay. I love the Bay. One of my first touring experiences was with Bay artists. Rest in peace Zion I — Baba Zumbi. It’s just the samples, the way he flips it, the structure in which he places some of his tracks, I’m just drawn to them. It just sounded so refreshing to hear. I wasn’t having to hear the same beats that I heard on the radio or somebody making an attempt to mimic what he was hearing I guess in popularity points. It was a little bit more true to the original art — the original sampling and cutting records up.
TRHH: So, as an artist with a label how difficult is it to use those samples? It can become expensive clearing samples.
Zac Ivie: This is the side that people don’t understand. People don’t understand what it’s like to clear samples. I’m trying to use the word that’s not gonna make it seem like it slanders people who find YouTube beats or whatever — like that’s not my intent at all because people have to start somewhere. When I first started rhyming over Pete Rock instrumentals I didn’t know notes, those were just me practicing and trying to get some sixteens down, and once I had some sixteens I could understand that like as long as BPM’s matched up then I could maybe build a beat like that or go to a producer to make me something original.
Clearing samples and stuff as far as what it takes to get eight projects, clear samples, or make sure that the samples are flipped good enough to where I should say clearance isn’t necessarily an issue, but we’re not using too much of the sample itself, it’s a struggle. This game can kind of go wherever you want to take it. I’m sure as you know it can stop right at YouTube beats and home cities, or it can progress further to finding out that you have to clear samples, that you have to have certain things set up in order to collect royalties, or in order to give certain royalties to original artist who sampled things. It’s definitely a process and I’m fortunate enough to have teachers like Masta Ace, and teachers like Zumbi, and teachers like Grieves to really help me and just guide me in that process and make it seem like it’s not so, I don’t wanna say so far away, but not so impossible.
TRHH: The single “Change My Ways” sounds very optimistic. Did the beat guide you to write a song about improving yourself?
Zac Ivie: I really feel like that’s kind of two things, one the beat. There are certain types of lifts that instrumentals can give you, or somberness that instrumentals can give you and can really direct the first bar. The first bar comes out and then it’s kind of up to you to either add on to that or make a song that’s not congruent and make a song that’s kinda just “rhyme, rhyme, rhyme.” With “Change My Ways” it was such a feel-good beat. I believe the sample has the “no matter what you’re going through” and we were going through a lot. We were we were all going through a lot. As a human species we were all kind of in shock.
Many things happened during the pandemic right, first of all the pandemic happened, which was globally world changing. And then in the midst of that we have the murder of George Floyd, we have the protest throughout the streets, we have pretty much political warfare between neighbors, Facebook friends, and family members and stuff. During all of that I found myself getting negative. I found myself getting into the finger pointing aspect and “you guys should do this because that’ll help it” when really it’s I need to change my ways personally before I even worry about what you do, or what you do, or whoever they are, my neighbors, or some person on Facebook that I maybe went to high school with who has an opinion that I don’t align with.
That’s going to be up to me on A, how I react and B, what puts me in a position to think that I can judge somebody unless I’m changing my ways? Unless I’m being better for myself there’s not going to be any change whatsoever, and that’s on any individual level, so you could take that for you and they could take that for them, but unless we’re all changing ourselves and for the better then it’s kind of hard for the world to move forward especially during such intense crazy times. I mean that was the more uplifting track on the record.
I sent Ace two tracks. I sent Masta Ace that track because that’s the one I originally heard him on and then I sent him the other one, which was kind of structured differently. It’s like 8 bars/bridge/8 bars/bridge — it’s got like that 7/8 timing. So, I wasn’t sure if he would like the structure of that, but at the end of the day it’s just rap. I feel less confined to go like verse/hook/bridge/verse/hook/bridge/outro. If I want him on a song where he does a 16 at the end and I do three 8 bar verses in the beginning to kind of help break them up in between, why can’t that happen? Why can’t that be a song? There’s no sing along in it and I told everyone I’m sorry [laughs]. It’s not always about singalongs and hooks and everything.
TRHH: On the song “Bring Me Peace” you say “Feel like I care too much to ever feel right.” Explain what you mean by that line.
Zac Ivie: This was also kind of a product of the pandemic where I became like a social introvert and this just has to deal with the self-analysis of myself. I feel like I overthink on the inside and therefore I’m kind of striving for, let’s say perfection, but I don’t think that’s an achievable thing. If I’m being a realist and if I’m being a human I know that perfection is far from what we’re able to achieve sometimes. I know that as long as if I’m trying to be a better person every day, I gotta be softer with myself on my steps forward, on maybe the way I react, or the way that I over-analyze things, or the way that I’m harsh on myself.
I feel realistically, I’m in a battle between knowing that it’s always going to be a push to better myself. Knowing that this stuff is always going to be hard work, this stuff is always going to be moving forward, and therefore it’s like I care too much about the process of things to know that I’ll probably never reach perfection. We have these big goals of maybe getting a villa in the middle of somewhere and music paying for it, and I’m buying mom a house because music is paying for it or whatever. Realistically, how long is it ‘till I get there and will I be satisfied if that’s not a thing?
I’ve known some emcees who maybe back in the day had a lot stronger careers than what the current times allow space for and how the genres moving. Let’s take Ace for instance, Ace was all over the radio, he’s on tour in Europe right now with Marco Polo. They’re out visiting, they’re having a great time, Europe shows love to them every time they go out. I remember specifically having my talks with him and just like what he said on his NPR Tiny Desk series, at one point in time there was a time where you heard Masta Ace on the radio just like you hear Drake on the radio today. Will I be okay with my version of that? Will I feel right with my version of that?
Would I be able to still be okay and comfortable with the fact that like sometimes your buzz is high and other times there is no buzz. Other times you’re not in the tabloids and stuff, but as long as I’m doing just a little bit better I feel like I’ll be alright. I struggle with that internally a little bit. I want to be in a certain position, but I’m not right there yet. I’m still in the green stages of like learning to be on tour and be a good tour mate. They’re not coming to see necessarily us, they’re coming to see Grieves or they’re coming to see Ace when we go tour with them. There’s just work to do. It reminds me of how much work there is to do and how much these guys have already done.
TRHH: When you think of Hip-Hop you don’t necessarily think of Salt Lake City. What’s the Hip-Hop scene like in Salt Lake?
Zac Ivie: Seeing everything going on with All-Star Weekend there and stuff I am surrounded by busy emcees. I’m surrounded by working emcees, I’m surrounding by emcees that are hungry. We kind of all want the same thing. We want people to say, “Hey. Hip-Hop lives over here, too.” Just like it lives in Bangladesh, just like it lives in Syria. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video of the little Syrian kid who went viral recently for more or less like a cell phone video of him spitting bars and his city in tatters. Hip-Hop lives there, too. It was an outlet for me that I found at a really early age and it’s because I grew up culturally different than my peers. With the major religion being Mormonism in Salt Lake, if you were not that you’re outcasted. You don’t meet the families on Sundays, you don’t know your neighbors as much.
What ended up being a result of that was my friend William, his parents had moved here from El Salvador and his older brother was a DJ. That’s where the track “Willy P” comes from. His brother would make mixtapes and Willy would bring them to school and sell them to get lunch money. I remember plugging it in and it had the, “Alright party people in the place to be,” Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick came on with “La Di Da Di.” I’ve heard radio rap, I got to experience beatboxing, and Slick Rick, and Hip-Hop blended with some other more current artists at the time. It’s just something that I fell in love with. I joined poetry club my junior year in high school.
The same person who sold me those CD’s in 3rd grade was now the head of the poetry club in my high school. Their spoken word is so good. Their spoken word really takes you on a roller coaster, my spoken word sounded like rap. I was always good at memorizing lyrics, I could be the one who could repeat the song fully, and probably annoyed some of my friends and stuff. When I started watching Yasiin Bey, he was hosting the poetry slams, why am I blanking the name?
TRHH: Def Poetry Jam.
Zac Ivie: Yeah, the Def Jam Poetry. My boy William, he had like the full season and so he handed me the full DVD season and I got to sit there and watch people like Pat’s Justice go on and kill it. And then I got all of a sudden to see like DMX come on and, “The Industry,” and do his slam poem and it was cool to see. I got to see an outlet. I got to see the bridge between poetry and rhyming. I got to see the bridge between Hip-Hop and what spoken word is and how they can blend together. Just the importance of learning poetry first, learning what these people did without beats, what these people were able to make me feel without using anything but just their vocabulary, that was important to me. Because it helped me be able to be a little bit more descriptive in my songs.
And not to mention, when I was working with like these nationally ranked poets, I’m talking like people who are nationally ranked, killing it, make you laugh in the very beginning of the poem and by the end of the poem you’re crying. I seen that I was branching off — I wasn’t so much slam poetry and spoken word. Every time I would do like slam poetry competitions and stuff it was always like my stuff was just acapella verses. It felt like, “Man, this should have a beat behind it,” and as soon as like I got out and we had a Tascam, we didn’t have a laptop, just the little freaking SIM reader. We would load our beats up on our freaking memory card and slide them into the Tascam and sit in the corner of a garage with egg cartons and try to practice our mic voice, our emcee voice.
So, for a full year and a half I was in a garage just writing songs, practicing performing them and stuff before I even had my first performance or anything like that. So, it was kind of cool because to people it seemed like I just started so well, but really I had just been rapping alongside people in a garage. We’d kind of just been building each other up to where when it was showtime I had some writing experience and some performing experience. I’d had some rehearsals when other people were just waiting to basically see what it was like on stage. I was rehearsing in a garage imagining people in front of us before I even knew the feeling, before I even had my first show.
TRHH: You mentioned “Willy P” and on that song you say, “It ain’t easy the life we choose, but that ain’t why we do it.” What’s the hardest part about being a Hip-Hop artist?
Zac Ivie: Well, there’s a few different challenges to being a Hip-Hop artist. One of them is just like not necessarily having to tell people, but it’s so much easier to show people. When I first met my wife’s family I wasn’t reluctant because I’m not ashamed anymore. When I say ashamed, it was like everyone’s got that friend who’s trying to be a rapper or a cousin who’s trying to be a rapper, and so you know the look, you know the reaction that people give you when they’re saying things like, “Oh, what do you do?” and you’re like, “I do music,” and they’re like, “Oh, what do you play?’ you’re like, “Oh, I don’t play an instrument really, I’m a lyricist.” And, “Oh, country?” It would be so much different if I said that I was like a folk singer compared to like if I’m a rapper, because there are so many different sub-genres of what rap and Hip-Hop are.
If I’m a train engineer you know I’m that — I build trains. If I’m a car salesman, I do that, I sell cars. But if I say I’m a Hip-Hop artist or a rapper you don’t know what kind. You don’t know if I’m rapping about this or what would people say, conscious Hip-Hop? “Oh, you write conscious bars?” Not always [laughs]. It’s not always about that. I’m better at showing people than what I am telling people. I think the hardest part about it is taking the leap from being like, “Oh, I don’t want to tell people because I don’t want them to perceive me as such,” in comparison to like just owning it and just being like, “Look, this is what I do.” How many times have I been in places and they’re like, “Oh, he raps! Rap right now, rap right now! You should spit right now!” You’re not allowing me the platform to be successful in my craft. You’re handing me a screwdriver when really, I need a drill bit, and it’s not the same tools or the same moment that’s going to switch people.
So, I think the hardest thing is just like taking ownership and being able to not be, I don’t want to say embarrassed, but when you’re first starting out the reactions make you feel unworthy. They know a cousin who rhymes and so therefore they’re putting you in that same category, so their body language changes, how they talk to you changes. That’s probably my most difficult part is just dealing with like the ownership in front of people who might not understand. The ownership of my craft and my job – this is my job. Just like people have their jobs, this is my job. And a few things help that because not only am I a touring artist and a performing artist, but like this path has allowed me to team up with non-profits in my city to teach high school students how to make this a viable path, too.
The building is called Spy Hop. It’s an after-school program, it’s absolutely free. They have a building that’s just set for children to come after school and come get some studio time in. Every kid has an Ableton station with a Push. They all learn how to make beats, they all learn how to write rhymes, they all learn how to record themselves. This is at absolutely no cost. From 14 to 19 years old, you can go to Spy Hop. It’s different when I’m like, “Oh, I rap, and I teach kids, and I do clothing drives and food drives.” That helps, but if it wasn’t for rap I couldn’t pull my resources — my network of people who want to donate to the clothing drives, or who want to tell their younger brother who’s in high school barely that, “Hey, Zac teaches down at Spy Hop and you should go get in on the studio session and learn how to write rhymes, and make merch.” What’s your BMI? Do you even know what BMI is? These kids have no clue.
They’re still at the level of YouTube beats and rapping in their car on their phone or whatever, which will never cease to exist. As long as YouTube’s out there and as long as tight beats are out there, the younger generation will find those beats and use those beats and be influenced. Ownership — it helps if you’re doing more because then you don’t have to solely just be like, “Oh, I’m just a Hip-Hop artist.” You can dive more into, “This means that I also do this, this means that I also do this, this means that I’m also a community leader, this means that I’m also an educator.” That was one of my favorite things, when I got in the car with Zion I, and Akrobatik, and Mr. Lif, I was so inspired by sitting in the car and hearing Ak be like, “Yo, I teach at the University of Boston,” or Jabee being like, “Yeah, I teach at Oklahoma,” and Lif, “I teach high school students. I teach a college course on rap music.” Twenty-five years ago, is this a viable path? Watching Lupe at Harvard, watching other people at MIT give a class on rap is like, “Oh yeah, we’re here, we’re here.”
TRHH: Who is the All Together Now album made for?
Zac Ivie: For you. For you, and you, and you, and me, and him, and her, them, they, it’s for everybody. For anybody who will give it their ears, give it a listen, that’s who it’s made for. I made it a little bit for me, too. It was a long time coming. It was two years of not knowing if putting out an album right now was going to be the right thing to do. We had a number of songs that we recorded that didn’t make it. They didn’t make the cut to the tape and were just kind of not ready for the project. But realistically, I wanted to make it for just moments like this. Moments like this where new ears could hear it, new people could hear it, and I could say, “Yeah, that records for you, too,” at least I hope. I hope people resonate with it enough to where they can be like, “Alright, this record is for me.”
Purchase: Zac Ivie – All Together Now