How Zacari infiltrated TDE's inner sanctum and ended up on Kendrick Lamar's "DAMN."
Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN. includes three guest features: two icons in Rihanna and U2, and a little-known 23-year-old artist named Zacari Pacaldo. Zacari's mellifluous warbling on "LOVE." inspired Kendrick to pen a love letter to his fiancée Whitney Alford and left countless Kendrick fans thinking: Who is this guy?
We gleaned Zacari's recent interviews with Pitchfork and Billboard and his personal annotations on Genius and pieced together a semi-comprehensive portrait: his origins, his foray into TDE's inner sanctum, his contributions to DAMN., and his style of music that he describes as a “mix of psychedelic and trill."
He’s a multi-instrumentalist with a soft spot for the Alaskan wilderness
His project is on the way
Zacari hails from Bakersfield, CA, the Central Valley hub where oil barons like Daniel Plainview used to run wild. Music is in his blood—his mother plays blues harmonica and used to play drums in rock bands—and his parents placed him in a performing arts school at the tender age of 8. He joined his church’s youth worship team, picked up guitar, and, inspired by artists like John Mayer, Justin Nozuka, and Prince. immersed himself in the singer-songwriter tradition. He would refine his musical chops over the course of the next decade, adding drums, keyboards, and, in particular, saxophone to his bag of tricks.
After high school, Zacari answered the mighty call of the Alaskan wild. He spent three summers working at an Alaskan national park, rising the ranks from dishwasher to fly-fishing and bear-viewing guide. (He was featured prominently in a 2015 New York Times travel piece.) His summer earnings helped fund his tuition at Musician’s Institute, a for-profit arts school in Los Angeles. He failed out in his last quarter, once his actual music career started to pick up.
He has a (brief) history with TDE
“LOVE.” isn’t the first song that Zacari and Kendrick Lamar have appeared on together. They were both featured on “Wat’s Wrong,” from Isaiah Rashad’s The Sun’s Tirade. Zacari also appeared on Ab-Soul’s “WAR (Raw Backwards).”
Zacari told Billboard the story of how he got on "Wat’s Wrong":
I was actually on a family vacation at the time. Moosa called me and said, “Isaiah’s trying to get a hook on this song. I just sent it. Can you record a hook?” I was at this family reunion in Lake Tahoe. So pretty much, the whole time I was out there, I had my headphones on, just playing that song over and over again, anxious to get back to L.A. to record that hook. Literally, I got back to L.A. like at 8 o’clock or 9 o’clock at night. I went straight to the studio and recorded that hook in like 30 minutes, texted that to Isaiah and Matt [Miller, Rashad’s manager], and they hit me back right away and said they loved it. When I did that, I didn’t know that Kendrick was going to be on it. I didn’t know that at all. I found that out like two days before it came out. It was crazy. I was in awe.
Here’s how Zacari connected with TDE: Zacari resides in a North Hollywood apartment with J-Louis, who produces and DJs for Bryson Tiller (J-Louis produced “Just Another Interlude”). One day, he met Isaiah Rashad at Tiller’s house and exchanged contact information with TDE’s Moosa Tiffith. Tiffith initially saw Zacari as a saxophone player only, then became acquainted with his musical oeuvre and started managing him.
He got in the studio with Kendrick Lamar last fall
Shortly after the release of The Sun’s Tirade, Moosa orchestrated a studio session with Kendrick, Zacari, and Zacari’s producer Teddy Walton. Teddy played a few beats for Kendrick, then Zacari played four songs, including, at Teddy’s urging, an original song they had completed together called “Lovely.” Kendrick responded warmly to the first three songs but became more subdued when “Lovely” came on. The next day, he asked Zacari to send him the “Lovely” stems. He found out the the song would definitely make the album last month.
"Kendrick added a lot to the track," Zacari wrote on Genius. "I love what he did with it. He filled in a lot of spaces. I’m singing a lot through the track, so for a rapper to come on it and not oversaturate the track, I think it worked out pretty well."
His project is on the way
Zacari's SoundCloud page contains a handful of songs posted between April 2015 and August 2015. Other than his work with TDE and collaborations with Larry June and Kembe X, he has been played his cards close the chest. He's been hunkered down in the studio with Teddy Walton and J-Louis working on his project New Moon, which he says is about "a happier side of loneliness." The image of the wolf is a recurring theme in his music—his SoundCloud name says "Lone Wolf"—suggesting a return to Alaska in the unlikely event that the whole music thing doesn't work out.