INTERVIEW: Zoey Dollaz talks growing up in Haiti, learning game from Future, and achieving his dream of signing to L.A. Reid.
Zoey Dollaz has been rapping since he was 12 years old, when he and his mother had moved from Port-Au-Prince, Haiti back to their hometown of Miami at the order of the U.S. government. He didn't take much interest in Miami rap, instead idolizing immortalized New Yorkers like Jay Z and Nas. Ever since he started making music, he says that he's not only dreamed of being one of the greats, but has believed in his ability to get there, too. At the end of last summer, then a relatively well-known presence in his home streets, one of his records, "Blow a Check," caught fire and soon reached the ears of one of the game's biggest bosses in Sean "Puffy" Combs.
Soon after becoming a hit on its own strength, "Blow a Check" was given the Bad Boy remix treatment by Diddy and French Montana. That remix was included as the final track on Diddy's MMM, his first (hip-hop) project in almost five years. A hair-raising moneymaker's anthem, "Blow a Check" is a thoroughbred club record, though its relentless energy is delivered by a guy not far removed from the streets. Hearing him next to Diddy, it's apparent that Zoey's voice similarly possesses a natural motivational quality.
After "Blow a Check," Zoey's movement peaked the interest of arguably the hottest rapper in the world, Future, for whom he had opened a few years ago in Miami. Impressed by his clear readiness to belong among the industry elites, Future sat Zoey down during a Super Bowl party in The Bay and offered him the chance to join his Freebandz label. Without hesitation, he accepted, which, in turn, led to him signing with Epic Records. Getting the chance to audition in front of L.A. Reid was something Zoey had dreamed of for his entire career.
Last month, Zoey released his first project under Epic and Freebandz, Port-Au-Prince, which details some of the horrors happening within the Haitian capital for which it's named. The tape proves that he's capable of more than just club smackers, though he's got plenty more of those, too. Without further adieu, it's time to get acquainted with Zoey Dollaz, who's intent on fucking up a couch near you.
Let's start with the mixtape: "Port-Au-Prince." How's the reception been so far?
Everything been good. The feedback is good. I haven’t gotten no negative feedback yet. It’s a movement of people. They’re relating to most of the songs that’s on there, which is a super goal for me cause that’s what I wanted. I wanted everybody to relate to it. Not everybody. But everybody that can relate to it.
Are you still working out of Miami?
Yeah, of course.
Have you been getting a lot of hometown love?
A lot of love. A lot more pictures, a lot more followers, a lot more traction. Usual stuff. I just feel like any time you put out a great body of work, that’s what’s supposed to happen. You’re supposed to get that type of love.
How long have you been doing music?
I’ve been doing music since I was like 12.
What was it like growing up in Miami?
It wasn’t that bad at all. We all had our times when we dealt with street stuff. Beef, fights, shoot-outs, drugs. We always had that stage in our lives being kids coming from the hood. I managed to bypass all of that with music. I hustled – did what I had to do to get money cause I didn’t have a job, and my mom was the only one working, and I didn’t wanna be putting my hand out all the time to her. So I did my thing to get money.
To fund the music?
Yeah, the focus was always music. No matter what I did, it was for the music.
What specific neighborhood are you from?
I’m from Allapattah. And then I moved to North Miami Beach.
Is there a large Haitian community there?
Allapattah? Nah. It’s mostly Dominicans. Where we moved to was all Haitians – North Miami Beach. Victory Park.
Did your mother hand the Haitian culture down to you at an early age?
I was actually raised in Haiti. I was born here.
Oh, I didn't know that.
Yeah, I was born here, but I was raised in Haiti for a long time.
Have you been back since you’ve started to pop off with your music?
Last time I was there it was ’05. I’m going back this year though. They waiting on me. I’ve got super huge shows out there.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind the "Port-Au-Prince" album cover?
See, what people didn’t understand – the whole idea and the whole thing of sitting in front of the TV was to show people struggle, pain, madness, chaos, corruption – as far as the government [of Haiti]. I showed you the President of Haiti, I showed you the earthquake, I showed you the broken white house. I showed you the people being deported, I showed you the people coming on a boat. If you really pay attention to the cover...
–There are a lot of stories.
There are stories on there. I show you the assassination of some kids on there. If you listen to "Taxi," you’ll hear Future say, "The taxi had bullet holes in it." If you really sit here and piece together the whole cover, you’d be like, "Damn, that’s crazy!” Some people do, some people don’t. It’ll be weird how it’s more girls who pay attention to the cover.
Did you get a taste of all that chaos while living in Haiti?
Yeah, of course. That’s actually why I’m here. That’s why I moved back.
Was it your mom's decision to move back?
The United States government came down there, and it was like, if you’re American, you gotta go back home. You can’t stay here. We’re not leaving you here.
Let's take it back to Miami. For people who just know about "Blow a Check" and your recent stuff, what was going on before that?
I had a song on the radio called "She Rather Party." And I had a song on the streets called "Find a Way." Back home in Miami, they’re very familiar with me cause I’ve been always putting out music and doing my thing. The rest of the world caught on with "Blow a Check." And now they catching on with everything that’s on Port-Au-Prince.
When you first recorded "Blow a Check," did you have any idea it would take off like it did?
You never know. You don’t be knowing. If you know, then it’s like somebody else probably wrote it – and they knew it was a hit and gave it to you. Your own hit – you barely ever know.
When did Puffy and French inquire about doing the remix?
Man, the song blew up during the REVOLT Music Conference.
And they caught on to it then?
They caught on to it then. We spoke about it, flew out to New York, did it – that was it.
And did Puff tell you straight up, “I want to put this on my album” ["MMM (Money Making Mitch)"]?
Yeah, he told me. I knew.
Not only did he cosign the record, but he put it on his first project in years.
Did he give you some wisdom when you first met?
Of course. Every time I’m around Puff, it’s wisdom. Anytime. He tell me the most. The best things I could hear.
How long have you known Future?
I've known Future for some years. I first met Future – I can't even recall. I met him – damn, I don't wanna lie. I think he let me open up for him at K.O.D. (King of Diamonds). Yeah. He came and shut that shit down.
He texted me earlier [today]. He was like, "I’m on the bus right now, in the studio working. I see you, man. Your movement is getting bigger by the day. I’m happy for you.” And I was like, "Man, I appreciate you. You motivate me 100%." That’s my biggest motivation right there.
Just seeing his work ethic is gonna rub off on you.
His work ethic is stupid.
Did you stay in touch after you first met?
Yeah, I was in Atlanta one time, and we was leaving the strip club – he aint know I was there. He asked my peoples, “Yo, where’s Zoey at?” And I was like, "Oh shit." That caught me by surprise.
We sat down at the Super Bowl weekend in The Bay. He was like, “Listen, I want you to fuck with me, man. I want you to join the team. Only if you wanna do it.” And I was like, “Hell yeah." Everyone knows Future is one of my favorite artists.
Was that a huge surprise to you?
That was dope. To me, that was the best day ever. He gave me an opportunity. He gave me a super opportunity. And he really believe in me too.
How long after signing to Freebandz did take for you to complete the deal with Epic?
A few months.
I saw you on Instagram with L.A. Reid after the deal, and you said this was a moment you'd been dreaming of for years.
My whole life. Ever since I was a kid, I always said I wanted to be signed by L.A. Reid.
Just seeing the people that he brought up. Those are the people that I always listened to. Mariah Carey, Babyface – everybody. Jay Z rocked with him, Puff rocked with him. This guy gotta sign me! When did my audition for him, he was blown, bro. He stood up. He had the whole staff of Epic there the whole time. I got a chance to do the Bobby Shmurda – jumped on the couches and all.
That must've been a lot of pressure.
It wasn’t. Man, that was the moment of my life. I knew I was ready.
A couple of years back, did you ever think that you'd have these moguls in your circle?
I knew it was coming. I just wasn’t sure what form or how. I knew it was coming, though.
And you got to turn out for the "I Got the Keys" video. There's a bunch more legends.
Yeah I was in that video as well. That was huge. That was triple XL.
So the next record that's ready to blow is "Couches."
Standing on the couches! That one is going up too. Produced by Jahlil Beats.
Where did the idea for the song come from? To use the Dave Chappelle skit as the intro?
I just knew the theme of the song, what it was about. It was basically just telling the club owner, “Fuck your couch." So I knew that’s what it was. Get up on the couch and just go crazy. Man, we’ve fucked up some couches. With the girls, the heels all on the couch, we’ve done some damage.
Let's talk the upcoming Freebandz project Future has been hyping up: "Forever or NEVER." You gonna be on there?
Hell yeah. Super on it.
What else can we expect from Zoey Dollaz in the next little while?
I’m dropping another tape very soon. I was gonna drop it in October, but my friends think I need to drop it sooner than that. Like September, I may drop it then. Probably end up dropping it 9/11.
It's good to hear you've got more work on the way.
I can’t stop. Being with Future, there ain't no stopping. I’m with the right gang. The right squad.