Popscure writer Jerome Spencer sat down with Fake Uzumi to hear how it all came to be.
The Fake Uzumi Story, like any good success story, starts with Lil Bow Wow.
“That was the coolest shit ever,” Uzumi tells me about Bow Wow, “Just seeing a kid who was rapping about kid stuff that blew up. I was like ‘man, I wish i had a Mickey Mouse chain’. So my first motivation was… yeah, probably Lil Bow Wow.”
Alright, that’s less weird when you know that Uzumi started rapping at the age of 11. Which is what got him into production. As a matter of fact, it seems like Uzumi does a lot of what he does out of necessity.
“I do a multitude of things,” he says, “I DJ, I’m an artist, I produce, I curate. Basically, I only started making beats because i wanted to rap at like 11 or 12 and I couldn’t afford beats at the time so i was like ‘hey, I’m gonna do it myself’. I started making beats and all of them were really garbage so I gave it up for a couple of years then I tried it again. I started getting really good at it so I stuck with it. I started graphic designing because I couldn’t find anyone who could make cover art for me. I kinda became like a DIY type of person. I started going to parties around here and I didnt like a lot of the DJs. There were a certain few that i liked and one of them was Gabe Niles. And he introduced me to DJing and put me on my first stage. That’s how I got started with DJing and everything. That’s the gist of it.”
So that’s the gist of it. And my job as a journalist would be so much easier if there weren’t any more to it than that. Fake Uzumi, however, didn’t come out of nowhere. Sure, we’re so used to him DJing almost every party worth attending and producing some of the most adventurous projects in Virginia that it seems like he’s always been around, but he had to start somewhere, right? And that’s where Lil Bow Wow comes in.
Now, honesty, I didn’t know about Fake Uzumi’s alter-ego, Shaded Zu, until pretty recently (“Fake Uzumi doesn’t do any talking so Shaded Zu in the mouthpiece,” he explains, “But they work simultaneously.”) and that’s because rapping took a backseat to production and DJing for a while.
“I stopped rapping because I wanted to focus more on the production side of things,” Uzumi admits, “I produced a lot for Opal. At first, I was just trying to stay in Opal’s creative energy and feed her what I could offer and then I just decided that I wanted to work with EVERYBODY. I can’t limit myself to staying with one person so I started working with as many people as I could.
“I’m just really trying to take the Neptunes strategy,” he continues, “I can make my own stuff but I really want to reach out and work with the people in the area and give them a piece of my sound. I get a lot of people out of their comfort zone and a lot of the time it works. They’re kind of timid at first, but once it drops they get that good reaction.”
When pressed about his “sound”, Uzumi is reluctant to put himself into a box or declare himself a torch-bearer of the Virginia style, though.
“I think our sound isn’t like a genre; it’s just dope shit,” he offers, “As far as me carrying on that torch, i just make what I like and what I like is influenced by what these people made 10 or 15 years ago. I’m just making stuff that feels good. It feels good to me and a lot of times it feels good to other people from Virginia because they can feel that influence, too.”
“It’s really what comes out of me and what I’m feeling at that moment. A lot of the soundscapes or choices that I’m influenced by come from my parents’ choice in music; hearing a lot of neo-soul, 80s and 70s soul and even 60s music.. When i was living with my grandma she would listen to Al Green and Marvin Gaye and I started learning more about chords. Or at least things that could make me feel a certain way; what chords could transport me to a certain place. That’s really where my inspiration comes from with that chill bounce.”
“Chill Bounce” really is an apt way to describe Fake Uzumi’s sound. He brings the Saturday night vibes without too much expectation and just kinda lets the party come to him. This is why DJing seemed like a natural progression for the producer.
“I told Gabe (Niles) I wanted to start DJing and asked him to help me,” Uzumi explains, “He was like ‘bro, bring your laptop, get on stage and do it’ and I said ‘ok, bet’. So I went up there (The Parlor on Granby) and I didn’t know how to DJ from shit. I would just play one song, abruptly stop it and go to the next song and the people really didn’t care, they just loved what I was playing.”
(I love this story because it posits that passion and drive are all you really need and fancy equipment and/or proper training are just icing on the cake. And it gets even better, but I’ll let him tell it…)
“Then I went to an afterparty at Alchemy and the guy who owned Work Release, Charles Rasputin, was playing from his Pandora. I asked if I could plug my phone in and play some stuff from Soundcloud. Everybody started having a good time and he was like “I’m opening a spot in a month and I want you to be a resident DJ”. I was like i don’t really know how to DJ and he was like ‘it doesn’t matter, you know how to get people moving’. I learned how to DJ on stage. I was using other people’s equipment and I would learn on the fly. Then I got my own equipment and kinda got a lot better.”
Isn’t that some beautiful shit? My man just wanted to DJ parties so he did and he became a resident DJ at Norfolk’s dopest spot (RIP, Work Release) on his first night. And we all know how that worked out for him; Fake Uzumi is a busy man and he’s guaranteed to rock a party every time. And when things are going well, naturally, you keep the creativity flowing. And, if you’re Uzumi, that means rapping.
“Somewhere along the way, probably around 2017 or 2018,” he says,”I got really inspired again and started recording like a madman and i’ve just been on it ever since. I stopped rapping because I wasn’t inspired, or moreso, out of fear; I didn’t know how it would translate or how I should start my songs or what my songs should even be about. Should I stick to having fun or should my songs be more conscious? Then I just thought forget all that, I’m just going to make things that I like.”
The cumulative result of things that Uzumi liked came in the form of 2019’s Xtra-Large, Shaded Zu’s most ambitious offering to date.
“It was a year in the making,” Uzumi explains (or maybe Shaded Zu is talking now; I never asked), “There’s two sides to the story. One side is that I just felt like people weren’t being as collaborative as I think we could be. In Virginia we have so many talented people but I felt like everybody was out for self. I just wanted to create something really dope but include all the people that I’m really fans of that might not normally do something on this type of beat or might not perform this way. I wanted to get everybody out of their comfort zone, but we’d still meet in the middle. And the second half is that, as a kid, I always thought I would be in The 27 Club, like narcissistically. I was 27 during the making of the project so I needed to make something that, if I were to die within that year – I believe in reincarnation so wanted to make something powerful enough that my next life or next being would love it. I focused really hard on making something really great just to feed that, I guess it’s ego.”
Xtra-Large really is a collaborative effort. With at least one feature on eight of it’s ten songs, it showcases much more talent than just Uzumi’s distinct production style (that Chill Bounce, in case you forgot).
“A lot of those collaborations kinda happened by accident,” Uzumi says, “The one with Sunny (Moonshine) – I sampled her voice from a song we did back in 2013 that we never released. But I didn’t wanna put it out without her consent. So I sent it to her to get her feedback and she literally sent it back the next day with her verse on the end of it. It was perfect. I didn’t wanna ask for a verse and put her on the spot, but she just did it off top and made it perfect.”
And Xtra-Large feels as spontaneously perfect as Sunny’s bars. No offense to Fake Uzumi, though; I’m sure he had to grind meticulously on the production end to make this project feel so free and uninhibited. It’s the kind of record you can listen to over and over again and still peep something new. (“Fuck it, we about to sell-out Toast” snuck up on me.) And Uzumi’s passionate work ethic will definitely keep you checking for what’s next.
“I’m not dropping another full length album until 2021, but I got a couple of tricks up my sleeve for the rest of this year,” Uzumi tells me, “I got a couple of songs coming out, I got some videos in the works, I got a compilation coming out soon. It’s gonna be me and two of my buddies, SplashOfGold and Whogotdadutch. We’ve been working together for a long time. They were on my last project and we’re doing a project that’s coming out really soon with all three of us. I produced all the songs on that too. I got a lot of stuff coming out, it’s just the rollout that I’m focusing on.”
Well, if you can’t wait, I’ve got good news for you; Fake Uzumi’s collaboration with SplashOfGold and Whogotdadutch, PhoneCalls, drops on all streaming platforms on February 18th and there’s a listening party at Utopia Feni on February 16th. If you haven’t already been put onto Fake Uzumi by now, this is as good a time as any.
Oh yeah, about that name:
“Fake wasn’t necessarily supposed to be a part of it,” he explains, “It was a joke on Twitter; like how people put “real” in their name. I’m thinking it would be funny because nobody’s trying to have a fake page of you. So I just put Fake Uzumi.”
So when my man gets that blue checkmark, he’s gonna be The Real Fake Uzumi.